Do the Unemployed Discriminate Against the Unemployed?

Along with some of the wonderful forms of discrimination (note: sarcasm font) that have existed for centuries, the modern job marketplace has seen the rise of two fairly new forms of bias: 1) commute discrimination (disqualifying certain candidates based on where they live and their anticipated “commute length” to work; ) and 2) unemployment discrimination (which I’ve blogged about previously here and involves employers failing to consider people who are out of work, due to the assumption they must not be as skilled as somebody currently holding a job.)

While these new forms of bias aren’t practiced by every company and hiring manager out there, I don’t believe, there’s no question that they DO exist in some circles — and represent an ugly development in terms of the modern job scene, as well as an extremely frustrating hurdle for those professionals in transition who encounter them.

But given that my previous article, linked above, already discussed this issue at length — let me throw a new twist into the discussion.  The question I’ve been finding myself asking recently is “do unemployed people themselves discriminate against other unemployed people, to some extent?”

I raise this issue because I’m surprised at how often I’ll be counseling people who are out of work, and upon suggesting that they perhaps join forces and collaborate with other folks out there who are “on the hunt” for work — or that they perhaps get involved in a job search networking group of some kind — I’ll frequently hear responses like:

•  “How can that person possibly help me?  Aren’t they also unemployed, themselves?”
•  “Why would I want to sit around with a bunch of other job seekers, feeling sorry for myself?  I don’t see the point.”
•  “Yeah, I might talk to some of these people down the road, but right now I’m hoping to connect with actual hiring managers.”
•  “I’m really looking for a professional opinion on my situation, and career prospects, not just feedback from random strangers.”
•  “That person doesn’t appear to have any background in my field, so I don’t see the relevance or what I’d gain from talking with them.”

And even if the sentiments above aren’t vocalized overtly, you’ll see quite a bit of passive evidence suggesting that thoughts similar to these are running through peoples’ minds.  For example, so many individuals I meet seem to be seeking feedback on how to improve their resume, interview more effectively, enhance their networking skills, combat age discrimination, and the like — and apparently fail to acknowledge that a great many out-of-work people these days have recently been bona fide hiring managers, themselves, and might have some very valuable insights to share.  Or, if nothing else, such people might supply the critical qualities of objectivity and empathy, lending a degree of moral support and  accountability to one’s search, as well as perhaps identifying some key points of differentiation/improvement that the job hunter, themselves, has overlooked.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to work myself out of a job here and suggest that professional career help isn’t a great investment, on occasion.  And in fairness, I’m also not suggesting that every out-of-work professional out there possesses this bias or discredits the notion of obtaining assistance from the fellow job hunters around them.  But at the same time, I’ve felt for years that this is an untapped resource that many professionals in transition fail to fully capitalize on.  Consciously or unconsciously, many people still act as if other people can’t add value to their efforts if they, themselves, aren’t currently drawing a paycheck.  Or they fail to see the value of “banding together” with their fellow travelers in creative ways to obtain support, guidance, and camaraderie through what can be a very confusing, emotionally-challenging process.  Who knows?  By taking a step in this direction, you might even make a few new friends, not to mention the benefit of having a few other smart, experienced professionals review your case, discuss your goals, and tap into their networks and experience to see if they can help.

So that’s my thought for the day.  It’s just something I’ve been pondering for a while and thought I’d share, for any of you out there who might admit to underestimating the value other displaced professionals might contribute to your journey.  As one successful former client said to me a year or two ago, after landing himself a new opportunity:

“You know, Matt, when I started this process I thought it would be a slam-dunk and my reputation alone would get me a new job almost immediately, as it had in years past.  I was a successful executive.  I didn’t need help.  I was going to soldier bravely through the process as I’d always done before.  But as the months went on, I started to realize that job hunting really is a team sport, in some respects, and I started to take meetings and coffee appointments with almost everyone who asked — regardless of whether they were currently working or had lost their job several years ago and were struggling to find something, themselves.  And you know what?  It was amazing.  I gained something valuable and learned something new from every single person I met with.  Every.  Single.  One.”






3 Responses to “Do the Unemployed Discriminate Against the Unemployed?”

  1. Thanks to you both for chiming in — and validating, in part, that the phenomenon I mentioned does in fact take place to some extent out there — and that all of us should be vigilant about not marginalizing people just because of their current work status. Hopefully most professionals will realize by now that even if they think their current job is bulletproof, there may come a time when they’re out pounding the pavement for a new position, themselves, and that what goes around, comes around. Again, thanks for sharing your insights…

  2. April 22, 2015 at 7:24 am

    Matt, thanks for reminding us that we all need to continue helping each other because eventually we will need help ourselves.

  3. Matt, excellent musing. This post made me remember the biggest reason I found your bi-weekly Job Talk networking group so awesome since putting like-minded people in a non-judgmental atmosphere is pretty rare. It was neat that I helped a couple of people connect to some of my connections, so it was worth it for me to be a facilitator/connector at Job Talk.

    The last part of your posting I probably could have written 17 years ago. I was re’orged out of my position and thought it would be relatively easy to get a new position. Lesson learned since it wasn’t easy and the stigma of unemployment is very real.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: