Ageism - Recruiters, Are You Just Being Politically Correct?


This topic can be quite a minefield and a conversation that may need to be looked at from many different angles. In the UK age discrimination has been unlawful in employment, training and education since October 2006. In the recruitment world in the UK there are strict rules in relation to posting job adverts, collecting resumes and obtaining information from candidates that contain data reflecting their age.

Are their similar rules or laws in the USA and other countries? How far has your government gone or governing body to stop ageism in the workplace?


Now what I am looking for here is comments and responses relating to you being honest, this is a blog post for honesty and not just the 'Politically Correct' answers. Here some questions to put some meat on the bone:

Do you really agree with ruling out Ageism in the work place?
What obstacles have you come across in recruitment which relate to an individuals age?
Have you ever been accused of being ageist and what was the outcome?
Have you been in a situation when ageism was against someone because they were too young?
Do you honestly think older people are more wiser and better groomed for the working world?
If a client asks you how old a candidate is, what do you reply, how do you deal with this?
Removing dates of education on a resume is a step too far don't you think? But the dates do give away the persons age!


I am going to sit on the fence on this one, the jury's out for me and I am really undecided. With more candidates and less jobs currently it would be a tough call to choose between a 30 year old Oxford educated individual and a 58 year old person with 35 years worth of commercial experience. Is it fair to discriminate when it comes to age. If you are, lets say over 50, how would you feel up against a 27 year old for the same position?

What are the right answers here?? This is a tough one.... Let's debate.

Views: 978

Comment by Dan Hunter on July 29, 2010 at 11:43am
Bill Smith said it best.

We're there to provide what the client wants, if you were recruiting for Google would you send them a 61 year old guy with background in the defence sector? I think its called 'cultural fit' in these PC days :-)
Comment by Paul Hanchett on July 29, 2010 at 11:58am
> We're there to provide what the client wants,

Very true, yet there are limits on how far most of us would take this-- What would you do if a client said "Just send me whites" or "Don't send any females"?

Expressed that way it is clearly discriminatory but in the context of a business buy decision you either do what the client asks for or you lose the sale. Every client has a right to not do business with you, but at what point do you lose your own soul?

IMAO, the current practice of hiring temporary and temp to hire employees has the effect of neutering most employment protection laws. The employee ends up with no benefits, no protection, and no recourse.

I believe I've seen psychological preference studies that show that pretty much everyone (including older people) prefer to interact with people who (at least) appear younger...

Just because it happens doesn't mean we should encourage it! ;-)
Comment by Paul Hanchett on July 29, 2010 at 12:10pm
it's fine to rule out people ... with too much software development experience for an entry-level software development position

And why would that be? Odds are very good the advanced developer would be faster and write better code as well as being able to make other contributions to the process.

(My background is as an Electronic and Software Engineer. :-) )
Comment by Sandra McCartt on July 29, 2010 at 1:18pm
Here is an interesting sociological experiment for any of you under the age of 70 who can't understand why companies resist hiring older candidates. Go to a dating site. Do a search for a match who is in the 48 to 68 age range. Now assuming that people who are on a dating site are putting the very best picture and profile up there that they can come up with to attract someone ..take a look at what you get. Then do a search for a match that is 28 to 48 and see what comes up.

Now i am not just talking about appearance here, although that is a factor just as it is in an interview situation, read the profile presentations and think about what people are saying about themselves, the focus of what they do and what they want to do.

I place a lot of "more experienced" candidates because i am one of them. But, i have to spend more time beating them into shape to interview so they don't shoot themselves in the foot with their own attitude that they will not be hired because of their age, they don't see why they need to ditch the suit they bought in 1987, they get carried away talking about how they can "teach" younger team members how they did it for the past 25 years, because of their experience with many different companies they know how things should be done or the way it was done at XUZ company was stellar so they can bring that to the table. All that may be true but based on past history someone with 20 years more experience is much more likely to assert that based on that experience they know a better way to do something than those who have been trained in the way a certain company does things or who do not have all those years of doing things a different way. All that being said, the age factor in my opinion, is as different as the individual. Some people are old as a coot at 45, others at 60 are with the program, open to learning and fall in with a younger team and enjoy it.

