The Business Case For Hiring The Employed (That’s not a typo)

Which makes more sense, recruiting the unemployed 4% or the gigantic pool that already has a job (unfortunately, most get it bass-ackwards)? Fortunately, employed talent won’t be hard to recruit because today, an astounding 96% of all workers are looking for a new job. So, I promise that after closely examining its many benefits, you will change your opinion toward hiring the unemployed. And if you are unemployed, I suggest that you proactively show the recruiter that none of the following typical areas of concern apply to you!

A Sports Example Shows Why You Should Focus On Sourcing The Currently Employed (abbreviated as CE)

In professional sports, if your team needs a star player like Patrick Mahomes to fill a midseason vacancy. You could literally be “100% certain” that Mahomes would be continually under contract with one of the 32 teams. And even if you could find a franchise quarterback among the unemployed players during the season, they would be less desirable because their idle time and rusty skills would prevent them from providing immediate help. So, the lesson for business leaders to learn is that when a company needs top-performing talent, who can contribute immediately? They should first look at the currently employed at other companies.

A List – The Benefits Of Giving A Preference For The Currently Employed (CE)

Of course, the three main groups of potential recruiting targets (the employed, the unemployed, and the never employed) have their own advantages and disadvantages. However, my research has identified nearly 20 benefits that make sourcing the currently employed stand out from the other groups. (Note: Of course, this list is partially based on stereotypes about these groups). 

The Top 10 Advantages

  • The CE is the largest group of potential candidates, so they simply can’t be ignored – when you are sourcing potential candidates for an important open job. Realize that the smallest group of potential candidates are the unemployed, at only 3.8%. So, of course, it makes business sense to first source from the multiple times larger group, the employed.
  • The CE brings with them extremely valuable current best practices – because they come directly from another employer. When you hire a currently employed candidate with a key job, they will bring a lot of highly valuable knowledge about their current company, including their new ideas, improved processes, and current best practices, which will likely have an immediate impact. 
  • The CE’s skills and training are most likely to be up to date because all employers strive to keep their workers’ skills and training current. Employed candidates are the most likely to become productive in their new job immediately. An up-to-date skill set also means you won’t have to provide new hires with a lot of costly training. Or wait for any of that new training to find its impact. In the cases where the candidate is currently working for a top employer, there is a good chance that they will also have developed “future skills” that will benefit your organization for years. 
  • The CE is likely to be the only ones continuously using the latest technology – in a world that is increasingly dominated by fast-changing technology and AI. Be aware that only the currently employed can continually utilize leading-edge technology and learn about emerging technologies. And because CE candidates bring this outside tech knowledge, hiring them may boost your technology efforts. Unfortunately, technology capability is the area where the long-term unemployed will be least able to add much value. Those with “dated tech skills” won’t be able to jump in and still perform adequately quickly.
  • The CE candidates won’t be rusty, so they can execute almost immediately – just like NBA stars who haven’t played in months cannot return and contribute immediately. Unfortunately, candidates who have not worked in their field for months are likely to be rusty in their execution when they join your organization. And that inevitably means there will be a delay before they can reach the work speed of your current employees. In addition, rusty new hires may be more likely to hurt themselves and cause accidents while executing tasks for jobs that require physical strength. It will be almost impossible for the unemployed to maintain their physical capabilities while they are at home.
  • When you need innovators, realize they will all be continually employed innovators committed to staying in the corporate world often produce the highest ROI of any employee. These innovators strive to be continuously innovating. They have few gaps in their employment because any gap would cause them to lose the corporate resources they need to innovate continually. 
  • The CE is more likely to start with a stable mental state – it is well documented that many of the unemployed develop mental health issues, including higher than normal levels of anxiety, stress, and family/financial issues. Unfortunately, that means that recruiters/managers will have to deal with these emotions raised throughout the hiring process. And if they are hired, those issues will limit their productivity during their first months on the job. In addition, the EAP costs for mediating these issues won’t be cheap. 
  • When you hire directly from a competitor, you get better while they get worse – another benefit whose value shouldn’t be underestimated. The shift in economic value occurs when you hire a key current employee directly from a major competitor. Your company gains their former talent and best practices. Simultaneously, the losing company lost an equal amount of economic value. And when you purposely recruit a handful of key employees from a major competitor. That volume might actually make it possible to actually damage their internal operations. Of course, recruiting an unemployed person will have no direct impact on degrading your competitor. 
  • Professionals who value remaining current in their field aren’t likely to have employment gaps – it’s a fact that most dedicated professionals purposely decide to remain continually employed. And you won’t often find them among the unemployed because they value staying on the leading edge. They usually have three professional reasons for staying continually employed. First, because they are dedicated to their profession, they want to create value and continuously push their profession’s limits. Next, as professionals, they strive to learn and remain on the cutting edge of knowledge continually. Finally, they want to build their network and collaborate continually. Obviously, each of these three goals can best be continually met when a professional is continually working because they have the tremendous resources and the company network behind them. 
  • The CE new hires are most likely to provide the best employee referrals – the highest-performing hires come from referrals. And try as they might, it’s much harder for those “out of work” to grow a network of potential referrals. In contrast, current employees continuously discover quality referrals when they benchmark and meet with other internal and external colleagues. In the cases where their current colleagues greatly admire the new-hire CE, You can expect as many as 3 other desirable colleagues to follow them to their new company eventually.

