I have seen several articles in internet about a general bias against hiring long term unemployed people in non-necessarily academic jobs, see for example here and here. I was wondering if there is such an unwritten rule in academia as well?

I am sure someone might say it is not the case and according to the rules X and Y, it is considered a discrimination and it is forbidden by law and so on. I am not asking what the written laws say. I would like to know if there is such a bias in hiring committees or not? And if there is such a thing how can a long term unemployed academic do to overcome this obstacle?

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    The first article you link says "College graduates did not suffer from this stigma, however.", but that doesn't really answer your question. – StrongBad Feb 3 '14 at 10:31

I don't think there is an unwritten rule, precisely, but I think once you are not employed in academia (even if you have a job somewhere else), your chances of getting a position in academia decrease extremely rapidly. Competition for positions is so massive, and there are so many well qualified applicants that I think someone who is not currently in an academic or research position is unlikely to be taken seriously. Not to mention that you typically aren't doing the kind of research and networking you need to get a position if you are unemployed (not always, but often). I think some fields where it's very hard to get work are a bit more forgiving (though, of course there there is even more competition), but this is part of what keeps people in adjunct positions, since it is a way of staying "in the game."

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  • I am not asking about other factors related to employment. Assume that two candidates have equal credentials for a specific position. If one of them has a gap in his academic employment, does this make his application dramatically less attractive? – user4511 Feb 3 '14 at 12:51
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    @VahidShirbisheh Probably, but it depends on the person who's making the decision. It's also hard to say what "equal credentials" means. In practice, having an academic job is itself a credential. – Ben Webster Feb 3 '14 at 12:55
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    @VahidShirbisheh As far as I can judge, in mathematics that depends on the research record. Unemployed now but actively publishing and well-known = minor disadvantage. Unemployed and no paper within last 3 years = kiss of death. In any case, losing your job at 55+ puts you into much worse position than being unemployed for a couple of years at 35- (have seen both situations with my friends), so the general rule seems to be "rejoice and fight your way through if you are young and give up hopes for a permanent job if you aren't" (there are some exceptions, of course) – fedja Feb 3 '14 at 23:17

In any case (academic or not), you always have to account for any hole on your CV. The main idea here is that someone always loses skills when he doesn't have any activity.

However, holes in CV can have many different root causes (disease, looking for a job in a country struck by the economic crisis, humanitarian work, taking care of children at home...). It is usually best to either write it down explicitly (disease for example) or to turn it into some positive, meaningful experience (humanitarian work, etc.). For example, someone who took care of children at home can have learned some organization skills, done some scientific blogging or contributed to some scientific tool on spare time.

This will not always be accepted by a recruiter, but it's better than holes in the CV that just raise suspicion about one's commitment.

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    I am not really sure about your argument that "someone always loses skills when he doesn't have any activity". Because I know hundreds of employed academics with absolute no growth in their academic works in recent years and on the other hand I know lots of people outside academia with every day growth in their knowledge and experience. For example I know a guy who has only one publication and he has recently become an associate professor in a Canadian college! – user4511 Feb 3 '14 at 10:50
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    As a recruiter, you always try to detect the NEET-like people (NEET stands for Not in Education, Employment or Training). This does not mean that the applicant has to be active in the particular field of application: hopefully, open-minded recruiters will also consider out-of-field activities such as raising kids, fighting malaria or whatever. When presenting your CV, you need to be able to tell a story, and holes break this story. Getting a professor position is not necessarily linked to publishing: think of positions in a company, being active in committees... – sansuiso Feb 3 '14 at 11:16
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    @sansuiso I have never seen a hiring committee make an offer based on service/admin, hiring is predominately about teaching and research (with a little service and personality thrown in). – StrongBad Feb 3 '14 at 12:49
  • Can't you just fill up any hole by writing "CEO in X"? Then you only need to explain that the idea wasn't that great or that something failed in your master plan for world domination. Most of the small companies fail before becoming big anyway, there should be no suspicion in that. On a side note, I don't think people should be punished for mistakes in their past as long as any debt they may have fallen into is settled. – Trylks Feb 3 '14 at 13:29
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    I've taken part in quite a bit of recruiting committees (academic and industrial, and for internships and permanent positions as well). I can really guarantee you that one of the first things we checked was the temporal consistency of the candidate experience. If you have any hole, you must be ready to accept a lot of questions about them. Yes, you can say you were CEO of X that failed. But keep in mind that it must be true, it's so easy to check... – sansuiso Feb 3 '14 at 14:06

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