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As of yesterday, hundreds of thousands of people have either been laid off or their jobs lay in the balance, here in Washington State. As the rest of the U.S. responds to slow the spread of COVID-19, we may see millions of people laid off from almost every industry.

Does that mean those people are any less hard working than they were on Friday, at close of business?

Any less resilient?

Any less collaborative?

Any less capable?

Imagine for a moment it was you who just got laid off. I pose the same questions: does that mean you are any less hard working than you were yesterday? Resilient? Collaborative? Capable?

No, it absolutely does not.

Many hiring managers and recruiters subscribed to the deeply seated myth that: candidates who are currently employed make for better hires. There are two things at play here—both related to fear and perceived risk:

  1. a perception that someone who is unemployed carries more unknown variables. This is why gaps in the resume are seen as a negative.
  2. an assumption that someone who is employed has been vetted—their current employer’s brand name served as a proxy for trust.

Gaps in the Resume: hear their story

Simply because someone is unemployed (now or previously) does not mean that they are unemployable. Similarly, simply because someone is employed does not mean that they are employable at your company. You need people with the right mix of soft skills, in addition to the required technical skills to do the job. The same rules apply regardless: in order to build a positive company culture and productive teams, you need life-long learners, collaborative decision makers, and creative problem solvers.

Rather than automatically weeding people out, find out what the story is behind the period of unemployment. People leave the workforce for many reasons, some beyond their control: taking care of a sick loved one, full time parenting, laid off due to an external crisis, etc. All of these make for powerful, formative, and sometimes even transformative accelerants to growth. Don’t you want to know how someone shows up in the hardest moments of life?

In the article I published last week, I shared practical and actionable steps on how to learn the candidate’s story and identifying their soft skills during the virtual interview.

Current employment as proxy for trust: get the context

Past experience, success, and tenure at one company does not correlate to future success at a different company (source). The context matters. Who they worked with, how they worked together, what role they played, and the nature of their work are all major factors in an individual’s performance. For example, I am thriving in my current role as Cofounder and Head of Product at WholeStory. However, I would not make for a very good employee at a major corporation with lots of oversight and bureaucracy!

Another major factor in job success is what’s happening in the rest of their life. When hiring, we are so conditioned to hyper-focus on work experience that we lose 90% of rest of the story. Rather than using the current employer as a method of vetting (e.g. “I want people who worked at Google.”), find out the context surrounding their current/previous situation. Hearing the candidate’s work experience in the context of their life experience changes everything.

Consider the person who was caring for their sick spouse while they were simultaneously the #1 sales person at their company.

Consider the person who took time off to raise children and learned how to assess risk, prioritize, and project manage.

Consider the person who just got laid off due to the impact of the pandemic and is taking this as an opportunity to move into a new industry.

While many companies will continue to filter people out based on their employment status, make this a competitive edge for your hiring strategy. You might just find a blue ocean sparkling with rare gems.

If you would like to learn more about hiring for soft skills, we’re hosting a free online workshop on March 24th and would love to have you join us: Hiring for Soft Skills: People and Skills that Boost Culture and Innovation.


Our hearts go out to all of the individuals and companies impacted by this crisis. May you build resilience and discover opportunity amidst the chaos.

In solidarity with our fellow professionals, we are offering our product for free for two months to any company looking to find diamonds in the rough. We get that costs are a moving target right now and having a tool to reduce risk in hiring could be incredible helpful. (Please send us a message via the form toward the bottom of our home page.)


In the comments below, share with us: how do you handle gaps in the resume and candidates who are unemployed?

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