Recruitment can be a crazy business.  We are at the whim of our candidates and our hiring managers, some days it feels like I am a babysitter more than recruitment professional.  Over the past few years I have noticed a disturbing trend, one that may have been present for some time but I am noticing it more and more.

 

Hiring Manager and Recruiters are focusing more on fit, which is great – except they are “fitting” those over 50 out of work.  I have worked at a few companies that have a product that is geared towards youth and early – mid career professionals.  So as a result, they feel their culture is also “youthful”.  They are not stating they will not hire anyone over a certain age; instead they are capping it terms of years of experience.  In one example, I was working on hiring a Sales Manager. In our discussion the VP stated that he wanted 5 – 10 years of experience.  Anything over 10, he wouldn’t consider.  And not 10 years as a Sales Manager, 10 years in their career.  Essentially, anyone over 35 need not apply and he was very clear that this was the case but he couldn’t say that without being discriminatory.  I tried to work around this by presenting someone with 10 year’s of experience in sales and 8 years outside of sales and he sent back the candidate immediately with a too much experience decline.

 

Another trend I have seen with recruiters is the inability to see that not everyone is looking to move forward in their careers for their entire lives.  Over time, the climb up the ladder is no longer the priority but they still want to use their skills and experience.  So someone may have been a director at one stage is looking to be an individual contributor at another.  These applicants don’t even garner a call; they are relegated to the decline pile without another thought as the role is “too junior”.  This again tends to target the over 50 crowd who are looking to adjust their work/life balance.

 

I understand that many organizations are thinking that they need all the eager youthful overtime that the early to mid-career level workers can contribute, but these folks are also more apt to leave the organization after a couple of years and take their skills and overtime to another organization.  Over 50 workers are more likely to be loyal, be productive quicker and maintain that productivity over time.  So why are we shutting them out?  Why are they consistently on the losing side of the job?  Many of these workers are technically adept, have not left the workforce voluntarily but rather have been laid off, and are eager to work.

 

If you feel I am exaggerating, recent studies in the UK show that people over age 55 are out of work 2x as long as someone in their 30’s.  And this trend is continuing to grow.  Studies in the US and Canada are showing very similar trends.  In itself, this could prove to be more catastrophic to society as these adults become dependent on their children very early on as they lose their homes and savings for retirement attempting to find work again.

 

We need to work at retraining our recruitment colleagues and our Hiring Managers to consider a multitude of factors when making hiring decisions.  We all know age discrimination is illegal, but for many, they don’t even realize that is what they are doing.  Let’s tackle this issue before it does reach the edge of the precipice.

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Comment by Sally Appenzeller on November 14, 2012 at 8:36am

Erwin,

Thank you for this article, you are so right!!!  I know from experience!!!!  I was laid of 2008, and it did not take me long to realize that if my interviews were only 5 min. with someone a lot younger than myself, then that interview would be a waste of time. 

I would think companies would want the experienced person, one who is going to be; as you said; the loyal, on work on time and every day, mimual training, work hard, and get the job done in a timely manner and accurate.

  Thank you again, I am glad to see someone put this out where everyone can see.  For me;  as a successful recruiter age should not matter, I plan on being around a long time.  I tried retiring, but became very board, and needed to get back into the work force.  I have been forced to start my own agency.

 

Have a great day,

Sally

Comment by Bonnie Brooks on November 14, 2012 at 9:06am

Hi Erin - this message is timely and necessary. As far as "aged", it appears many are still in the dark ages about age when it comes to work. The age of 60 does not mean old, forgetful or on moving out of the way for their walker as it may have many years ago. People over 50 today are vibrant, energetic and more like the 35-45 year old age bracket of 10 years ago. Employers need to be reminded that the adage of "age = wisdom" is alive and well and that experience matters.

Comment by Cate Kulak on November 14, 2012 at 9:34am

Erin -

So true. I observe the same thing repeatedly. What I find most frustrating about this is the pairing of this with the trend of people making full scale career changes as they go through their working lives.There are plenty of "older" workers that come to the job with all of the enthusiasm of someone new to the field because they *are* new to the field.

 

The irony is that letting stereotypes dominate your thinking is the fastest way to lose your mental edge that I have ever seen. So the people applying these stereotypes will become what they are trying to avoid faster than necessary.

Comment by Erin Passmore on November 14, 2012 at 10:43am

Thanks for the great comments - I have been watching this happen to two very good friends of mine in their 50's and my own mother in her 60's.  She went back to school to get educated in her early 60's and to get out of retail.  She volunteered several days a week on her days off for 2 years and she finally gave up and is still in retail.  Its very sad too, she would have been great but no one would even interview her.

