Covid Lesson – Stop Rejecting Job Jumpers And Those With Employment Gaps

A major talent shortage cause is rejecting those with unavoidable employment gaps. Instead, sidestep this “work history flaw.” Historically, even fully qualified applicants with significant employment gaps were rejected. It was assumed that having employment gaps (i.e., not getting another job quickly) meant something was seriously wrong with the candidate. Similarly, “job jumpers” that changed jobs too frequently were assumed to be a retention risk. However, today’s smart hiring managers realize that both of these possible problem areas should not be automatically counted against a candidate in the current work environment. During the last two years, most separations were not 100% the employee’s choice. Instead, they were mostly caused by a combination of economic and Covid factors. As a result, I label these two work history issues as “no-fault” separation factors” that shouldn’t be automatically held against a candidate.

If you can only do one thin – give the candidate the benefit of the doubt. Don’t allow recent job gaps or job jumping to be automatically held against them. Instead, find other ways to assess their capabilities and/or their retention probability.

Part I – A Better Way To Handle Candidates With Significant Employment Gaps

A candidate with employment gaps has recently gone more than four months without a permanent job. And if your organization wants to avoid passing over a good candidate with one or more of these employment gaps, you should consider one or more of the following 5 actions.

  • Start by realizing that high resignation rates and employment gaps may be a permanent factor – it would be a mistake to assume that frequently encountering employment gaps will eventually fade away. The pandemic has changed the employment landscape forever. Part of that change will likely be a permanently high employee turnover rate. The pandemic taught employees not to tolerate and stay in mediocre jobs, coupled with candidates’ becoming much more cynical about potential employers. Most candidates will now be willing to endure long periods without permanent employment after their separation for the foreseeable future. Candidates are no longer willing to risk accepting another job they are not 100% sure about. So get ready for a future where a majority of all candidates might have “significant employment gaps.”
  • Help everyone understand that employment gaps were often beyond the candidate’s control – educate your managers and recruiters to understand the various reasons why many now have gaps in their employment history. And that having these gaps is not automatically an indicator that they could not get hired because hiring managers where they applied discovered a major flaw in the candidate. In fact, most of the causes of these gaps were a combination of closures, layoffs, school /childcare issues, and Covid concerns. Over which the candidate had no control. So, as a result, these gaps can be called “no-fault gaps.”
  • Delay any gap assessments – when you spot any troubling gaps. Don’t ignore them. At least initially, try to minimize any chance that they will result in a premature rejection by withholding any assessment of these “employment gaps” until the very end of your hiring process.
  • Realize there are other ways to accurately assess whether they are a flawed candidate – start by never assuming that this candidate couldn’t get a job for a significant period because of a flaw. Instead, rely on your own proven candidate assessment process to discover if they have any significant flaws. Begin by giving them a real problem to solve during their interview, which they are likely to face in this job. Then, assess them on the effectiveness of their solution. Next, provide at least one peer interview. Peer colleagues have proven to be especially good at identifying potential faults. Finally, conduct an especially thorough reference check process to identify any faults and discover whether any “no-fault causes” contributed to their employment gaps.
  • Develop metrics to determine if employment gaps predict failure – track the on-the-job performance of all new hires to determine whether those that had questionable employment gaps (but were hired anyway) experience a significantly higher new-hire failure rate. If they didn’t fail at a higher rate, continue deemphasizing employment gaps.

Part II –A Better Way To Handle Job Jumpers

The second category that covers flawed job histories includes job jumpers. A job-jumper is a candidate with relatively short tenures with one or more employers. Due to today’s exceptionally high quit rates, this possibly creates the issue. Also, hiring managers are particularly concerned about the loyalty and retention of every new hire. Of course, the same hiring managers who would resist hiring a candidate with significant job gaps will likely be reluctant to hire job jumpers. A CareerBuilder survey revealed that 43% of employers wouldn’t consider hiring a job-jumping candidate.

Action Steps For Handling No-Fault Job Jumpers

Here are five action steps that can reduce the number of job jumper candidates that you end up rejecting. They include:

