4 Ways Employers Discourage Older Tech Job Hunters

Under current law, employers are not allowed to discriminate against applicants based on age (which is defined as 40 or older). However, we learned recently that some companies were posting age-restricted job ads on Facebook to specifically target younger workers.

In the wake of that incident, we wondered if employers have other ways of evading or discouraging older applicants. Are they using secret tactics to give more seasoned tech pros the brush-off? Here’s a look at how older professionals can push back.

DOE Salaries

The popular job-posting acronym DOE (Depends On Experience) implies that the employer is willing to negotiate salary for the right applicant. However, some employers intentionally offer lower salaries to older applicants and refuse to negotiate, noted Helen Dennis, a columnist and specialist on aging, employment and retirement.

Since experienced professionals can be offended by lowball offers, employers may resort to this technique when they want an “easy out.” Offering work in a different location that requires a longer commute is another way employers try to get older applicants to throw in the towel, Dennis added.

Tech Pro Counter-Strategy: Verify the salary range, work location and other pertinent details before the moment of truth: the face-to-face interview. Pinning down the specifics may keep you from receiving a lowball offer, or wasting your time with an interviewer who is just going through the motions.

Recruiting Digital Natives

In job postings, employers often state a preference for “high-energy pros,” “recent grads” or “digital natives.” This is often code for “older professionals need not apply.” They also dissuade veteran applicants by requesting proficiency with brand-new technologies, or by promoting an environment that feels more like a frat house than a business.

Proving age bias in these cases is very difficult, explained Donna Ballman, an employment attorney who represents employees. After all, employers have the right to hire for cultural fit, or to recruit on college campuses and coding challenge events that cater to junior-level workers.

Tech Pro Counter-Strategy: Pursuing senior-level positions at larger companies that value and hire a diverse body of talent can be more productive and less frustrating. Reporting any companies that exhibit bias to the EEOC may also incite change. “Even if you can’t prove age discrimination, the EEOC does notice companies that receive a lot of complaints,” Ballman noted. “Filing a claim may serve as a wake-up call to HR.”

Digital Exclusion

Some job boards and résumé-building sites have been called out for creating drop-down menus that exclude older workers; in those cases, the menu options didn’t go back far enough in terms of years, which prevented experienced applicants from logging their actual graduation dates or work experience.

Any type of hiring algorithm, pre-hire evaluation, or human review that excludes applicants in protected classes is forbidden, Dennis noted. But that doesn’t stop it from happening in some cases.

Tech Pro Counter-Strategy: If a website doesn’t give you the option to accurately note your dates of employment or graduation; that’s fine. In your résumés, online profiles and job applications, focus on your past 10 years; remove older technologies and photos, and fill in mandatory date fields with “9999.”

Being referred for a position can help you bypass any biased initial screening processes. Oh, and stay away from recruiters who specialize in placing “entry-level” professionals.

The Silent Treatment

Oftentimes, older candidates will pass the phone screening and online technical evaluation only to hear that they “didn’t do well” in the in-person interview, Ballman said. The presumption is that the hiring manager got cold feet once they got a closer look at the “seasoned” candidate.

Stringing along older candidates (“Sure, we’ll get back to you”) or giving them the silent treatment are common deterrent tactics. Recruiters may also claim that the position was put on hold, or that the company is reworking the job description. Make no mistake: These things also happen to younger applicants, but they may occur more often to older ones.

Tech Pro Counter-Strategy: During in-person interviews, emphasize the benefits that come from decades of experience, such as superior problem-solving and decision-making. Describe your workplace experiences in which you delivered results.

At every step of your hiring journey, defy the negative stereotypes that dog older tech workers. List new technologies and open-source projects at the top of your résumé, as well as examples of changes you’ve initiated or suggestions you’ve made that had a positive impact on a company.

“Present yourself as energetic and positive by responding quickly to requests during the hiring process,” Dennis said. It’s hard to ignore a candidate who brings both wisdom and energy to a team.

