08/14/2012 01:36 pm ET Updated Oct 14, 2012

Why Employers Should Give Unemployed Candidates A Chance

"It's easier to find a new job if you already have a job," says conventional wisdom. Most job seekers have heard this saying repeated a thousand times. As employers, we'd like to believe our companies and recruiting teams aren't any harder on unemployed candidates than their currently working counterparts. The facts, however, are saying something different.

A recent study for the annual Academy of Management conference shows bias against unemployed candidates is stronger than most employers would like to admit. Even more shocking, this bias kicks in extremely early. Even one month after finding themselves unemployed, job seekers have an uphill battle to climb.

The study shows employers will rate identical resumes as more positive if the candidate in question is still at their job. More surprising still, it didn't matter much if candidates had been fired, laid off, or quit their former jobs. The discriminatory attitude against them stayed relatively unchanged.

There are plenty of reasons employers shouldn't write off unemployed candidates. Here are some of those reasons I have seen and heard, and some tips on how I believe employers can better address the unemployment elephant in the room during the interview process:

The Value of Unemployed Candidates:
I think one of the most important reasons not to write off unemployed job seekers is because you would be ignoring a huge chunk of the job-seeking population. Currently, unemployment is hovering around 8.3 percent and if you decide to cut out the unemployed candidates you'll be writing off 12.8 million Americans in the process.

More importantly, with the war for talent still raging you can't afford to miss out on top candidates. Your competition might not be so shortsighted and will scoop up the job seekers you dismiss. Now you've just lost a great candidate who will share their creativity and insights with your rival.

Utilizing the Interview Process:
Now that you've let talented yet unemployed candidates through to the next round of the hiring process, it's time to address the unemployment question. Don't let this linger as the elephant in the interview.

For instance, you can deploy a question about your candidate's employment history as part of an asynchronous video interview. Your candidate will answer written questions on video, allowing you to judge how they handle the question both in words and through nonverbal attitude. If you don't like their response you don't even have to waste time with a face-to-face conversation.

If your interview is in-person or through live video interviews, you need to make sure to ask the right questions to find out more about the candidate's prior work experience. After all, you want to address the issue as soon as possible to know the background of your candidate. The past can tell us a lot about the future, and your candidate's past work experiences can give you an indication of how they will fit into the company environment.

Here are a few interview questions I suggest you consider asking any unemployed candidates to find out more detail about their work history:

Why did you leave your last job? Was the company downsized or was it just the wrong fit for your candidate? The way your candidate answers this question will give you the opening to ask relevant follow-up questions.

Why were you let go? If your candidate was fired or downsized from their company, you need to know. If it was a firing, it's especially important to understand the background before you judge. Just because a candidate was fired doesn't mean they don't have something valuable to offer your company.

What did you learn from the experience? If a candidate was fired, see if they took anything important away from the experience. If the candidate goes off on a ten-minute tirade about their former boss, you know they're not the right fit for your company.

What have they been doing while unemployed? One of the biggest stereotypes of the unemployed says these individuals don't have jobs because they are lazy. In most cases, nothing could be further from the truth! Find out what your job candidate has been doing since they stopped working full time. Odds are they are still working in some capacity, whether it's freelance work or volunteering around the community.

If the answers to these questions don't work for you or if the candidate is negative and bitter, then move on. However these job seekers might have perfectly good reasons for their unemployed status. If you take the time to really listen before you judge, you'll give yourself the opportunity to hire a great candidate other companies might be overlooking.

What value do you think unemployed candidates can bring to your organization? Share in the comments!