Hiring & Recruiting, Screening, Assessment, Interviewing

Attention: You May Be Guilty of Discriminating Against Older Job Seekers

Your company wouldn’t intentionally discriminate against older job seekers.

Source: Ableimages / DigitalVision / Getty

You already know that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) makes it unlawful for an employer to “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s age.”

Nevertheless, your recruitment communication could be undermining your intention to treat all job seekers equally.

Since job seeker perception may lead to a discrimination claim, you’ll want to watch out for these subtle and overt signals you may be sending.

Job Postings

Word choices in job postings have the potential to suggest you’re looking for younger candidates.

Phrases like, “start your career” and “build a portfolio” imply that older applicants need not apply.

So do certain descriptions about the company culture. “We work hard together and play hard,” followed by a description of a Survivor-like annual meeting, suggests older workers, as well as people with disabilities, may not be welcome.

Some companies, particularly startups, go so far as to say things like, “We’re a company of young, dynamic professionals.” Such language suggests age discrimination.

Other Recruitment Marketing Material

Images also tell a story, and have the potential to turn away older job seekers.

Are the people in the photos at your corporate careers site all under 30?

If these are stock photos, you’ll want to update your site so it depicts a multigenerational workplace. If these are actual photos of your staff, you can still find a solution. One option is to include photos of meetings with vendors or clients who are older.

Any print brochures, such as those used for college recruiting, should be reviewed with attention to the same issue. Also take a look at your company videos.

During the Interview

You’ll want to watch out for what could be perceived as veiled ageism during interviews, too.

Conversations about experience have the potential to backfire.

Interviewer One: “You have a lot of experience. You’re overqualified for this position. Why would you want this job?”

Interviewer Two: “Tell me about the positions you’ve held in the past, and why you’re interested in this job.”

It’s obvious which approach is better.

Conversations about culture should likewise be approached without any preconceptions.

Interviewer One: “Our environment is fast paced and deadline driven. Things are always changing and you need to constantly adapt. Do you think you can keep up?”

Interviewer Two: “How do you feel about working in a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment, where priorities are subject to change?”

You get the idea.

If you find yourself at risk of asking the wrong question or the right question in the wrong way, make this your mantra: “don’t assume.”

Why Bother

Given all the potential landmines associated with recruiting and hiring older job seekers, you may wonder if it’s simpler to avoid this segment of the population altogether.

Not only is that against the law, it’s bad for business.

Older employees bring a wealth of skills and experience to the workplace. And, because business tends to be cyclical, they’ve likely seen your circumstances before.

As for interest in career opportunities and advancement, don’t make assumptions there, either. In 2016, the three leading candidates for president of the United States were in their 60s and 70s, vying for the most demanding job of their careers.

Paula Paula Santonocito, Contributing Editor for Recruiting Daily Advisor, is a business journalist specializing in employment issues. She is the author of more than 1,000 articles on a wide range of human resource and career topics, with an emphasis on recruiting and hiring. Her articles have been featured in many global and domestic publications and information outlets, referenced in academic and legal publications as well as books, and translated into several languages.