Long-Term Unemployed Try to Reenter Work Force

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Scott Nelson used to start job interviews explaining away the last 27 months he's been out of work.

Now he talks about his qualifications and how he's kept his job skills current to take the focus off the employment gap.

"I am being challenged more and more about the length of my unemployment and what I've been doing in that length of time," said Nelson, who was laid off from his job as a geographic information systems analyst in January 2009.

"There is a trend in some job listings. There is a statement in there: 'Only employed people should apply.'"

At White's Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake, Texas, where Nelson and others who are out of work gather to network, get job leads and gain support, many said employers were simply refusing to hire them.

"I was told by an HR person it was deplorable that I had been unemployed for so long," Michael Vlazek said, "and that it would be a hindrance in me finding a job going forward."

Nina Griffin said there was stigma that the unemployed weren't good performers. "It is discouraging," she said, "because there's a whole pool of talent out there, like myself, and we have plenty to give to a company, plenty of experience."

And the Southlake group may be right. Some companies and recruiters are openly discriminating against the unemployed.

A global phone manufacturer says, "No unemployed candidates will be considered at all." A New Jersey restaurant tells applicants for a managerial position, "Must be currently employed." An electronics company in Texas bluntly says unemployed applicants will not be considered "regardless of reason."

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held hearings on the growing problem in February.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, testified during the hearings. She told ABC News that it's hard to know how widespread discrimination against the jobless has become. She said she has seen human resource professionals widely quoted to the effect that turning away the unemployed is a growing trend.

"For every ad that's explicit, many more have the same policy but don't say so. We think it's widely happening and that it's grounds for concern, especially in an economy where job growth is so slow and so many qualified people are looking for work. It imposes an artificial and arbitrary barrier that job seekers shouldn't have to deal with," she said in March.

Resumes Fall Into 'Black Hole

Cynthia Shapiro, a career strategist in Los Angeles, said she hears these stories from the long-term unemployed all the time.

"They just see their resume go into a black hole," she said. "They send out hundreds of resumes and get no response."

Unemployment Gap: Tips on Fighting Back

"Recruiters are turning people away and saying they can't represent people who've been unemployed longer than six months," Shapiro said. "The problem is the longer it goes beyond six months, the worse it gets."

Employment advisers like Shapiro say the longer you are out of work, the more likely prospective employers are to suspect that something is wrong with you.

"When you've got that kind of gap, it really looks bad on your resume," Shapiro said. "You have to fill it in with something in order to get back in the game."

She made these suggestions to fight back:

Plug the hole in the resume. Do volunteer work related to your profession. It can be unpaid -- just don't say so.

Don't start a job interview by bringing up your unemployment, hoping to explain it away.

Don't go negative and don't complain about the economy.

ABC News' Alan Farnham contributed to this story.

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