Jobfully Blog

When the Ad Says “Unemployed Need Not Apply”

Here’s a trend we all hope will not catch on: Hiring managers refusing to consider unemployed people for an open position.  In other words “Only currently employed need apply.” For the unemployed, this is a disturbing development. Perhaps negative media attention will keep this trend from spreading.

But it raises a great issue: What to do to overcome negative assumptions.  A good strategy is to keep your skills sharp and up-to-date AND focus on creating meaningful relationship with the right people.

Job seeking takes a good chunk of time for most unemployed people. But consider some worthwhile activities that help you achieve these two important goals: 1.) filling that resume gap with new skills and accomplishments, and 2).connecting you with “insiders” who can be your advocates to overcome any pre-conceived notions, such as “only currently employed people are valuable”.

Internships. These are a great way to transition into a new field, network, learn new skills and build resume items. No longer the domain of college students, adults at all career phases are interning.  These days, many internships are secured by approaching a company of interest and asking, rather than waiting for the company to advertise for interns.  Put yourself in the play and demonstrate your value. This is an invaluable way to expose yourself to people who may help you get hired later on.

Volunteering. Of course the best reason to volunteer is to help others. But it can also be a way to learn new skills, network and create resume items. While there is nothing wrong with serving meals to the needy, you may build more career-related successes by volunteering at a higher level. Take leadership of a project or initiative, run a committee or even serve on a non-profit board.  Here you will develop positive relationships and show your skills to people who may become great contacts in your job search.  While your primary goal is always to serve a good cause, try to position yourself to build relationships, develop new skills and add items to your resume by taking on truly challenging high-level work.

Temping. Fill-in work, short-term work, agency work. Call it what you will, picking up work along the way avoids resume gaps and makes you look “employed”.  This is an excellent way to get a foot in the door at a company, meeting insiders and people in a position to hire you or help you land a permanent job down the road.

Consulting, mentoring or teaching. It’s remarkable to think of the body of knowledge held by people who are currently unemployed. Don’t just sit on that great knowledge. Use it to mentor someone, and then list that mentoring or consulting on your resume. Keeping active in your field gives you the chance to develop important relationships that may pay off in your job search.

Learning. When you’re employed it seems there is never enough time for classes, certification and advanced learning. Turning your employment gap into an educational opportunity allows you to add new skills and shows potential employers you are a lifelong learner.

It seems unfair and unwise for companies to avoid quality people for open positions simply because they are not currently working. But don’t let this unfortunate policy get you down. Instead, be proactive about filling your time productively, keeping your resume robust and expanding your network.


  1. Posted June 23, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    This is a disturbing development, especially considering record, historic unemployment during the past two years. But it also speaks to the unwillingness, perhaps, of hiring managers and traditional human resources professionals to acknowledge that the workforce, as we know it, is changing. According to estimates, more than 40% of the population will be self-employed in the next several years. Is it that nearly half the population desires to work for themselves? Not likely; it’s probably more due to necessity. If you want to eat, you have to fish. And if conventional outlets are not hiring, you do what you must.

    Unemployment shouldn’t be an issue when it comes to an individual finding work. The most important thing, and biggest insight into that individual’s character, is what he or she did in the meantime to sharpen or develop new skills. Your article illustrates this point clearly, and as such, is dead-on.

  2. Posted June 23, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    When I blogged about this issue last week, I was very upset that such practices were taking place in America. This topic has struck a chord with lots of my readers and is now officially the most viewed post on my entire blog. This is obviously something people, employed or not, feel very strongly about.

    The issue has generated a great discussion amongst my visitors and it’s beneficial to hear all the great insight that’s being shared. I’m still stunned that any company would be so petty and shortsighted as to discount laid off workers, especially given the country’s record unemployment and crippling recession.

    Thanks for sharing the tips to help people in their job searches. I invite you to also check out the great comments that other smart people have left on on my blog post about this issue:

  3. Posted June 24, 2010 at 2:04 am | Permalink

    The practice of not considering unemployed people discriminates against (i) women who have raised their children and stayed at home; (ii) people who lost a job suddenly through an accident or similar circumstances; (iii) people who willingly made a choice to move and settle in another geographic area; (iv) young graduates; (v) inmates who finished their term… and should therefore be outlawed.

  4. Wil Ferch
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    Bizarre…..what does being employed ( or not) have to do with the price of strawberries?. I would like to understand the rationale behind such requirements. Perhaps the implication of not staying “sharp”?…not being “current”?….why not let the specifics of the situation speak to this directly on a case-by-case basis?. No differentiation if you are 1 day unemployed vs. being 2 yrs unemployed? Think about *that* subset for a moment. You get a pink slip and next week when you look for work yo are immediately disqualified.

    Is it any wonder that the US is falling behind in terms of world-wide competitiveness and leadership?. Another exsmple of head-in-the-sands thinking. Remarkable.

  5. Timothy Aines
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never seen this anywhere. Not saying this hasn’t happened, but can someone provide some example links to any open positions anywhere that actually say this?