  • Identify why they leave and stay – find out (by asking the candidate and their references) specifically why they left their past jobs. Ensure that your new job doesn’t repeat any negative factors that might drive them away again.
  • Stop assuming that former job jumpers will jump again – demonstrate to your hiring managers that most former job jumpers you have hired stay at your organization. Because you have identified their needs and you continuously meet them.
  • Delay any job jumping assessments – when you spot a troubling job jumper candidate. Rather than ignoring it, minimize any chances for a premature rejection. Withhold any assessment of their “future job jumping” until the very end of your hiring process.
  • Offer them an employment contract just like in sports and entertainment professionals. You can tie an employee to your organization by offering them an exclusive multi-year contract.
  • Finally, educate everyone about the value that no-fault job jumpers add – educate your executives, managers, and recruiters so that they all fully understand the tremendous value that job jumpers can add to an organization. Those benefits include:
    • Job jumpers bring with them best practices and knowledge of your competitors – 53% of employers say that job-hoppers “have a wide range of expertise” (Source: CareerBuilder survey). In fact, when you hire a job jumper, you get their accumulated knowledge, benchmark information, a wide array of contacts, and best practices that they have learned from several firms.
    • Job jumpers bring fresh ideas and a diverse perspective – job jumpers bring ideas they learned at other firms. They also add diverse experiences to see problems from multiple perspectives.
    • Job jumpers can help fight groupthink – the deadly innovation killer known as groupthink occurs when there is insufficient outside input and perspective on an important issue. New hires who have worked at multiple diverse employers are more likely to bring that compelling and convincing outside perspective.
    • Job jumpers are adaptable; they learn and build contacts quickly – 51% of employers attest to the fact that job-hoppers “can adapt quickly” (CareerBuilder survey). When you hire a job jumper that has succeeded in each of their successive jobs, their success likely came from their ability to build relationships fast and learn rapidly. 
    • They are likely to be thoroughly developed – you need to think of job jumpers as someone that has gone through a series of development rotations in different organizations. Each time they were a new hire, these jumpers were forced to rapidly learn the culture, new information, new skills, and best practices. 
    • Jumpers may be easier to recruit – many shortsighted managers and recruiters automatically reject jumpers. This high rejection rate means that there is often an abundant supply of them. So, if you ignore their job jumping, the reduced competition means that they are much easier to recruit. And their salary expectations may also be lower than most that don’t possess this common work history flaw.
    • Job jumpers are likely also to be top performers, whether internally or externally. Top performers can and do “move up” frequently. Also, realize that they can and do move frequently because they have proven their capabilities and results. Average performers also try to move up frequently, but they have little success.

If You Are Wondering Why There Is A Recent Increase In No-Fault Job Jumping?

One new thing in today’s job market is that most job jumpers are not doing it voluntarily. Instead, frequently they are being pushed or driven to job jump. The practice has increased so much that I have begun to call this phenomenon “no-fault job jumping” (because the continuous movement wasn’t 100% voluntary). The 6 primary reasons behind this recent increase in job jumping include:

  • The rapidly changing desirability of an employer can encourage employees to leave – because the multiple economic and Covid issues that companies face are now changing rapidly. The desirability of a current employer often degrades almost overnight. And as a result, many firms are suffering rapid ups and downs. Many of their frustrated and stressed employees are being driven out through no fault of their own. 
  • There is peer pressure to quit – in the US, we are all experiencing the highest employee quit rate in a decade. And because so many of an employee’s colleagues are leaving. There is peer pressure from those colleagues (who have or are preparing to quit) to follow them out the door. Unfortunately, most managers don’t use a data-driven retention process. Meaning that once an employee begins to consider leaving seriously, they probably will.
  • It’s so easy to apply and get a job – with so many automated online job boards that are easy and free to access. It’s now amazingly fast and easy to be made aware of and apply to every enticing job. In this tight job market, because few others are applying. It’s amazingly easy actually to land a new job without much effort. And because it’s so easy, many more now qualify as job jumpers.
  • There is pressure to accept a new job – there are currently a record number of new job openings. Recently, more of them have become especially enticing. Employers have learned to offer higher salaries, more work/life balance, and a significant sign-on bonus.
  • So many are willing to work at gig jobs – with so much gig and self-employment work available. Many can and do frequently shift between gig employers. Unfortunately, this frequent shifting between gig employers appears to many managers the same as traditional job jumping (it isn’t). 
  • Some have already learned to hire job jumpers – the practice of refusing to consider job jumpers is fast becoming an outdated practice. 55% have hired a job hopper, and 32% of all surveyed employers have come to expect workers to job hop (Source: CareerBuilder survey). 

Other HR Factors Have Changed As A Result Of Covid

Incidentally, as a result of Covid, you should realize that several other HR elements have also changed significantly. Including retention, innovation, team communications, and the use of behavioral interview questions. For example, most are surprised to learn that behavioral interview questions are becoming problematic. Behavioral interview answers cover how you did something years ago (before the pandemic changed everything). However, today we instead need to know how you will act now and in the future within our company’s unique environment. So instead, I recommend that you consider interview questions (click here for examples) specifically targeted to how you will act today in our job and environment. 

Final Thoughts

In Silicon Valley, where I focus my work, we learned not to reject those with employment gaps a long time ago. But instead to accept and even celebrate them. Because so many of our best employees have themselves grown because they have taken months off to work on a new idea, a new venture, or an innovation. 

We have found that moving between firms (jumping) is also an extremely positive thing. Because when we hire a candidate with significant job jumping. We simultaneously acquire some best practices and diverse perspectives along with their skills. So my overall message to smart recruiting leaders is not to stereotype candidates based on either of these perceived work history flaws. But to instead investigate each one to determine if the perceived flaw should be a knockout factor. These two work history issues are quickly becoming more common but less threatening. 

Author’s Note 

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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