In the world of recruiting, employers love an enthusiastic applicant and abhor a desperate one. I know of candidates who were rejected because they came across as willing to take any job. My question is, why is this a bad thing?

Rags to Riches

American literature and movies celebrate the “rags-to-riches” stories, like the books written by Horatio Alger about boys willing to work their way from the gutter to the good life. The story of Chris Gardner, popularized in the movie Pursuit of Happyness, said that anyone could be successful if given a chance. We always love to read about a CEO who started in the mailroom and rose to the top because he was willing to do anything. So why is it that we punish the people who come to us when they’re down on their luck? Why do we ignore someone who is willing to accept a challenge and work hard?

Why the Attitude?

Why do we in HR have the attitude that “desperate” is a bad thing? My guess is that rejecting a desperate candidate is the safe choice. Our job as screeners is to present the best candidates for consideration and generally, “desperate” is not going to be seen as the best. To protect our reputations, we don’t take the risk.

For some positions with a very specific set of requirements, such as a genetic scientist, obviously, hiring someone who has no training but is willing to do anything will not work. But many jobs do not have these requirements. Every company has positions for which a basic set of skills may be needed, but a willingness to do the job is more important. Why not consider “desperate” people for these positions?

Desperate May Mean Enthusiastic

Another way at looking at a desperate candidate is that if given a chance they could become an enthusiastic employee, and who doesn’t like an enthusiastic employee? Additionally, I think that such an employee can also be a grateful and loyal one, as well as being hardworking. After all, someone who’s been through tough times and knows the hardships of unemployment will be loath to go through that again.

Long-Term Unemployment

Many times, candidates are rejected because they’ve been unemployed for longer than six months. When someone has been unemployed that long, he or she seldom even gets a chance for an interview. We deem them to be “unemployable.” Many in HR are not willing to take a chance on a candidate that no one else wants to take a chance on. Or sometimes you’re just following the dictates of the hiring manager. Either way, you may be running afoul of the law. Currently, being unemployed for a long time is not a “protected category” under the EEOC, but some legislation has been introduced on both the federal and state levels to consider that concept.

Just the fact that you don’t consider hiring the long-term unemployed may open you up to claims of adverse impact or disparate impact discrimination. This is when your selection process adversely affects a protected category by resulting in a selection rate of 80% or less of that of your largest hiring group. It’s a well-known fact that unemployment is higher among minority groups, and long-term unemployment is higher among that group as well. By avoiding the long-term unemployed as a policy, your selection process may have an adverse impact on minorities. Unless you can show that your policy has a justifiable business reason, some creative plaintiff attorney may sue you for discrimination. Are you willing to fight that battle?

Take a Risk and Find a Diamond?

I’m not asking you to just hire anyone off the street, and I’m not asking you to be foolish about your standards. But I am asking you to step outside the “safe” zone you are used to being in and consider those desperate candidates. Don’t view them as being desperate, see them as enthusiastic and appreciate the fact that they want to work. You never know when you may uncover a diamond in the rough.

Andreea Hrab

International HR Director for OSF Global Services, Andreea is a veteran recruiter who has seen them all. She developed HR recruiting strategies and retention programs that guarantees the success of the company. She is a people person and she handles very easy new relationships with new employees, but her most interesting challenge is to find the middle way between company’s best interests and employee’s needs. To learn more about Andreea contact her on LinkedIn.

5 Comments

  • Avatar Loren says:

    I remember that I was so eager to land my first job, the interviewer was probably a bit scared. But he gave me a chance, and I took it. I did the best I could, I asked lots of questions, and I learned something every time I got the opportunity. All in all, nobody regretted the decision – I spent ten years with that company and I always did my best. What people fail to understand is that sometimes desperation comes not from lack of skill, but from lack of chances

  • Avatar Katy S. says:

    I often take chances with people I recruit, but I must admit that I avoid “desperate” candidates. In my experience, if they can`t control their attitude during the interview, they are likely to be impulsive and sometimes even reckless in their jobs. This is a risk we cannot afford. Of course everyone makes mistakes, but 99% of them are easy to fix. I cannot say the same thing about the slips “desperate” candidates tend to have.

  • Avatar Sarah Howard says:

    Especially with young candidates – fresh graduates, for example – enthusiasm is often mistaken for desperation. But most times they prove to be the most innovative and reliable employees in the company. So this is why I can never say no to this type of candidate. So far, my intuition has never failed me.

  • Avatar Steve P. says:

    What recruiters would even dare in this still depressed economy to regard anyone as “desperate” and shun the long-term unemployed??

    I am one of those 1-2% with-an-advanced-degree unemployed who returned to the US after years abroad and lost any network that I really did not have anyway 20 years ago, and I feel like a leper in my mid-50s in this job market. So am I just being unnecessarily negative or paranoid, or from what this article suggests, am I really a leper?

  • Avatar SusanA says:

    I think it’s a shame to not consider someone who has been unemployed for a while. It took me seven months to find a job in 2002 and nine months to find a job in 2009. Does that make me a bad employee? I think not. You have no idea what the circumstances may be until you meet with a candidate. As an HR professional with 24 years experience, I would hope that we’re a bit more savvy than to dismiss a candidate out-of-hand.

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