Comment by Judi Wunderlich on November 14, 2012 at 1:24pm

Not only am I on the dark side of 50, but I've been in recruiting now for about 25 years, and today I'm a partner in a staffing firm with 4 locations in the U.S.

I see this type of age discrimination all the time. And it not only kills me because I'm in that age demographic, but because people think I have the ability to help them get jobs, but in fact I am pretty much powerless.

I even have friends who have been out of work for a couple of YEARS now. My heart aches when I hear the horror stories about people losing their homes, having to pull their kids out of college, depleting their entire savings, just to survive until they get a job. And there are suicides too.

Going back to school or taking classes? Forget it. It’s a waste of a job seeker's money 95% of the time. Employers just do not consider 'adult education classes' or even a later-in-life degree to be worth much if anything; they'll just keep ignoring those workers they 'assume' aren't a good fit and hire the people who have the experience/knowledge from their employment.

And companies just don’t want to bother to train people anymore. The mantra is ‘hire ‘em with actual experience so we don’t have to spend time training ‘em!’ These days companies who are watching their bottom line (and who isn’t) want to hire people with at least some experience so they can be immediately productive.

Many over 50 job seekers have given up on finding anything even remotely comparable to what they had before being laid off, but therein lies another problem:  They can't even get hired at Starbucks or Home Depot! Many of these people will do ANY work – they’re smart, capable, nowhere near ‘over the hill’, and often desperate if not for income then for health insurance. People who NEED money often turn out to be the best employees.

However, those companies assume anyone who is that over-qualified will bolt at the first offer in their field that comes their way. This may - or may NOT - be true, but I just hate all the assumptions and preconceived notions people have about certain age groups (hell, while we're at it, I also hate ALL assumptions about any group of people). No one is judged on their individual merit or circumstances. Why not?

Time and workload. No one in an HR or recruiting function, nor the hiring manager him/herself, has the time to do a thorough review of every applicant.

So what's the answer?

Well, I highly doubt we will change American society and our sociological beliefs. Just look at history… how long did it take Women to gain a foothold in employment? And then African-Americans and other people considered ‘non-white.’ And today, the focus seems to be on Gay rights and acceptance, and that battle is still ongoing.

Face it, we humans are imperfect; we are not computers. Even the best, most well-meaning people may harbor preconceived notions or outright bias against certain groups, and some do without even realizing it. People will stick to what they 'think' they know (like employers 'think' they know to never hire someone at a lesser pay or title than they held before), because it's easy. It's easy to lump an entire group of people together so they can be rejected. Makes the person whose job it is to review all the resumes much easier!

I'm a firm believer that the hiring process in our country is broken. It has become a matter of rejection - how many people can the reviewer (could be an HR Manager, or a Recruiter, or an entry level admin or even a temp worker!) remove from the pile?

That pile of resumes must be made smaller, of course, because no one has the time to read 500 resumes and cover letters for each position in their company. So employers first look for a reason to reject the person... you know, those age-old reasons that humans use to classify others:

  • There are typos on the resume.
  • The resume ‘looks’ bad.
  • -         The person’s English is a bit stilted or broken (possibly indicating someone whose first language is not English).
  • The name of the candidate is ‘ethnic’ sounding. (studies have proved that ‘Colin’ will get hired more often than ‘Tyrone’, and that ‘Jason’ will get preference over ‘Abdul’).
  • The person lives too far from the company (‘far’ being a very subjective term; 10 miles might be far to you, but many, many people in the U.S. drive more than 50 miles each way)
  • -         The person lives in a ‘bad’ area or neighborhood.
  • -         And, of course, the person graduated from school more than 15 years ago or shows employment dates on their resume from more than 15 years ago.
  • If it IS a machine (computer) doing the first ‘review’, there is no guarantee the computer will reject the people truly not qualified, nor is there a guarantee the computer will keep the best candidates. The whole subject of keywords and rankings based on keywords is fodder for another debate!
  • Lastly, they look at the actual experience and qualifications of the person. Yes, I said last.

Those candidates who aren’t immediately rejected, move on to the next step in the rejection process, so that another imperfect human reviews and rejects, and by the time the actual hiring manager sees resumes, from that 500 he/she might only see 10.

Do you for one minute think that every one of the 490 rejected candidates were rejected solely because they do not have the minimum qualifications?

