Although I understand how and why it happens, it is not in my nature to make assumptions, jump to conclusions or surmise. My analytical bent prevents me from forming critical decisions or taking action without adequate evaluation of tangible evidence or factual data.

That proclivity has served me well in countless complex and sensitive work situations involving nebulous factors that could produce assorted outcomes. It's tough for me to process the concept of anything but investigating or considering alternatives or consequences. And, I often find it challenging to observe others overlook the importance of doing so. 

I happened upon a post in one of the HR LinkedIn discussions that caught my attention. The original poster posted the following question and comments: 

Is there a way in which I can show age discrimination in hiring?

I have been trying to obtain a training position for three years now. I have applied to many jobs and show on my cover letter how I fit the required aspects for which the company is asking. I have yet to obtain an interview.

My graduation from undergraduate school is 1976. I have 20 years of teaching experience and 10 years as a trainer (independent consultant); however, I am passed over every time to receive a letter that states the company has found someone that fits the position better.

What should I do?

Here's the opinion I offered:

Name - Unless I missed it, the information you shared in your post does not specifically indicate why you suspect there is some form of age discrimination occurring. Not that it isn't ever a possibility, but the vast majority of employers appreciate the value of a diverse workforce and truly do wish to attract and retain the most talented and capable individuals to advance their business goals. 

Perhaps, you are in fact abundantly qualified for the roles you apply for, but other applicants (regardless of date of birth) are submitting more convincing career marketing materials. The fact that you have not been invited to ANY interviews suggests a high probability that prospective employers are not recognizing a relevant fit with their screening criteria based on the information you are providing or maybe what you are not including. 

No matter how well most people perform their jobs, they don't tend to be equipped to fully understand the particular nuances and subtleties that comprise an effective professional self-marketing campaign applicable for their own unique circumstances and career objectives. Thus the continual contrast between employers claiming they are not able to find suitable candidates and applicants who believe they are perfectly suited being rejected. 

Let's consider hypothetically, that by some random coincidence, every employer you applied to does in fact have discriminatory hiring practices. I would be curious how they are able to identify any demographic traits - such as your age - simply by reviewing your resume and/or cover letter. If you are directly or inadvertently revealing "hints" of that aspect of yourself, then it should be simple enough to neutralize that from being a factor in your messages. 

Bottom line: resumes, cover letters, online profiles, business bios and any other career oriented written content must be customized for the target audience and tailored for the desired position. The above items will only be skimmed/scanned for mere seconds before landing in the "yes" or "no" pile. It is essential to be extremely objective and evaluate how to maximize that limited opportunity to create the right first impression. 

What's your take on this topic? 

Views: 555

Comment by Matt Charney on January 13, 2014 at 9:59am

Hi Kelly: This is a really interesting post, but unfortunately, this conjecture is likely true, given that, in my experience, age discrimination seems an endemic, yet ubiquitous, part of recruiting. When I was going through my first ever week of training as a recruiter, I was given a hint (one I've passed along to candidates seeking career advice) that would keep me from making a perceived rookie mistake of passing along extremely impressive resumes from candidates with no chance of being considered: don't pass along anyone whose graduation date is listed on their resume as before 1980. Of course, that's probably inched along to '85 or '90 by now, but I've seen this constantly and consistently reinforced in hiring managers' bias, internal training and even employer branding, which somehow always seems to show the staff who look like they could be in pharma sales, fresh faces out of college instead of more tenured employees.  It's a sad phenomenon, and one, that you point out, is actually unprovable. Of course, reverse age discrimination is just as rampant, only much more open - in fact, when we talk about "Gen Y," inevitably the conversation comes down to sweeping stereotypes and age-related bias, yet being in touch with this trend is considered an HR best practice. Thanks for sharing your insights on this - you're spot on, like always.



Comment by Keith D. Halperin on January 13, 2014 at 12:14pm

Very reasonable, Kelly. I think it's unfortunate, but I believe what I have to say has some merit:

Take a look at a company's website and if they include pictures of people see if most of them look like you. If they DON'T- there's much less of a chance you'll be hired. It's the same as the people who interview you-:If you don't look like ANY of them (you're much older/young/different ethnic group/etc.) there's. much less of a chance to being hired. It's not even overt, conscious discrimination- we happen to prefer people like ourselves. (Being very attractive can make up to for this to some degree.).

What I've said is an OPINION, and if you can show some studies that disprove (or prove it), please let me know.

Keith "Once Again Hope I'm Wrong" Halperin

Comment by Tim Spagnola on January 13, 2014 at 1:12pm
Great post Kelly. In healthcare age discrimination is a dirty secret. Reality is the cost associated with providing malpractice coverages to an experienced provider compared to that same cost associated with a candidate right out of training at times plays a critical role in hiring decisions. Is it right? Legal? Fair? No to all, but I have seen it from every angle throughout my recruiting career.

