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.
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.”
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.