Michelle Teheux: The unemployment experience

Michelle Teheux

There are two versions of the unemployment experience out there.

First, there are the hard workers who are diligently searching for a job, working on their resumes, networking and generally doing all they can do to find another job.

There are also a certain number of people who are enjoying the time off and only going through the motions of searching for work.

The behavior of people in the second category makes it a lot harder for those folks in the first category.

I’ve read several news stories lately that document how many employers are passing up unemployed people in favor of hiring people who are already employed elsewhere.

That has to be one of the most infuriating things ever to the hard-working, well-qualified candidates who would make great employees but can’t even land an interview.

But anecdotally, I’ve heard a few managers tell similar stories that explain what really went on when the first round of layoffs became necessary. They saw it as an opportunity to get rid of some of the dead wood. The second round of layoffs meant getting rid of some pretty good employees. Subsequent layoffs, when necessary, meant having to let go of some good people they really wished they could keep.

Businesses out to hire a new employee know that they can choose from the cream of the crop, and it makes a certain amount of sense to conclude that anyone who has managed to hang on to his or her job right now must be pretty creamy. They also know that there’s no room on their payroll for anybody but a high performer, since in many cases anyone new they hire will likely be doing the job of two or more people back in better times.

I bet most of us know both kinds of unemployed people. There’s your friend or former co-worker who is working overtime trying to find a job. Then there’s your cousin or neighbor who has been watching a lot of movies, taking some terrific naps, and generally having a swell time.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for a potential employer to know which is which. So those of you who aren’t using your unemployment benefits for their intended purpose — to keep you afloat until you find another job — are hurting not only yourself but also all those who are trying hard to find another job.

Most job-seekers will have to lower their expectations a bit. Of all the people I know who have been laid off and then accepted another job, I cannot think of one who didn’t take a pay cut. In some cases, the cut has been significant enough that the person made more on unemployment than he or she is making with the new salary.

Some people simply refuse to do that. Why, they think, should I go to work and make less money than I’m getting right now by not working at all?

The answer, my friend, is that this time won’t last forever. Eventually, there will be more jobs available. Which person would you hire? The hard worker who took a $5 an hour pay cut in order to keep working, thus maintaining or advancing his or her skills, or the person who rode out the entire recession on unemployment?

Even the most hard-working, talented employee can end up unemployed. There aren’t any guarantees. But having a history of working hard and well improves your odds of being able to get and keep jobs.

No employer should refuse to interview the unemployed. That’s the lazy way out, and a good way to miss out on the ideal candidate. As for those who are not really looking for work ... well, don’t be too surprised if you’re still at loose ends even when jobs are more plentiful and your benefits have run out. If you’re unemployed, your job is to find a job. Most folks understand that. If you don’t, you’re part of the problem.

Michelle Teheux may be reached at mteheux@yahoo.com.

The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the newspaper.