It's also my take that the older worker, be it 48 to 110 is often times their own worst enemy. They do in fact in many cases seem to think that based on their experience they should be able to change a few rules. I had one this week who asked during my phone interview if the possibility of working remote rather than relocating was an option. I was adamant that it was not an option. Period, paragraph. He was flown in for an on site. After the interview he let me know that he had negotiated with the interview teams about working remote part of the time and commuting as needed to the company offices and seemed think that would be fine with them as he had told them he would move in a year as soon as he could sell his home in another state without taking a big loss.

No offer. He had assured me that he understood there would be no remote and he would move so was presented that way. His conversation with everyone he interviewed with about working remote knocked him out. When i told him the result and reminded him that i had been firm about no remote this is what came back.

"There must have been another reason, probably my age".

No it was not, it was the hard headed refusal to listen or based on his many years of experience he felt that there was no reason he could not work effectively remote and shot himself in the foot. Was it age or experience level? Would someone who was 20 years younger have decided that they would try and change the rule? In my experience, sometimes it's just the individual but not as often as the older candidate.

It wasn't age in this case but my candidate will always believe it was. Perhaps that is why some of the ageism exists and employers don't want to risk dealing with the fall out.
Comment by Paul Hanchett on July 29, 2010 at 2:03pm
Sandra, worthwhile points. Clearly your candidate was in the wrong, he was unwilling to meet a fundamental requirement of the position. Besides, he blew the "Get the offer first, then negotiate" rule.

That said, concern about dealing with a house is also understandable. You don't mention how old this candidate was but would someone 20 years younger have had to uproot a family and potentially take a loss selling an unoccupied home? Maybe the issue was not so much telecommuting as getting time to deal with the required transition. Some people pattern their lives so they can do that, others have not.

And sometimes we just notice things when they confirm our existing prejudices-- Look up "confirmation bias". Is it really true that blondes are ditzy or that red heads get angry easily? No, but it fits our stereotype so we notice when it happens.
Comment by Sandra McCartt on July 29, 2010 at 2:38pm
Of course concerns about selling a home are always there but for the record someone 20 years younger would potentially have kids in college. This candidate could have simply kept his mouth shut, potentially gotten the offer then made his own arrangements to commute on weekends until he sold his home. He knew his situation when he asked me and i told him it was a no go so he told me he and his wife were ready for a change anyway as it was just the two of them. The point here is after he shot himself in the foot he was unable to acknowledge that it was because he did what i told him not to do and blamed it on his age. Could not be further from the reality. Had he told the interview team that he would be commuting on the weekends until the house could be sold that would not have been a problem as he would have been on site five days a week, further they would provide temp housing for several months.

the whole thing had nothing at all to do with age but he made it about age when he blew it. My question was , would someone younger have made it about age even if they did the same thing in the interview.
Obvious answer, of course not it would have been about selling the house or hoping to get the chance to telecommute when that was not an option up front. So was it age that made him think he could do that based on his fabulous experience and 30 plus years of it. I have seen it happen many times that the more experienced a candidate is the more they think they can negotiate around the firm requirements.

I find that candidates who are younger or less experienced will be less likely to try and change the rules both in the interview and in the day to day performance of a job but again it's on an individual basis.

I can promise that as a "geezerette" myself i am certainly not as flexible as i was when i didn't have over 30 years experience. We get set in our ways as we figure out what works for us and are not as willing or open to change. Frankly, working with young recruiters drives me to distraction because i have to listen to them reinvent the wheel just as i did when i didn't know shit. I get a kick out of them and still learn things that i wouldn't if i were just surrounded with fellow geezers but truth be told i have to bite my tongue a lot not to tell them to shut up and listen to my words of wisdom so they don't run around like hamsters on a wheel sounding like a bunch of inexperienced dorks. And believe me, i am lot more with the program than most of the folks in my age group. They are a lot more concerned about their health, their boring grand kids and just dragging through the day so they can get home and watch Bill O'reilly and bitch about the government.