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32 Responses to “4 Ways Employers Discourage Older Tech Job Hunters”

  1. One thing I have seen recently is a job posting which said specifically ‘no more than 15 years of experience’ . I saw another one a while back which had ‘no more than 6 years of experience’. Seems to be pretty clear case of ageism.

  2. Yes. And most computer programming jobs ads I’ve noticed use the range “0-3” type notation, that is, the “n-p” notation where p is understood to be the maximum “years of experience”. Younger applicants need to understand that there is no hope of a tomorrow for them.

  3. Stephen Young

    Over the last couple of years I have been working as a project manager contractor. I have passed several phone interviews then being offered a face to face. I walk into the interview and you can see the interviewers demeanor change as they realize my age (above 50). Even though I have pre-agreed on the hourly rate the most common response I get the response “over qualified”. One interviewer actually asked me “if I had problems connecting with younger employees?” I colored my hair (slightly to tone down the gray) and no longer hear the rejection of being over qualified. Age discrimination is real bias.

  4. While these tactics don’t work, reporting companies to the EEOC is a good idea.

    If you desire to be hired after age X (varies according to city and industry), learn a niche technology which is in demand. Stand out dramatically in a new field. However, don’t expect your job to last more than 18 months. In that time, you will have delivered the high-dollar initiative the CIO had on last year’s “plan”. In order to keep his job, he will have a new plan, that finds a cheap replacement for what you were doing, and redistributes the “savings” to one or more new projects belonging to favored flunkies. In this way, he grows his empire while appearing to “align with the business”, etc.

    If you can parlay this into being an independent consultant, fine. However, H1b and offshoring/nearshoring make this very difficult. Many have left tech because of this.

    We need a rewrite of the age discrimination legislation that has some teeth in it. It should not be possible to determine one’s age online prior to interview. It should not be possible to “save up” nonperforming younger workers to throw into a layoff that is really about age. It should not be possible to hire or fire for issues around “cultural fit” (ever wonder why so much interest in cultural fit in companies these days?). And so on. People have a right to get and keep their jobs. Let’s get organized to change this.

  5. I have experienced the “over-qualified” designation for the last 8 months. Age discrimination is real, and I have given up trying to find another IT job. What was I thinking when I took my company buyout. We live in a pathetic world, and it just keep going further down the toilet. I truly feel for my kids and their kids.

    • I recently applied to a posting in which one of the qualifications was 2+ years experience but the job requirements where only suited to someone with 10 or more years in the field. The HR person downplayed me with this was to be a junior postion; he/she would have to be an idiot savant to get this one.

    • I just went through this last September: five phone interviews and a five hour in-person interview with teams of interviewers. I did well, but they selected a young guy because he was able to disassemble/assemble machines (a skill that was never discussed in the hours of interviews). Too bad; it would have been a great job and perfect fit.

    • Ed Hetrick

      Lane, I feel for you. I’m 58 and going through the same thing myself. Four years ago I had to close my general contracting business of 18 years and went back into engineering with a company that was desperate for a good engineer. However, the company was ran poorly and they treated their employees even worse. Still, my career counselor told me to hang on for at least two years to prove that I was a good engineer and then I could “write my own ticket” to somewhere else. At year number three they found out I was looking and let me go. I figured a new job would be around the corner for me. Not so. It’s been five months and 22 interviews. Nothing. Been doing independent and freelance work. I kinda like it but the money is not there. Good luck and God bless.

  6. Jean-Michel

    According to two former managers at a large aerospace company where I used to work, there is an active program to shed older workers and eschew experienced applicants. This is just the most egregious example of a larger problem. I’ve been told outright that I “wouldn’t fit the culture”, “probably wouldn’t integrate with the workforce”, and even that I was “too experienced.” Unless the government takes contracts away or CNN covers this subject I don’t see this situation changing.

