The Unemployed May Be Better Off Not Taking Just Any Job

Here’s an unexpected discovery: women who sat out periods of unemployment fared better at job hunting than did those who took a low-level job while they searched.

The surprising results of a study in which thousands of fictitious resumes were sent in response to 4,600 job openings for administrative support jobs were published this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Applicants whose resume showed employment gaps of as long as a year were more likely to be called by the employer than were those who had taken jobs at chain restaurants, groceries or big-box retailers.

Besides testing for the effect of interim jobs, the three researchers also found that the duration of unemployment had no effect on being contacted, but the age of the applicant did. Those whose years of experience and graduation dates — all had college degrees — got significantly fewer calls from employers than did younger applicants. Those over 55 had a 7.6 percent call rate, compared to younger applicants whose call rates was in the 10-11 percent range.

While employers who most frequently called applicants showed no age preference, perhaps because their need for workers was such that they were less selective, the researchers observed, “The overall pattern is clear. Employers are generally substantially less like to call back older job applicants.”

While finding age discrimination isn’t surprising, the effect of interim, lower-level jobs, is.

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Workers who sat out their unemployment got called 9.8 percent of the time versus 8.5 percent for those who took interim jobs.

“The overall pattern of results suggests that holding a job that is lower skill and irrelevant to the job for which the individual is applying reduces the likelihood of a callback, at least for selective employers,” conclude the researchers, who go on to observe, “It appears that an unemployed worker is better off remaining unemployed and searching for work rather than being employed in a low-level job while searching. Alternatively, if an applicant has taken a low-level interim job, they may be better off not listing this job on their resume.”

Pavel L Photo and Video /

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


2 Comments on “The Unemployed May Be Better Off Not Taking Just Any Job

  1. What really needs to be looked at is whether or not the person applying for the job can do it. Way too much emphasis is given on what you have done vs. what you can actually do.

    In many other situations, e.g., calling for a repair person in a crisis (broken furnace, pipes flooding, etc.) we do not care if the person was out on vacation for 2 weeks prior, having a kid married or undergoing major surgery. We just know we need something handled immediately and focus on that. Same can work for those who want to work whether or not they’ve been working.

    1. I agree. I apply for jobs I know I can handle. I’ve applied for just any job in the past and most ended up with me being terminated. Thank you for understanding that you HAVE TO BE ABLE TO PERFORM the jobs you sign up for. So many people don’t realize that and are so quick to judge others for holding out for something they know they CAN handle.

      Every job isn’t meant for everybody and that’s why they interview to find the RIGHT candidate. So many people are so quick to cast folks out as lazy. Everybody isn’t a jack of all trades. Some folks were meant to only do one type of work and that’s what they’re skilled at and should stick to.

      Think about it this way. If you lack the skills(and some of it is probably innate as well) to be a Surgeon and you sign up for the job just because it’s available, you’re gonna have some serious lawsuits on your hands. You gotta be the right fit no matter what your career choice.

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