Now let this sink in for a minute… someone who has never met you, someone who could be racist, ageist, homophobic, someone who might be an entry-level employee without much breadth of business experience, someone who most likely has no understanding of what you do and how that fits into their company, could be the person who determines your future.

Scary, huh?

(dismounting my soapbox now)

Comment by Marcia Tiemeyer on November 14, 2012 at 2:39pm

Judi,  I'm still applauding!!!

I'm agreeing with everything said above, but let me put one more wrinkle in this discussion.  The over 50 crowd many times are discriminated against because of appearance as well as age.  first impressions are important and now are judged immediately as being too old, slow and out of touch because they show up to an interview without looking in the mirror.  I'm a boomer myself, I've made it somewhat of a mission to try and help the over 50 to do well on an interview.  It doesn't have anything to do with what they know or what they say, it is just the first impression look that I'm trying to help them with.  Many of these people have been in the same job for years.  They are hard working frugal people who have put families first.  They need to be reminded that the interview is a one time shot at looking like you can handle the job.  Clothes that are updated and fit well, hair and beard trimmed (including nose and ears), shoes shined.  For the ladies, treat yourself to a salon visit and get good color on your hair if you have been doing that.  Get a good hair trim, and wear clothes that are flattering for your figure.   These are small things and of course they don't guarantee that you will get hired, but at least it gives you a fighting chance and shows that you are still in the game.

Comment by Sally Appenzeller on November 14, 2012 at 3:27pm

Wow,  that surprises me, I just cannot imagine candidates that re 50 + would not go on an interview looking professional!  I have been a recruiter for 30 years, and I just have not seen that in Illinois or Wisconsin.  However, you are very right, if someone is going on an interview looking like they are over 50, and late for interview, then shame on them!!!  However, you see my picture, and I always am dressed professionally, hair, nails, all in place and I have had several people tell me I do not look or act my age.  However, I still can not get a job because I am beginning to think it is because I would be a threat to them, and possible want their jobs.  At this stage in my career, I do not want anyone's job,  I just want a recruiting position where we all work together, learn from each other and make lots of money for myself as well as the agency I am working for.  If it is for a Corporation, then just let me do my job as a recruiter.  I do not want the upper management roles any longer. I have reached all my goals I set for myself, so now just hire me to recruit and I will do a great job for them

 

Comment by Bonnie Brooks on November 14, 2012 at 3:45pm

I am over 50 as well and I have to say that I think there is no age differentiation as far as looking appropriately for an interview. It's not about the age - it's about your attitude. A 25-year is just as likely not dress or act appropriately than an over 50 candidate. There is age discrimination out there, absolutely. But the right attitude and social media presentation (FB, LinkedIn, etc) can certainly tip the scales. If 80% of employers now look people up on LinkedIn when considering hiring, that will tell them more than a walk through the door.

In my humble opinion and from a 59-year old who found a new job/career 4 months ago. I never even met my new employer face-to-face until I'd been working for 2 months with them!

Comment by Marcia Tiemeyer on November 14, 2012 at 4:06pm

You are absolutely correct, attitude is everything.  Just from reading your post, I can tell you have the spirit and attitude of a go getter.  It wouldn't make any difference if  you interviewed in person or over the phone, you have the right attitude and tech knowledge that shows you want to grow and continue to be productive.  But appearance does make a difference, especially that first impression.  You are right about a 25 year old who does not dress or act appropriately, they will not get a job either, but what I'm saying is that if you are over 50 or a boomer looking for job, you already have a age impression that you have to get past to begin with.  If you come to an interview and look tired, run down, slow and not able to keep up, all you are doing is reassuring the hiring manager that age does make a difference.  I'm not saying it's fair, and it doesn't apply to everyone, but it is reality.  I see it every day and it makes me furious. 

Comment by Judi Wunderlich on November 14, 2012 at 4:08pm

To Sally:  I think Marcia might mean that some over 50 job seekers dress like it's still 1980. Nothing says 'old-fashioned' to a recruiter or HR person than a candidate who wears eyeglasses from the 80's, whose hair reminds them of their grandmothers', and whose clothes, while nice and clean, are very outdated. Appearances do count, because that's a first impression and first impressions are the ones that tend to stick in people's minds.

To Bonnie: You miss the point. Most 50+ year olds won't even make it to the interview stage; if their resume hints that they are over 45-50, the person doing the 'rejecting' for that company might just pass them by. So having the right attitude and dressing as if you live in today's world are meaningless when you have to get past that person doing the rejecting.

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