Finding a job while unemployed is more complicated than we thought

You may be better off staying unemployed until you can find a job as good as your previous one rather than settling on a job you’re overqualified for, suggests anew studypublished by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

To understand the factors that determine callbacks for unemployed job applicants, a team of researchers from Princeton University, Arizona State University, and the University of California-Los Angeles sent more than 12,000 fake résumés in response to almost 5,000 office jobs nationwide like executive assistant, receptionist, and office associate.

Each fake applicant had a four-year bachelor’s degree with substantial work histories and no prior spells of unemployment.

The researchers found that applicants who reflected
taking a lower-payi
ng job
that they were overqualified for like cashier or sales associate on their résumés were significantly less likely to receive a callback from employers.

“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,” the report authors note. “Alternatively, if an applicant has taken a low-level interim job, they may be better off not listing this job on their résumé.”

While taking an interim job can help pay the bills and keep a candidate busy until something better comes along, researchers say this tactic could backfire and make a candidate seem less qualified, especially if employers tend to reject applicants whose most recent jobs aren’t relevant to the ones for which they’re applying.

The study findings pose a dilemma for job seekers who are unemployed. While researchers advise not taking an interim job, finding a job comparable to the last after being let go is difficult, especially considering the stigma that goes with unemployment. Holding out for another good job may seem easier said than done.

And while study authors note that applicants could simply not reflect their interim jobs on their résumé, some consider this an ethical grey area.

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