That said- your 'bottom line' tips are spot on.
Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on January 13, 2014 at 4:37pm

Guys: thanks for the comments and examples from your own experiences. 

Obviously, we've all observed plenty of overt and even more unintentional real-world scenarios that would indicate this poster's conjecture could be accurate. Without even dealing with the legally defined categories for potential discrimination, there are countless other triggers that prompt positive or negative decisions along the way. So there's no denying discriminatory actions are in fact taking place to some degree. 

While it would be naive to believe that various preferences or forms of bias do not play a prominent role in hiring, especially when we get into whatever "fit" looks like, the pragmatist in me rejects the notion that is as rampant of an issue it sometimes appears. The part I struggle with is given the premise that employers claim to only want the best of the best on their teams, do they or would they truly eliminate entire fully capable and qualified segments of the population from consideration sight unseen based on such biases? 

If so, where this gets really concerning is that it essentially means each and every one of us and those we care about are directly impacted by this either now or in the future. Aside from sharing insider tips on how to minimize the risk of being unjustly or prematurely ruled out as a candidate, do we as industry professionals have any obligation to proactively prevent, reduce or eliminate these practices? 

Comment by Linda Ferrante on January 13, 2014 at 5:07pm

Kelly, I would tend to agree with you on this post.  As unpopular as I'm going to be in saying this, I see people using 'age discrimination' as an excuse for not presenting a professional looking resume, lack of information on the resume (thus not prompting a phone call), poor attitude when they do receive a phone call, etc.  I have more clients asking for 'mature, experienced' candidates than I do 'Gen Y'ers.  I encourage, no implore, candidates, REGARDLESS of age to take a serious look at how they are presenting themselves to prospective employers.  However you present yourself is how you will be perceived.  

Make sure you present your true self in the process, but don't sell yourself short.  Be thorough in your resume, highlight your accomplishments, use action verbs, etc. 

Not everyone who is passed over for an interview, or a position, is truly a victim of 'age discrimination'.  More times than not, they are a victim of 'ho hum' a presentation. 

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on January 13, 2014 at 6:26pm

When there are still 3 applicants for every open position, it is important to try and put yourself in the very best light, and not being different from the people likely to interview you is a good way to do that.

No Cheers,


Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on January 14, 2014 at 7:11pm

@Linda - agreed. I've seen and heard countless examples of people finding this to be a convenient excuse for their own lack of awareness of how things typically work. When someone automatically assumes THIS is their problem, it most likely means they have not bothered to take an objective look at any other possibilities. The most common issue almost always boils down to how they are presenting themselves and their qualifications, not a bunch of meanies that see yet ignore how awesome they would be for their company. 

@Keith - there are many people that don't bother doing their due diligence and research about where they would fit best or why. Using the age situation, it makes minimal sense for a person beyond traditional retirement age to pursue orgs that have "youthful" branding or reputations. Likewise, a new - ready to conquer the world - grad would probably struggle entering a stodgy, slow moving, legacy business with a traditional vibe. Not that either type of company wouldn't benefit from an injection of diversity, but... 

Even if/when someone does have official confirmation they've been victimized by any of the assorted isms, they really should spend more energy taking action on what is in their control rather than dwelling on that incident.  

Comment by Cynthia Doyle on January 15, 2014 at 10:18pm

In the original poster's comments, I see a problem that often arises in my recruitment specialty (healthcare). It's the fact that he/she was an independent consultant for 10 years. In many fields of healthcare "independent consultant" is a flag to throw the resume in the "no" pile".  Why? I've been told various reasons from "there is no way to prove if their accomplishments are real" to  "they had to be independent consultants because no company would hire them directly". 

As far as age discrimination or any other discrimination, I don't participate as a recruiter. The agreements that my clients' sign have a clause that states that my company will NOT discriminate and will submit all qualified candidates regardless of age, etc.

Does discrimination happen? Yes it does every day, day in and day out. Do clients ask me to discriminate? Yes, they do, but most with great subtlety, and my answer is always the same, "At Placements USA, we will submit ALL qualified candidates period!" If THEY discriminate after my submission, the crime is on them, not us.

Cyn Doyle

Placements USA LLC

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on January 15, 2014 at 10:59pm

Thanks, Kelly. People should take control of what they can- it's quite empowering know you've done all you can in a given situation. In my own case, that took a long time to learn.


Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on January 15, 2014 at 11:49pm

@Cyn - nice to make your acquaintance. I remember when I was much younger (before entering the workforce) hearing someone say "consultant" is a euphemism for "unemployed." Unfortunate, but it seems that term does carry the potential for a negative connotation more often than not when evaluating those we don't already know. 

@Keith - in my case, "pick your battles" or "you win some, you lose some" and "$#!+ happens" is the main take-away that took a while to click. 

I do believe this issue affects all of us in some way or another so I appreciate the ongoing dialogue. If you participate in any other social sharing sites, please do pass this along to anyone that might have an opinion to add. 

~KB @TalentTalks 


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