Like millions of other people, I lost my job due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. My story isn’t unique in that regard. I am also a member of the Gen X generation and am now 50.
I have more than enough formal education for any position for which I am applying and the student loans to go with it. I have an extensive employment history with glowing references. According to LinkedIn, I am a top applicant for many of the hundreds positions for which I have applied. Yet, I am finding my applications aren’t being taken seriously.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that the job market is fierce right now. But there is no reason I should have been rejected for some of the positions for which I have been rejected. Indeed, I would be willing to bet money that there was not a more qualified candidate for some of the positions.
The reason is age discrimination — which is illegal. Many hiring managers don’t realize that it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of age. But it is. And age discrimination is so pervasive, there are countless articles about shortening one’s resume, leaving off dates, and other “tricks” to make the hiring manager think one is younger than one is (at least until the interview). My age should be seen as an asset, not as something to be hidden.
Employers excuse their age discrimination with some mental gymnastics. First is “company fit”. Let’s think about this for a minute. While there is certainly discrimination on the basis of sex and race, if someone said, “our company is white and privileged” they would be called out immediately (as they ought). But it isn’t unusual to see a company be self-described as “youthful”. Needless to say, I don’t bother to apply to jobs at those companies. Another example are the computer application forms that require one to click through each month to indicate dates of employment and dates of college attendance. If one started college thirty years ago, forms like this require over 350 clicks for a single field.
Another excuse offered is the unspoken fear that an older employee isn’t going to be working for as long as a younger employee. But this is wrong. I likely have twenty years of a working life still. Heck, I can’t even qualify for full Social Security for 17 years. I’m pretty sure most young people aren’t going to be staying at their next job for more than twenty years — and no hiring manager expects them to do so.
And the final, but most common excuse, is the “overqualified” excuse. What does it mean to be overqualified? Does one fire an employee once they accumulate more experience or training? Of course not. Perhaps there is a fear that I would want more money — but that is my decision. If I am willing to do the job for the pay offered, then I am willing to do the job for the pay offered. If an organization wants to weed out those unwilling to do the work for the salary budgeted, then put the salary range on the job posting. Let the applicant decide if the pay is worth it. The fact that I am highly qualified should be a good thing, not a detriment.
There are many reasons a highly qualified person might want a position that asks for fewer qualifications. First, they might really like the organization and want to work for that specific organization. Second, they might want a less stressful job. Again, the decision as to whether a position is “beneath” the applicant is one the applicant should make.
In addition to the excuses, there are the biases — assumptions some make about older employees. The most common of these is that we are scared of technology. While that might be the case for some, I am younger than Marc Benioff, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates. I have been using computers and software for my entire working life. I’ve been on the internet back when Gopher was new — and then Lynx after that. Indeed, I used Lynx to make my first Amazon purchase back when Amazon only sold books. Back in those dark ages, software was more difficult and not designed to be user friendly. What is more, I have worked for tech startups. So, I can assure you that while I am not a software engineer, I can handle any platform as well as someone younger than I.
Again, I know the job market is very tough right now. And while I have only applied for positions for which I feel I am qualified, I understand that for some of those positions there will be people better qualified than I. That is fine. But barring bombing an interview, I shouldn’t be passed over for someone who is less qualified than I am (understanding that perspectives of diverse points of view is also a qualification). And I most definitely shouldn’t be passed over because the recruiter, hiring manager, or someone in the HR department is ageist. Nor should anyone else.
So if you are in the position to hire someone, I have two suggestions. First, post the budgeted salary range for the position. Those who apply for the job will know what to expect. Those who can’t afford to work for the pay offered will not apply, saving both of you time and energy. Moreover, being upfront about pay ranges helps prevent gender and race pay disparities as well. Second, check your bias and remember that age discrimination is illegal, along with discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, disability status, and the like.
On a closing note, I am still looking for meaningful, fulfilling work where my skills and experiences will be valued. If you are hiring or know someone who is, please reach out to me.