I get offers all the time to go into a corporate enviornment. Won't do it. Reason why. I am too damn old, experienced and overqualified to deal with all the stuff in corporate America that i have already done and would have a difficult time keeping my mouth shut about how things should be done. If i had to i could and i would but if older people were honest with themselves it's a tough slog and employers know it too , from experience. :) Geezerette over and out. It's time for my nap.
Comment by Judi Wunderlich on July 29, 2010 at 3:05pm
Sandra -

Oh so true (and funny) about the dating site thing! As a single, over-50 woman I am flabbergasted at the poor presentation of so many men my age on dating sites. They just don't seem to care OR they are totally out of touch about how they appear to others, and I would be willing to bet that if they are in job hunt mode, they are just as out of touch and also make a poor presentation.
Comment by Sandra McCartt on July 29, 2010 at 3:47pm
Trust me baby, you should take a gander at the ones over 60. Ernest Hemmingway may have looked sexy with a scrubby beard but if you think looking for a job with a scrubby gray beard is the deal, look around you at the folks in their 60's and 70's who are still working and doing a good job. Unless you are looking for work as a temp Santa, ditch the beard.

If one more over 50 candidate parks his Harley in front, walks in my office in a baseball cap, jeans and tennis shoes telling me that he really looks better than this but since this was not a formal interview he didn't see any reason to get dressed or asks me if he needs to wear a suit to the interview i may throw up. "Yes and don't ride the Harley to the interview, it doesn't make you look younger.

When i tell them to network they more often than not tell me that they do that, they meet with a group at the donut stop every morning at 10:00.

When i said network, i was not referring to the brain trust at the donut stop who have all been retired for 15 years. I meant people in the work force.

Bottom line Ageism exists, i think there are many valid reasons for it and many not so valid reasons but i agree with Smith. There are also companies where the culture and the rank and file look like a clinical trial site for Viagra and joint supplements. My up and comer, younger go getters wouldn't fit there and they wouldn't be successful and they would hate it in most cases. It's my job to refer people to places where they will be comfortable, productive and contribute not cram a candidate in somebody's face who wont' be hired or if they are will be miserable after three months. I dont' believe in discrimination at all but i do believe that people are successful in jobs, relationships and groups because they fit with the group.

Would you fix up your 58 year old friend with your 27 year old nephew? Not unless she were a classy cougar looking for a cub and he was looking for a sugar momma. It's about the fit but age is a factor just like everything else.
Comment by Betsy Gilbert on July 29, 2010 at 3:51pm
This is a very interesting discussion and one that has me whipsawed. As an HR professional, prior to starting my own recruitment and consulting firm, the rules were cut an dried and I had no issue with it. I would never have dreamed to ask personal questions nor would I ever make a predetermined elimination/inclusion based upon age, gender, race or any other discriminatory factor ( and by the way, nor would any of my hiring managers or fellow executives).

What I increasingly face now are clients who tell me to find out certain personal information (i.e. children (or other obligations), age-ish (or how long they intend to work) and other bits that I, quite frankly, believe have no bearing on the position or performance of the candidate. Do I do it? Yes, in most instances I do and if we are all honest, each of us focuses on the specific needs of the client at the time while measuring the qualifications (skills or soft) of the candidate. So what does this say? We have not given up our core beliefs and direction, rather we have provided our clients the opportunity to learn more about an individual candidate. Interestingly enough, I've not had a single candidate rejected because they were presented as "too this" or "too that"...

As a matter of fact, in the past year I have placed two individuals who are in their late 50's and early 60's into fantastic positions and the client is ecstatic with their performance, energy, drive and experience.

At the end of the day we are working for our clients and supporting our candidates - ours is a dual role. In both cases we have to be cognizant of the law, conscientious and equitable with candidates and overall respectful of both parties.
Comment by Betsy Gilbert on July 29, 2010 at 3:56pm
And by the way, the "energetic candidate" is the in vogue way of saying "young"

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