Are companies missing out on great candidates?

As of January 10, 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of “long-term unemployed” Americans (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was 3.9 million, accounting for 37.7% of the unemployed.

Unfortunately, as reported in a recent Boston Globe article about worsening job prospects for the long-term unemployed, “Research by Rand Ghayad, a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, has shown that employers frequently screen out job candidates who have been unemployed for more than six months.” That means the prospects are dim for many of those long out of work. And many of these people are educated, white-collar, experienced workers.

Are these companies who simply screen out the long-term unemployed missing out on some great candidates? They just may be. The perception is that people who have been out of work for six months or more have lost some of their skills, but that may not really be true. After all, general business skills and principles really don’t change, and there’s something to be said for experience.

One current employment trend is to hire for attitude and train for skills. In his Forbes article, "Want Innovation? Hire for Skills Not Attitude,” Bill Fischer, Faculty Director of the Driving Strategic Innovation program at MIT Sloan and IMD, bucks the trend and writes, “When real change is needed—innovation, for example—then attitudes are not likely to be enough to get you to where you want to go. In such situations, you need skills, and lots of them.”

Fischer explains, “If you do it right, that means hiring the best obtainable, rather than simply settling for the best available.” But companies that are routinely screening out candidates who have not been employed within the last six months are absolutely missing out on the best obtainable, since they’ve pulled many of those candidates from the pool.

Fundamentally, the underlying assumption that those people out of work for long are not employable is a corporate prejudice and a practice that removes many qualified candidates from consideration. Changing this attitude can have a meaningful impact on companies looking to hire talented individuals. It’s even more valuable for those companies looking to change their organization, market, or competitiveness. It is also likely that these hires will be appreciative of the job, which goes a long way in terms of performance.

As Fischer summarizes in Forbes, “For everyday work, hire for attitude, train for skills; but when big change, such as innovation, is envisioned, then hire for skills—because you need them.”

Bill Fischer is a Professor of Technology Management at IMD. He teaches in the MIT Sloan Executive Education program, Driving Strategic Innovation: Achieving High Performance Throughout the Value Chain.

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