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Combating Age Discrimination: Too Young or Too Old to Hire

Jason Weber
Tue, Aug 16, 2016

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As recruiters we’re the first point of contact with the candidate often dealing with a multitude of scenarios and challenges. I’ve always been of the mindset that recruiters need to build rapport with their candidates, get to know them, and find out what’s important to them. They’re entrusting their livelihoods to us and in return we provide insight, customer service, serve as a sounding board, and last but not least HONESTY.

One of the greatest challenges I face is how to be honest with someone I’ve gotten to know over the years and tell them they’re not the right fit for a job due to their age?

Well, of course (legally) I can’t. It’s a huge obstacle to navigate around when companies have strict guidelines specific to the amount or type of experience required. In today’s marketplace it’s an unfortunate part of reality, but age discrimination still exists.  

For example:

  • Company A want to hire someone earlier along in their career and not take someone who might retire in the next 7-10 years.
  • Company B won’t take a new grad because they have no time to train them and they need someone with experience in a particular software, even though that new grad is a whiz with technology.

An argument can be made for both sides, but what companies don't recognize is how the "too old" and "too young" stereotypes are restricting their ability to build a world class team. Here's how to combat age discrimination and some guidance for what to look for when vetting the best candidates. 

Who’s more inclined to leave the company?

So who’s more of a flight risk? Well, it could be either, none, or both. 

Hiring managers seem to have this perception that the more seasoned candidates taking a pay cut are going to jump ship for more money or stronger benefits. But maybe the seasoned individual is willing to take a pay cut because they don’t want to manage anyone or be in a supervisory role anymore.

When it comes to younger candidates, people believe they are likely to flee to another company if the growth track isn’t rapid enough for them. But maybe this new grad isn’t interested in aggressively climbing up the corporate ladder and is happier progressing at their own pace.

If you’re worried about employee turnover, there’s more to it than age. Take into consideration the top 5 reasons employees leave their jobs:

  1. The job wasn’t what they expected
  2. Not enough coaching or feedback
  3. Bad bosses
  4. No opportunity for career advancement
  5. Work/life balance

Who’s going to be more productive?

Some feel that Millennials are lazy and lack discipline while others view the seasoned professional as checked out and lacking effort as they get closer to retirement. You can make assumptions, but the one telltale way to assess a candidate’s future success is how they perform in the interview. Hiring managers should focus on the following:

  • How well prepared was the person for the interview?
  • Did they ask good questions about the company?
  • Did they ask about the existing team and how they fit?
  • Did they dress the part?
  • Did they follow up with a well crafted note after the interview?

Who has stronger computer or technical skills?

Just because someone didn’t use a cell phone in college or they don’t have years of experience under their belt, doesn’t mean that they’re incapable of performing a particular task.

Of course, there’s the argument that the hiring manger doesn’t have time to train, but realistically that’s setting up your new hire to fail. Recall #2 on the list of the top 5 reasons employees leave, not enough coaching. Hire on aptitude and look at the big picture to determine how strong someone’s computer or technical skills are. 

Who works better in a team based or individual setting?

A lot of this depends on the environment.

Studies show the baby boomers prefer a team while Millennials prefer to work alone. But, hiring managers should be cognizant of what type environment each candidate comes from and how that relates to their company.

Most employers would agree that they would like to hire a good person who performs well and gets along with everyone regardless of age. When vetting candidates for true fit, focus on personality, how well they interact with others, their work ethic, initiative, drive, and if they possess a willingness to learn.

Who’s going to fit best within my existing team?

Cultural fit is a huge sticking point for companies these days.

If a department has 10 women between the ages of 25-50, some may believe the logical next hire would be another female, right? Well maybe not. As Stephen Covey once said, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”

Regardless of a person’s age you need to find that chameleon of sorts who can report to anyone, get along with everyone, and connect with all employees. Easier said than done, but you don’t want to upset the dynamic of your existing team by making the wrong choice. Leaning more toward someone who has strong interpersonal skills and can get along with all personality types should be your choice.

The purpose of the examples above was to show that age shouldn’t play such a factor in the hiring process. The next time you're looking for candidates, don't restrict your search based on what we cannot control (age), focus on what’s really important to help your business develop, grow, and succeed.

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