The Long-Term Unemployed: Your Untapped Talent Pool

While many signs point to a U.S. economy that’s made a strong, steady recovery from the Great Recession, the number of long-term unemployed Americans remains high. As the market for talent tightens, the long-term unemployed can be a valuable opportunity for employers.

The long-term employed are defined by the Labor Department as having been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer. More than 2.3 million Americans are considered long-term unemployed, but that data fails to account for people who have become discouraged and haven’t applied for a job in the past four weeks or those who have recently taken short-term, temporary assignments to make ends meet during an extended period of unemployment.

The Business Case for Hiring the Long-Term Unemployed

To stay ahead in the current talent market, employers need to look differently at the types of candidates they consider. For job seekers, the longer they are unemployed, the less likely they’ll get called for an interview or find a new job, according to analysis from the World Economic Forum. Many employers see a long resume gap as a red flag, but that thinking should be reconsidered.

According to Deloitte, hiring the long-term unemployed can prove to be a business advantage. Rather than unqualified, the long-term unemployed are under-accessed, and evidence suggests that companies who hire long-term unemployed workers have a more reliable and loyal workforce with higher retention rates.

Additionally, targeting the long-term unemployed can also lower your sourcing costs. If you are currently filtering out the long-term unemployed, intentionally or unintentionally, you’re narrowing your talent pool, which could mean you’re spending more bringing in candidates from out of town. Looking at the long-term unemployed gives you a larger talent pool.

Hiring the long-term unemployed also has a positive impact on your local community. The benefits of employment compared to the toll of unemployment are clear. When people are employed, rates of depression and divorce go down, self-esteem goes up and children do better in school.

Who Are the Long-Term Unemployed?

Long-term unemployment impacts people of all ages and backgrounds with all levels of experience and education, but according to Deloitte, it does hit some groups especially hard.

  • 27 percent of the long-term unemployed have post-secondary degrees (compared with 24.5 percent of the short-term unemployed)
  • Nearly 50 percent of the long-term unemployed belong to a minority group
  • 40 percent of the long-term unemployed are women
  • The three industries with the most long-term unemployed people are wholesale and retail trade, professional and business services and leisure and hospitality. About 37 percent of the long-term unemployed worked in one of those industries.

Best Practices for Hiring the Long-Term Unemployed

Organizations looking to increase their hiring of the long-term unemployed should develop a program or work with a partner with experience hiring the long-term unemployed. These best practices recommended by Deloitte should be a part of your long-term unemployed hiring program.

1. Use language in job postings and advertisements that doesn’t dissuade the long-term unemployed

The first hurdle is getting the long-term unemployed to apply to your open positions. Many become discouraged, and some common job description phrasing can dissuade the long-term unemployed from even filling out an application.

When you write job postings, avoid phrases like “must be currently employed” or “actively employed.” Instead, list the years of experience needed and use terms like “significant” or “recent.” As the candidate moves into the application, don’t ask candidates for their “current employer,” and don’t ask a mandatory question about “current job details.” Instead, ask the candidate to list their previous employers, starting with the most recent.

2. Eliminate filtering that dismisses long-term unemployed candidates

Once a long-term unemployed candidate applies, you need to make sure you don’t inadvertently filter them out. Review these filters in your ATS:

  • “Employment status”
  • “Dates of current employment”
  • Filtering candidates who do not answer “Can we contact your current employer?”
3. Use screening methods that emphasize skills

As you screen long-term unemployed candidates, use skills assessments and behavioral interviews to determine if the candidate is a good fit for the position. In addition to job-specific skills assessments, AI-enabled video interviewing technology can help you assess a candidate’s soft skills.

In the interview process, behavioral interview questions can help you better assess what a candidate can do and will do rather than what they currently do on a day-to-day basis. Ask questions that start with the phrase “tell me about a time when.” You may have additional questions for long-term unemployed candidates. It’s important to determine what they did during their unemployment and if any skills from temporary jobs or volunteer positions can apply.

4. Work with community partners

Working with local organizations that support the long-term unemployed can help develop and strengthen your hiring program. The organizations can provide a pipeline of prescreened candidates with relevant skills and experience. They can also provide insight into any specific needs of the long-term unemployed in your community.

At PeopleScout, we have a partnership with Skills For Chicagoland’s Future, an organization that helps place the long-term unemployed with employer partners. Since 2013, PeopleScout and its parent company, TrueBlue, have hired 465 people and contributed financial support to help Skills expand its impact locally and place more people in jobs. Most were employed as entry-level recruiting coordinators in our Chicago headquarters, and many have been promoted into other roles in the company. You can read more about PeopleScout’s partnership with Skills for Chicagoland’s Future in this blog post.

The Ready to Work Business Collaborative is a national organization that brings together the long-term unemployed, under-employed, people with disabilities, veterans and opportunity youth with employers who want to hire them. At PeopleScout, we’ve partnered with the Ready to Work Business Collaborative since 2017. Through that partnership, we’ve been able to help build a toolkit to assist other employers hire these underutilized groups.

Post by Nicole Fuqua