Combating Age Discrimination in Technology Hiring

Age discrimination can happen in any field, including technology. Older technologists often complain that ageism is a huge factor in job interviews, preventing them from landing new positions despite their extensive experience and skills.  

It’s crucial for hiring managers and recruiters to realize that technologists often train continuously. The myth that older technologists are resistant to change and upskilling is just that—a myth. Companies must push back against any bias against older candidates that might creep into their hiring processes.  

According to Elke Osadnik, director of talent acquisition at Envoy Global, companies must consider candidates on a case-by-case basis. “Applying generalizations and assumptions can lead to organizations missing out on many highly suitable, effective employees,” she said. “To change these mindsets, employers must increase awareness of this bias through multiple channels.”

From a management perspective, that means putting all hiring managers and recruiters through internal interview training sessions, anti-discrimination training, and potential bias training. “Talking about the issue of age discrimination more in general, by sharing and contributing to relevant articles, is incredibly important,” Osadnik said. “Employers must also prioritize learning more about ‘success stories’ of those hired in the IT field across a cross-section of age brackets. This is to ensure hiring managers and the general organization can have firsthand experience meeting and hearing from people who may not fit their preconceived ideas.”

Heather Paunet, senior vice president at Untangle, a provider of network security for SMBs, added that age discrimination in tech must be addressed. There’s a shortage of technologists right now, particularly in specialized arenas such as cybersecurity. In addition to that, older technologists have crucial soft skills (such as communication, work ethic, and leadership) that younger workers may lack. 

Those technical and soft skills can impact the success not only of individual projects, but also the business overall. And yet ageism shows up in a variety of ways, including workers of a certain age experiencing reduced roles and lower salaries.  

“[Older workers] are left off of projects or teams, or have their responsibilities given to a younger worker,” Paunet said. “Tech companies are also known for offering perks to attract workers, yet these are almost always tailored toward younger workers and can be alienating to older workers.”

Age discrimination especially comes up during the hiring process. “I’ve seen connections have trouble getting as many interviews as they reach their late 40s or 50s,” Paunet added. “However, once they did get that first interview, things evened out.”

Steps to Take

Osadnik suggested that technologists remove any information from a resume and application that could be used to guess age, such as graduation dates or date of birth. Consider using a cover letter to preempt potential biases; for example, emphasize your flexibility and adaptability to new processes, tools, and systems.

“Pointing out the potential benefits of hiring someone who has experienced more in life and knows exactly what they want in a role can be a huge bonus,” she said. 

Osadnik recently encountered a similar situation with a leader who was facing ageism. The leader noticed that every time he joined a video interview, the other person seemed disappointed upon seeing his age. “I encouraged him to ‘address the elephant in the room’ and immediately call it out upon facing a similar situation,” she said.

After that, the leader kicked off every interview by saying, “Before we start, I can see that you’re possibly wishing I looked younger, but I am highly adaptable, flexible, up-skilled, and I’d love you to really give me a fair chance at this role.”

In his next interview, the leader secured the role—and since then, he’s been promoted to a senior manager position. “Addressing the potential for ageism upfront in an interview can be extremely effective,” Osadnik said. 

Changing the mindset of focusing on younger workers requires a company culture change, Paunet said. Leaders need to understand that the stereotypes of older workers are often inaccurate.

“It’s also important that companies bridge the gap between ages and embrace the importance of different perspectives and experience,” Paunet pointed out. “And, as much as leaders aim to recruit younger workers, they will need to find ways to attract and retain older workers.”

Paunet admitted that, unfortunately, older workers need to market themselves even in current positions, including demonstrating their tech capabilities in their daily work. “In addition, they need to be open and willing to try new ideas, and not get stuck in the past,” she said. “They can also set themselves apart by being proactive and using their soft skills in facilitating communication and teamwork, and even taking the time to listen to their younger colleagues, and hear their ideas and concerns.”

For seasoned workers looking for new opportunities, demonstrating how they use both soft and technical skills to create value and productivity is important. “It is also recommended to research companies known for ageism. While it may seem like a good opportunity, it’s easy to find which companies have reputations for only hiring young workers,” Paunet said. “Even if they decide to still pursue the job, they will know how to prepare to present themselves as a viable candidate.”

8 Responses to “Combating Age Discrimination in Technology Hiring”

  1. Recruiters and Hiring Managers are usually much younger than Interviewee, company CEO’s direct those to hire ‘according’ to the companies long-term goals. Old workers are not apart of that equation.

  2. Good article and right to the point. The stereotyping of older workers is indeed inaccurate. Hiring managers and recruiters that are bias against older candidates are doing their companies and shareholders a great deservice!

  3. Daniel M Lark

    It’s been going on for 10+ years. I worked in Information Technology Services since 1980. Around 2002 I was advised by recruiters to remove the oldest 10 years of my experience from my resume and remove my Degree I completed 1979. The wave of young developers who learned the Object Oriented programming approach rejected being told to design and document a process BEFORE coding. They started labeling older workers as resistant to change. Sort of true. Computer time wasn’t cheap when we started. Companies used to put the cost to execute and print your job on the listing. You were expected to desk check before running multiple times. So to a degree we WERE a different era. But we also learned HOW the computer works. Which didn’t tie us to one software. I developed in COBOL, PL1, IMS, CICS, IDMS, DB2 , HOGAN DDA, ORACLE DBA. Before I retired 2018 the new younger wave needs technical support if the 4GL software doesn’t tell them what the error is. Their head would probably explode if they had to read a core dump to figure out a SoC7 Data exception era like we had to.

  4. There’s an easy way to combat it: crack down on visas. The US visa program is massively abused, as in the case of the H1B wherein a company is really only supposed to use it if there are no candidates with the required training available in the USA. We all know that the big companies break those rules, and that there is a rather obvious Indian ethnic network that seeks to import legions of people from that country.

    Stop the visa fraud and American companies will be more inclined to keep their older workers.

  5. I don’t know if the H1B visa program alone can be blamed. But in my NYS recent local college graduates with degrees in Computer science, have reported that they can’t even get an interview with I.T. Vendors that have contracts worth millions with the Fed and State agencies. These vendors prefer H1B workers who can be committed for the length of the typical 3 year contract, Unless they find another sponsor for their work visa. They complain that domestic hires, leave for more compensation once they gain some experience. But the I.T. Vendors do the same thing. They move out an experienced H1B worker after a couple of years to sell them at a higher rate on a different contract. Replacing them with another with training and no experience. Then they also move them out in a couple of years. Requirements for Written and Verbal communication skills has been quietly dropped for these outsourced H1B workers. Not a level competition anymore. But the I.T. vendors keep insisting that there is a shortage of Domestic candidates

  6. Paul Sepe

    I am fighting discrimination on 2 fronts. I supported mainframe applications for major banks for over 20 years. In 2014, i needed to ‘step away’ for a bit to deal with the deaths of 2 close family members and the breakup of a 17 year domestic partnership. When i decided i was ready to re-enter the field in 2017, i have only known frustration in my job search. Recruiters or screeners, love my resume. But ask what projects i have worked on since 2014. When i tell them I took some time off from IT, they cant seem to understand. Then they can easily figure out my age and age discriminate as well. I can understand shying away from someone that has not worked on an IT project in years if the technology is new to the applicant. But the jobs i apply for are mainframe contract positions. I know i have some rust, but someone with my experience, education and references will quickly recall that information.
    I recently turned 62. But as it was stated in the article, there are many intangibles that i bring such as experience and leadership.