Recruiting Roadmap: Five Things to Look for in Unemployed Candidates

Ryan Joseph
by Ryan Joseph

Recruiting Roadmap: Five Things to Look for in Unemployed Candidates

As you interview candidates, ask questions to determine if they were laid off or let go, and why.

2023 has been an interesting year for job seekers and hiring managers alike. With a shifting economy, a growing industry, and new technology all around us, job postings are up – but so are layoffs and cuts. With a new mass of candidates on the market affected by layoffs and unemployment still below 5% how will you know who to hire?

I am certainly not suggesting that everyone affected by layoffs is a bad apple and that you should only hire employed candidates or interview with extreme scrutiny. There are some very good candidates being laid off by companies every day – almost senselessly and sometimes from a strictly monetary standpoint.

In other cases, the market is simply going through a correction in a lot of ways between over-hiring for post-2020 growth, gigantic jumps in salary, inflation, and many other factors.

While the job market is changing rapidly and candidates might be flooding the market, now more than ever hiring managers must analyze applicants work history. As you interview unemployed candidates, there are definitely questions that you can ask to assess the situation and determine what’s real and what’s not.

It is more than okay to take a risk on a candidate or give someone an opportunity – as someone most likely did with you at some point in your career – but make sure it is the right risk, and it is at the right time.

Here are five things to look for as you evaluate currently unemployed candidates:

Tenure: Sometimes when layoffs happen, the method is to fire the most recent hires. If that is the case, you will want to look at a candidate’s previous stability. If there are a lot of short stints on their resume, it is time to dig a little bit deeper.

Even if the candidate was with the previous company for a long time, you are not out of the woods just yet. Ask them about what happened at the end. Ask why they left and do not assume it was because of being laid off. Make no mistake, some intentional terminations are branded as layoffs.

Impact: While tenure is important to understand, you want to also look at the ratio of impact to tenure of each candidate. A resume is intended to sell a candidate and their skills. Occasionally though, there is some hyperbole. For example, if a candidate was only with a company for four months but they states they closed $4 million in revenue, there are probably some deeper questions to be asked.

Attitude: Ask why the candidate has made their moves and listen for negativity, boss bashing, and excuses. If it is all negative, I would recommend moving on. If that is not what you hear, keep going.

Self-awareness: Ambition is a great trait; on the other hand, delusion is a red flag. Many candidates will talk about their desired next role, and it will be a step up; however, sometimes some candidates will mention they are ready for a next role that is a little bit far off from their previous one. This demonstrates a lack of self-awareness about their skillset.

Desperation: Times are tough. People need to work, and unfortunately some people desperately need to work. If the candidate is being over-aggressive in follow up, expressing their desperation directly, and meets one of these other criteria, that is cause for concern.

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