  7. It’s no wonder that the majority of new companies are formed by those over 40. We’re not moldable recent grads, we have a large pool of experience to offer but many younger leaders are uneasy managing someone with more experience. It takes good management to capitalize on the depth we bring into the mix. Experienced leaders act as a keel in a boat; we smooth out the waves generated by corporate politics, customers and youthful exuberance. The bottom line is keep searching and start a side business as plan B which just may become plan A.

  8. I’ve seen my share of frat house workplaces, with the bench seating environments, and they are usually very proud of these noisy, distracting environments. It’s clever, as it makes older applicants remove themselves from consideration.

  9. One particular company, on their online application, requests dates of college start date and graduation date. The asterisk by the boxes state that this information is required. If you don’t fill in the date, the app can’t be submitted. They do the math and you’re out of the process after all that effort filling out the app.
    Beware of the code words “we think that you should know, we have a couple of internal applicants for this position” when mentioned half way into the face-to-face interview. They already know they’re going to make the offer to the internal candidate before you get there. The interview team is just going through the process so they can tell upper management that they’ve looked at other candidates. That’s what happened with my last interview. Yes, life is unfair to us “late career” applicants.

    • If they say they have internal applicants, it’s likely they are just doing it to prove no one has the skills needed by their H1B employee. When I worked at Nortel Networks, they would post tiny job ads in EE Times, with no intention of ever hiring from it, because they already had an internal H1B employee doing the job.

  10. I’m in the same boat. Been in IT for over 21 years…I was a permatemp at a major pharmaceutical company for almost 9 years, and my job was outsourced to an offshore employee in the Czech republic last year. These companies are all sh*t, and continue to screw American workers with impunity.

  11. Intel has been hell bent on getting rid of their over 50 employees. These are in turn replaced by recent college graduates. Fortunately a few have refused to accept their severance package and have complained to the EEOC which is now actively looking into this.

  12. It would help if employers understood what they were looking for when they post a job. If they don’t plan to pay for the experience they shouldn’t ask for it. And they ought to stop asking us for our graduation dates period. All that is is a sneaky way to disqualify anyone with more than 10 years experience. It’s not just in IT jobs either. It’s in every job. That’s why we’re seeing so many “older” workers in minimum wage jobs: they’re qualified to do the advertised professional jobs, employers don’t want to hire them. It’s a real slap in the face to be told, after years of hard work, that we’re worth nothing to employers and, by extension, nothing to our country.

  13. Interestingly, these events have all happened to me. And very recently.
    1. Builder of fighter aircraft has a limited back date selection of 5 years for graduation date
    2. Yes, sitting in the lobby when interviewer walked in looking around like I wasn’t there
    3. Beginning the interview with “We are a young and vibrant company”. Hmmm?
    4. Answered the job offer as an engineer, but offered a machine tool programmer
    position “cause that would be a better fit” with the imported engineers, Indian ( no feathers)
    and no hands on manufacturing experience. Engineer to low ball trainer.
    The chasm is getting deeper and wider. Soon our standard of living will be reduced to a Global Nightmare. Oh, I’m sorry. Did I interrupt your cell phone concentration? Oh, my! I am sure it was your stock broker and was VERY important.

  14. I been in software development for over 20 years, I am self taught and highly motivated with high performance evaluations every review period. Walked into office one day and was informed that I was “REBADGED” to a Indian consulting firm. Take or leave it. If I left it I was informed by HR that I would Quitting my job. Had to sign that day. Talk about strong arming. I was informed that I would be a “contract worker” for the next 5 years on the same software that I been working on for 7 years doing the same job. They did not reduce wages or benefits. There were 400 employees of the original company forced into this situation. After about 1 year the new company started to eliminate the “redundant workers” after those workers trained very junior off shore Indian employees on the products. In reality the plan was to slowly remove all the American older employees. In order for me to get my severance I had to sign a non disclosure agreement stating I would not take any legal action. It was humiliating. I feel really bad the customers who use the software they are paying support agreements for american workers and getting offshore inexperienced workers.