  6. Posted June 24, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Timothy, to answer your question -

    In this Huffington Post article on this topic, the journalist, Laura Bassett, found at least 4 job ads, one was Sony Ericsson in Buckhead, Ga., one electronics company in Angleton, Texas, a restaurant in Edgewater, N.J., and an unnamed “top 25 CPA firm” in New York City, with such policy stated in the postings.

  7. Frank Ciervo
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Is such a stipulation legal?

  8. Posted June 25, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    This is another example of risk averse hiring practices. Or an example of we want perfection in every candidate. Hire the safest choice, not the best. There are a few executive recruiters who are using this criteria as well.

    It is very shortsighted and discriminatory, but another example of how ridiculous the job market has become.

    As with most things that are going on in the job market, everyone needs to find a way around it. Networking seems to be the best way to uncover job opportunities.


  9. Tania
    Posted June 29, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    WOW – this is illegal in New Zealand, a person’s employment status is one of 14 things you can not discriminate on. So are we really that far behind America after all?

  10. Posted June 30, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Here is a related CNN Money article, “In the job hunt, the stigma of being laid off is hard to erase“, that talks about the stigma laid off job seekers are facing.

  11. Rob Ramsey
    Posted July 7, 2010 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    Yes, there are employers, according to one of my recruiters, that actually say, EMPLOYED ONLY. So, folks, find the job that is vacated by someone being lured away. Fair? No. It is the changing landscape. However, how would an employer feel if another company did that and lured a top employee away? One wonders. Thanks for the ideas Mei Lu.

  12. Philip Espinosa
    Posted July 13, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    This is a good discussion. I have been in HR for over 25 years, and while this in not an “ethical” practice, it happens all the time. Also, unfortunately, I am not aware of any specific law or statute that technically prohibits this practice. From the networking I have done over the past 18 months, my sense is that is much more prevalent now than in the past, in part because there are many more unemployed who are affected by this practice. We must add it to the list of hurdles to overcome in the job search. Good luck.

  13. Bob Givens
    Posted July 14, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    I have seen this disturbing trend showing up in Southern California. Unfortunately, the state is one of the hardest hit in the unemployed statistics. I have run across 3 or 4 postings that specified ‘No unemployed applicants’, unfortunately for these companies, I was not only fully qualified for thos positions, but also less than a 15 minute commute from any of them. Not only do they miss out on a good portion of the local population, but people that are close enough to never be late or that can return in less time than contacting another employee.

  14. Don Nardone
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    I have been out of work for 19 months. In my experience I came across 5-7 private ads in the US for jobs in which unemployed people were excluded. I also knew of a major search firm that would not process the applications of unemployed people. I am not sure if they have changed over time, but at one time they were guilty.

    The Catch-22 component is the fact that private employers attached a stigma to unemployed people thinking less of them; that something had to be wrong if they were out of work for an extended period of time. They are out of touch with reality not knowing how bad the economic climate is. I have friends with far superior credentials than mine who have been unemployed even longer than me.

  15. Vince Ferraro
    Posted July 27, 2010 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    Well written and excellent. In this economy, you can’t afford to just be looking for a job. You need to be able to tell a story – you sharpened skills, you worked for equity, helped a charity – things that will build your credibility and clout when it comes time to interview. Some may disagree, but this issue is out there. The question is how “do we overcome it”? Thanks for exposing it.

  16. Pigbitin Mad
    Posted January 12, 2011 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Problem is that going back to school is generally useless. How many people got suckered by Medical Coding only to find out that all the jobs are going to India and that new grads will not be considered. If I am paying for school I need a 100% guarantee of a job at the end (assuming you do well). And I don’t know any HR department who will consider working at a Food Bank to be real experience. As for Volunteering. I think companies want people to work for free, even though I think this is illegal for tax reasons.

  17. Posted January 12, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the comment Pigbitin Mad. I agree, it’s important to be very careful about deciding to go back to school. You want to make sure it’s a program that will pay off in the long run. Here is more on deciding if it’s the right choice:

    As for using volunteering on your resume, I think one important thing is to try to volunteer at the level you are at in your career. So instead of serving food at the foodbank, a financial services expert may ask to help with accounting or a marketing person may volunteer helping market the agency. Look for volunteer opportunities that enhance your achievements and successes. Here is more on using volunteer work to build your resume:

    Hope this additional information is helpful.


  18. Posted March 10, 2011 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    The EEOC held a hearing on Feb 18 to ‘explore’ discrimination against unemployed job applicants….

    EEOC PR/Agenda:

    As I mentioned yesterday, Christine Owens, exec director at the National Employment Law Projest [NELP] was among the panel of expert witnesses invited to participate in the hearing. A copy of NELP’s written testimony can be downloaded here:

    I am encouraged by the testimony & conclusions of NELP in their report – and even more encouraged by NELP’s recommendations.

    Denver Unemployment Examiner

  19. Posted March 10, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Denver Unemployment Examiner for this information. More on the issue in this blog:

    Whether or not the problem is widespread or illegal, there is much job seekers can do to avoid it.


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