As a society, we’re unfortunately well-acquainted with many forms of discrimination that take place in the working world, including discrimination against job applicants due to age, race, gender, and sexual orientation.  And while we still have a long way to go to eliminate these prejudices, we’ve at least legally prohibited them, at the very least.

And yet, there’s a relatively “new” type of discrimination that is perfectly legal and that may be having more of an impact on the economy than people realize.  Consider the thoughts that were recently shared with me by a client who recently landed a new opportunity with a well-known local organization.

Matt: While I’ve just landed a new full-time role, I had to write and let you know that the overwhelming evidence I’ve witnessed tells me that the unemployed are clearly the most widely discriminated segment of the job applicant base.  Having chatted with my new company about the process they followed to find candidates for my new position, it’s clear that being out of work is a severe liability in getting hired.  While I just happened to catch a lucky break, and be in the right place at the right time, my contact in the HR department told me that their first attempted search for applicants (in their words) ‘only produced lots of contractors and unemployed job seekers’ all of whom were apparently rejected out of hand b/c of this status.  When I asked them about their unwillingness to consider people who were between jobs, they said such people usually have a ‘stigma’ attached to them and they ideally wanted to steal somebody who’s ‘currently employed and happy in their role.’  So while I’m obviously happy I’ve landed, I was very disappointed to learn that the organization I’m with so readily dismisses the applications of those who are between jobs in lieu of those who already have one.

I won’t mince words.  Frankly, I think this practice is downright disgusting.  While no form of discrimination is obviously a good thing, or permissible, I’ll admit this particular form of bigotry really gets under my craw — perhaps because the majority of professionals I work with, day in and day out, are currently between jobs and actively on the hunt.

While I understand that companies face a fierce challenge in terms of the screening process these days, and I empathize over the sheer number of resumes they have to review when hiring for a role, I would hope that most people in charge of recruiting would realize that many highly talented people get displaced from companies through no fault of their own and with zero correlation based on performance.  Given the incredibly dynamic new marketplace that’s emerged — where organizations can be bought, sold, merged, and transformed overnight based on a multitude of bottom-line business reasons — it seems ridiculously antiquated to assume that any job seeker who is “out on the street” must, by definition, not be very good at their chosen field.

Compounding this is the hypocrisy involved, as I strongly suspect (and the statistics back me up) that many of the folks making these hiring decisions have, at some point, been out of work themselves — or likely have a close friend or family member who has been on the hunt for a while and is dealing with the stress of unemployment.  Would these people condone such behavior if a company discriminated against them or their loved ones for a position for no reason other than that they weren’t drawing a paycheck at the moment?

While there’s no magic wand that will expunge this misguided attitude from the marketplace immediately, I’d implore anybody reading this who is in a hiring capacity — or who has influence on one — to make sure that their screening personnel aren’t filtering out candidates based on ridiculously shallow assumptions related to their employment status.  As for those of you currently between gigs, I’d encourage you to think hard about their phenomenon and what you might be able to do to offset it.  Can you line up ANY sort of “special project” or “professional endeavor” to plug the gap since your last W2 assignment?  Can you wrangle any consulting gigs?  Form a professional networking group?  Teach or volunteer somewhere?  While none of these activities may be perceived by employers as a perfect substitute for full-time work, they’ll hopefully send the message, loud and clear. that you’re not sitting around twiddling your thumbs or letting your lack of a paycheck impede your professional growth.

Again, apologies for the rant, but this one hit a nerve.  Let’s all do our part to stamp out this growing form of hiring discrimination — in the hopes that one day you’ll no longer come across articles like the ones you’ll find here, here, and here.