    • Tan,

      I suggest consulting a lawyer. Just because you sign an NDA doesn’t mean it’s a legal NDA, and if it’s an illegal NDA it’s void on its face. State courts often void agreements because they violate the law.

  15. Richard Bullard

    Does anyone know how long I have to wait before I’ve forgotten enough experience and qualifications to fit into the hiring models described by these posts? I haven’t yet acquired enough dementia to be able to compete with those 0-3 people. 🙂

  16. I’ve recently been let go from a company that focuses on the “younger” employee. They actively recruit from colleges and look for ways to let the older team members go. This was 3 months ago and since I’ve only had two interviews. Both went no where when they realized how old I am (59).

    The first company low balled me with an offer that was below what they had advertised and argued they couldn’t pay me what they stated in their ad because it wouldn’t be fair to their younger employees.

    The second company used the “We have other applicants we are interviewing” line about half way through the initial interview.

    Another company said that they felt I would be better in a management position and that is why they weren’t interested in speaking with me. They sent me a response to my application that follows:

    We appreciate your interest in a position at ……
    At this time, we aren’t able to identify a role within our company that would make the best use of your talents. As our business continues to evolve, so too will your experience and skills. If you see a specific position that interests you in the future, and you think it might be a good fit, you are welcome to apply at that time.

    What do they mean by “so too will your experience and skills”? I have 30 years in IT. They are a young company with a young culture and they don’t want older more experienced people upsetting their gig.

    I was very qualified for each of these positions

  17. Don’t forget “cultural fit”. As in, “we were really impressed with your analytical skills but we’re not sure you’re a cultural fit for the team.” That is a cover for anything from choosing people they like to pure discrimination.

  18. Regarding the statement, “Pursuing senior-level positions at larger companies that value and hire a diverse body of talent can be more productive and less frustrating.” Uh, which firms are those again ? Good luck finding that needle in the haystack, and that they might exist in the city where you live. Optimistically, maybe someday there will be more transparency about it though, just like with sustainability, etc. – just doesn’t help folks today.

  19. I read thru a majority of the replies to the report. Lot’s of blaming, crying, and a complete display of weakness +50 whiners who are sad and pitiful.

    Change, adapt, overcome. Stop acting all “butthurt” and seize another opportunity. My guess you are all “white” men, over-weight and spend a lot of time on line looking at porn. Get out of your pajamas, hit the gym, take control of your future and stop blaming. You did not get the job because you were “old”. You did not get the job because you went into the interview with wrong attitude and assumed your “experience” would make up for the fact you were not qualified for the job.

    Just for the record, I am white, 56, and getting ready to go back to school so I can learn new skills for my next career, when I retire from my current position in IT. This will be my third career change.

    Reach down and pull up your big boy drawers and get moving forward.

    • NotAGranny

      Bully for you. I hope it works out for you. I was laid off three weeks after my 55th birthday. I have since attended boot camps, gotten certifications, ACED MY CLASSES…. so I am NO SLOUCH when it comes to being proactive toward being hire-able. I am absolutely taking control of my future.

      I hope to GOD that YOU don’t get shafted by the experience that I had….. I was in a class where the instructor, a 30-something architect within the company that was running the class, stood up in front of all of us and said (exact quote here): “I would NEVER hire anybody over the age of 35.” (Immediately disqualifying half of the attendees in the room.) I just about stood up and called him on it (I really wanted him to repeat that statement so I could record it on my smartphone). Instead, I buttoned my lip because I wanted to learn the material and PROVE to him that I could hack the material. Yep, got the interview in spite of his attitude, but I already knew that I did not want to work for him.

