Hiring the right person is hard. It's truly difficult to judge someone's value based on a two-page summary of her career and a few interviews. Therefore, hiring managers use something called proxies to help determine someone's potential. One of these proxies is a college degree, another is current employment. Many managers reject anyone who is not currently employed because -- the logic goes -- if they were truly good employees they would not be unemployed.
While it's true that bad employees are more likely to be unemployed than good employees, it's absolutely not true that all unemployed people are lousy. In fact, some of them are fabulous. Strike that -- many of them are fabulous.
Now, there is big difference between someone who is unemployed because they were laid off, took time off to raise children or take care of ailing relatives, or is a recent grad, and someone who was fired. A layoff is a business decision where someone loses a job because the position is going away. A firing is a where someone loses a job because that person isn't the right fit. You should considered laid off people equal to their currently employed counterparts. You should be more cautious about fired people, but here's why you should strongly consider hiring someone who has been fired.
1. Sometimes managers stink.
Have you never had a bad boss? Have you never heard horror stories about managers who make unreasonable demands, play favorites, underpay, illegally refuse to pay overtime, mock people for their religious beliefs, or suddenly claim that the star employee is completely incompetent when she announces a pregnancy? Not every fired employee was fired because they were awful. Some were fired because their managers were awful. Don't reject someone because they had a rotten manager.
2. Sometimes the job was not a good fit.
If you hired Stephen King to plan toddler birthday parties, he would probably not be a good fit, as the little darlings would never sleep again. This does not mean he's not a fabulous writer. It would just have been a bad fit. For some unknown reason, we expect that people should never make mistakes on their career path. Just because someone failed at one career does not mean that they will be a failure in another.
3. People don't learn without making mistakes.
Let's face it. If you never make any errors you're not taking any risks. Sometimes people get fired because the screwed up. But, the question is, did they learn from their mistakes? Are they better now because of the things learned? You'll never know if you don't take the time to talk to someone.
4. Culture matters.
You spend a lot of time looking for people who fit your culture. Is it possible that the recently fired job candidate was a lousy fit for the last company's culture and is a fabulous fit for your culture? Just because someone didn't fit in in one company doesn't mean they won't be a perfect fit for yours.
5. Second chances often turn out great.
Someone who has had a rough go of life is often ready to jump in and work really hard. If you've been fired and landed a new job, you know that you can't blow it again. You may find out that hiring someone who has had a streak of bad luck is good luck for you.
Of course, you need to thoroughly vet the references for any job candidate -- not just one that's been fired. And you shouldn't hire someone just because they've been fired. But you shouldn't reject a candidate just because the last boss kicked her to the curb.