Friday, July 03, 2009


Well, yesterday brought the news that we're creeping closer and closer to an "official" unemployment rate of 10%.

As an aside, this bit of joy wasn't the lead on NBC Nightly News. Nor was the Marine's new anti-Taliban mission in Afghanistan. Nor was it an update on the goings on in Iran. Nor Air France's latest announcement on the June 1st crash. Nor the Vanity Fair tell-all on Sarah Palin and the McCain campaign.

No, first up was , wait: I'll give you a hint: ABC, simple as Do-Re-Mi.

Yes, you have no doubt quite smartly guessed that the most important news story of the day was Michael Jackson.

And not enough to give it first up, NBC had to circle back to it with an exclusive interview with MJ's brother, Jermaine.  The small blessing is that, unless I missed it, there were no more true confessions from Gov. Mark Sanford.

But wait, as the late Billy Mays may have shouted there's more: I didn't see Hardball, but Countdown also led with Jacko. I'm faaaalllllling......

As so often happens, I digress.

The real news was that there's a still growing number of unemployed folks out there, and, while the official number is 9.5%, the real number - discouraged workers no longer looking, those who are working part time who want to be full-time -  is far higher. And this doesn't yet count all those musicians, dancers, and roadies who were scheduled to be on tour with MJ. (

For the real employment rate, I heard 16%. One in six! That sure made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Against this backdrop,there was an article the other day in the Wall Street Journal that focused on a disheartening bias against the unemployed on the part of the companies that are hiring. This means that instead of thinning the ranks of the unemployed, choosy hirers want to choose from the "passive candidates" who aren't actively looking.  After all:

“If they’re employed in today’s economy, they have to be first string,” says Ryan Ross, a partner with Kaye/Bassman International Corp., an executive recruiting firm in Dallas.

Puh-lease, Mr. Ross, does anyone actually believe that everyone who's "employed in today's economy" is "first string"? Or that everyone who's unemployed is a junior varsity, bench-warming scrub?

Mr. Ross in not alone.

Chief Executive Ralph Fargnoli [of Beacon Partners, a health-care management consulting outfit] is looking first for people who are still working. “If they’re still employed that means they have some significant value,” Mr. Fargnoli says.


I realize I do need to change tactics here. If I want to defend the hire-ability of the unemployed, I really need to stop raising doubts about the currently employed.

But seriously folks, I was fully employed during the last couple of really bad times  - early 1980's, dot-com bubble burst - and I do not recall that all of my similarly fully-employed compadres had "significant value".

This is about the unemployed, however. So, in defense of the unemployed, let me state that some of my best friends are unemployed. Let me further state that, when it comes to unemployed, I would (mostly) rather see than be one. But I have, in fact, been one. 

There are a lot of reasons you can get on that lay-off list other than being deadwood or an exceedingly dislikable misfit.

Sure, those who are deadwood and/or exceedingly dislikable misfits generally do find there way on to the list at the first opportunity.

That's because a lot of managers don't want to deal with performance issues head on. Especially if they're in an environment where lay-offs are regular or anticipated, managers may sand-bag a bad employee or two so they have a couple of sacrificial lambs when they're asked to reduce head count. I speak from experience here. (Baa!)

But, especially in an economy like this, really good people can find themselves unemployed if they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Maybe they were last in, and it's easier to let them go than someone you know and love. Maybe it's easier - or maybe even smarter -  to get rid of everyone who worked on a canceled project/EOL'd product than to comb through and save "the best and the brightest." Maybe someone got to be among the chosen people because everyone knows their spouse makes big bucks, while the other guy just learned his wife's expecting triplets. 

A blanket decision not to hire folks who've been laid off strikes me as completely absurd. (Don't these anti-unemployed bigots know how to work their network to check someone out?)

God knows, I've made hiring mistakes in my career, and a couple of them were real lulus. But none of those hiring mistakes were because the person was "collecting" when I nobly offered them the opportunity to get off the dole.

Of course, the basis for the Journal article wasn't any scientific survey of employers. It's purely anecdotal. But I'm sure that there have always been folks who wouldn't hire someone who'd been pink slipped, especially in a crappy job market where you can afford, like the Jiff-buyer mothers of yore, to be choosy.

Job seekers sense the trend. A recent online survey conducted by Infinity Consulting Solutions of 417 job hunters in the New York area found that 59% agreed or strongly agreed that employers gave preference to candidates that are currently employed.

This might be more of a significant trend if they'd asked job-huntees , rather than hunters.

The WSJ does offer some good, if obvious advice: make sure you have good references, get letters of recommendation, let it be known if you were let go as part of a shut down of your department, as opposed to a selective hunt and peck.

To their list, I might add that, if you made it through any lay-off rounds, you should let that be known. Round One is, after all, where the deadwood gets cleared. (Round Ones can, of course, include more than just deadwood.)

No Unemployed Need Apply.

As someone who grew up hearing "apocryphal but true" stories about No Irish Need Apply signs, I really don't like the sound of this one.

A pox on any hiring manager or company who would not hire someone just because they were on the receiving end of a pink slip.

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