  20. HoneyBadgerPeri

    Follow the money. The state of healthcare in this country is a big driver in the elimination of positions for older workers. The monthly insurance premium for someone over 55 years of age is equivalent to a week or more of pay for younger workers. Amazon, Chase, et. al. have the right idea to create their own health care for workers. Perhaps they will break the mold find a way to afford older workers.
    Point two – talk about discrimination – healthcare costs are discriminatory!! I’m 59, never spent the night in the hospital in my life, take no prescription medication, and have a healthy lifestyle yet my premium is not based on my health or my health history. It’s based the health of the population in my age group. Outrageous!!

  21. The EEOC is a total joke.

    I was “encouraged to voluntarily resign” for some minor comments made at work, even after my shrink of twenty years wrote a nice letter explaining that I had THREE official disabilities that I had always kept a lid on, but that after being flooded out of my house (which was NOT in a flood zone), that is kind of threw me off.

    Nobody cared, not the EEOC office at a State agency, not state EEOC, and not federal EEOC.

    I’m damned lucky that I had savings, and that my wife went back to work. I was a little more than one year of being able retire; instead, we lost our post-flood home. And a fourth disability that is not on the list has about 15% of people who have it employed (it affects relationships with other people, but I could have handled a more solitary job. 2 engineering degrees and two licenses (nuclear and mechanical), and I am working for $9 as a rent-a-cop. As John Belushi famously said in the movie “Animal House”, “7 years of college down the drain”.

  22. Keith P.

    I had an interview that went well until the department head got suspicious about my age. He suddenly went off script and leaned forward to ask “How are you about learning new things? Some of the technicians who have been around for a while walk in with old-fashioned ideas.” Another manager sitting nearby chimed in: “Yeah. Like asking ‘Hey where do you keep the carbon paper?'” They both thought that was hilarious. But the really startling part is that the person nearby was the head of Human Resources.

  23. Ariella Brown

    I recently wrote about just this topic and mentioned some of the clues that the company is only interested in people below a certain age. I just got another example in an email I got in response to a recent job application. It said this: “Hi Ariella,

    Thank you for applying for the position.

    We appreciate your interest and would like to thank you for putting so much time and effort into your application. At this time, we have re-profiled the role as Junior Performance Copywriter. If this still seems like a great opportunity for you, we’d love for you to reapply: ”
    In other words, the position was redefined as junior level. Of course, one advantage for the company is that it allows it to offer a lower salary for the position, but it also generally conveys that it seeks a person with less experience who is also younger.

  24. SVScientist

    I had over the years many experiences of age discrimination:
    – Web forms which ask for the exact dates of your degrees (required entry, cannot be
    submitted without filling in start-and end-date of education.)
    – Phone interview with younger group member obviously fishing for some item which I would
    not know, so I could be rejected for that.
    – On-site interview which went very well, with everybody trying to sell me the idea that I should indeed work for this company; recruiter confirmed that they were enthusiastic about me, but there was some delay. Later I learned that they hired a much younger person whom I happened to know, he is competent in a slightly different subfield; so I thought perhaps the
    company preferred his skill set. Surprisingly, he told me that his first task was on problems, which exactly fitted my skill set and experience (rather than his, so for him it was more of a struggle).
    – Hit it off at a phone interview with technical manager; interview ended with “we want you to come over next week to look at our [novel scientific instrument, for which I had both science and simulation and control system background] ; we’ll call you on Monday, hope you are free on Wednesday.” On Monday I was called back by recruiter with the question “By the way, when exactly did you get your Ph.D.?” And that was the end of it.

    STEM graduates should be told that all their lifetime income is in the first ~20 years after graduation and must accumulate enough for retirement by ~age 50.
    Older people in STEM must take great care to somehow find a niche/special knowledge where they are irreplaceable, and carefully guard this niche. Such a mindset is, of course,
    not good for a company. But now I recognize why, when I wanted to learn some calibration procedure for some instrument (which boss had asked me to learn), the colleague doing it (about same age as me) always found a pretext not to show it to me. (Same happened also with another test set-up, with the same company).