Slightly Less Impactful Benefits From Prioritizing CE Sourcing/Hiring

If you have time, here are a few more benefits.

  • A CE candidate can be more accurately assessed because they have current work to review – because your employed recruiting targets have been continuously working. They will have current samples of their work that you can discuss and perhaps even examine. Unfortunately, with the longer-term unemployed, their latest work is now outdated.
  • The CE has evidence that they can be successfully managed – the fact that a CE has been successful in their current job. This means their current manager has judged them “a keeper.” They have a track record of being a team player that can be successfully motivated and managed. In direct contrast, you must examine unemployed candidates very closely. They might not now be working because they were difficult to manage. Incidentally, you can learn more about the value of a CE candidate at the offer stage based on how hard their current manager fights to keep them.
  • Can’t afford a new-hire failure? Closely examine why the unemployed left – hiring has a bad track record because hiring failures approach 50%. You can avoid some of those hiring failures by determining if a not working candidate wasn’t valued by their former manager. As a result, they are no longer at their last employer because they were fired (or encouraged to leave) due to their poor performance and/or their attitude and work behaviors. Or they were released during a layoff because of their obsolete skills. Of course, their former manager could have been wrong, or they might have now committed to better work behaviors. In the cases where a candidate has left a job in the last year. It would be wise to conduct in-depth research on why they left. And when you aren’t sure, give them follow-up assessment tests and spend more management/recruiter time assessing their strengths and weaknesses.
  • The unemployed who wanted a career change might quit again – in the case where an unemployed candidate left their last job because they wanted a career change. It is essential that you consider the possibility of that in desperation. They will attempt to return to the same field (at your company) primarily because they need the money. So you should find out if a career change was a reason for leaving their last job. If you hire them back into that field, consider the distinct possibility that these same career frustrations can reappear (or any of the frustrations they had about work). And that they will quit once again a few months into your job. That will be costly in terms of lost productivity and recruiting costs.
  • They have a high ROI, but you have to fight for top employed talent – because the unemployed are often eager to accept any new job. This group has a higher-than-normal offer acceptance rate. However, because CEs already have a job (that they can remain in). Unfortunately, their offer acceptance rate, in contrast, will be markedly lower. However, after you realize that one of the best ways to identify top talent is how much you need to fight to hire them. So CEs may require a great deal more convincing and salary to land them. But given the increased value of their on-the-job performance. I have found that the ROI from hiring a CE is significantly higher than the return from other groups of candidates. 
  • You get an even greater impact from the CE new hires working at top firms – the CE currently works at corporations with great management. Top companies literally have better employees because of their great hiring, retention, internal movement, and development. Not surprisingly, they will also have fewer “turkey” candidates. Top companies are more willing to quickly and proactively release their employees with obsolete skills and weak performance. So, it makes sense to narrow your sourcing priorities further to better target employees who work at organizations that excel in people management.


How To Source And Hire The Currently Employed

Because most of the CE are not active job seekers, it will take passive sourcing approaches to land most of them. You can learn more details on the best sourcing approaches for identifying/attracting the top employed prospects (i.e., referrals, boomerangs, direct sourcing, silver medalists, and finding their work online) by clicking here

And because they already have a job. Selling the currently employed will require a much higher level of selling skills. You can learn more about the most effective ways to recruit/sell CE’s by clicking here.

Final Thoughts

Because I am unabashedly an advocate of both performance and data-driven recruiting cultures, I expect every talent management action to increase shareholder value directly. As a result, I ardently consider it a recruiter’s only responsibility to guarantee that every team member has the opportunity to work continuously alongside the very best recruits. 

That is my unique “shareholders first perspective.” You shouldn’t be giving any special preference to those who “need a job.” Unless you personally (rather than the company) will be paying their salary.

Author’s Note #1: Before any anger arises. Yes, this article purposely focuses on the benefits of sourcing/hiring the employed. So much has already been written about the tremendous societal value of hiring the unemployed (I have written on that topic). This article unapologetically limits its scope to the seldom-discussed alternative side. The many benefits that a company receives from making “those that already have a job” their first sourcing priority. I would further note that nothing in this article is intended to suggest that it’s ok for managers to practice any form of “unemployment discrimination.”

Author’s Note #2

If you want to let off steam, I can be reached at [email protected], although I can’t guarantee a reply.

Please spread these ideas by sharing this article with your team/network and by posting it on your favorite media.
Also, join the well over 20,000+ that follow or have connected with Dr. Sullivan’s community on LinkedIn
And, if you don’t already subscribe to Dr. Sullivan’s Aggressive Talent Management articles, you can do that here.

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.

Check Also

Hands Holding a Smartphone with Data on Screen

The 3 Powerful HR Metrics That Drive Action (That no one uses)

Most HR metrics are “so what metrics” because they don’t create a sense of urgency …