more-arw search

Q&A Forum

How do you identify age discrimination in hiring from other qualifications?

Does anyone have any insight on how to manage age topics when applying for jobs? It seems once you are over 50 there may be some factors that are not necessarily openly discussed but you can see they exist. How do you personally address questions like "How much longer do you you plan to work?" Or "Do you really think you would be satisfied with a position that may be a lower level than you've had in the past? ". any input is appreciated.

Answers

Topic Expert
Malak Kazan
Title: VP, Special Projects
Company: ERI Economic Research Institute
(VP, Special Projects, ERI Economic Research Institute) |

Lynn, the interview should be focused on qualifications, "cultural fit" and whether they would be "engaged" while performing the job. A well-trained and experienced interviewer could take these business "needs" and have behavioral interview questions that confirm related past behaviors. Hope this helps.

Lynn Fountain
Title: MBA CGMA CRMA, Past Chief Audit Executiv..
Company: Business Consultant
LinkedIn Profile
(MBA CGMA CRMA, Past Chief Audit Executive, Business Consultant) |

Thanks. This is helpful

Lynn Fountain
Title: MBA CGMA CRMA, Past Chief Audit Executiv..
Company: Business Consultant
LinkedIn Profile
(MBA CGMA CRMA, Past Chief Audit Executive, Business Consultant) |

Thanks Sara. It is good to get others insight. You bring up good considerations for which ever side of the interview table you sit on.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

Malak, isn't "cultural fit" an avenue to litigation?

Here's a perfect example (Tech companies take note):

"Our culture is young and hip" thats screams age discrimination...

Sara Voight
Title: Controller
Company: Critical Signal Technologies, Inc
(Controller, Critical Signal Technologies, Inc) |

Regardles of perceived age or any other condition, I ask the question about a step back if the candidate's resume reflects that my opening will be just that to them. I am most concerned that the person will take the position, find it lacks the challenges they need (and become frustrated with the work) and then I receive their resignation letter before I have gotten any payoff for the time invested in training them. An honest answer is obvious. But what I am really looking for is the person to tell me why they want this new position with some deatils behind it. An example of how their prior position stretched them too much to address some of the important items that they think the 'new' position will allow them to do.

If someone is trending the conversation towards taboo topics, that might not be the place you want to be. I might be bold enough to answer along the lines of "I think what you are really concerned about is my long term committment to your organization in light of my past experience, and I don't want you to accidentally walk into a topic of discussion that is forbidden. Let me explain what I am looking for and how my stability in my prior positions over the long term make me a great fit..."

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

I have similar thoughts to Sara. While reviewing resumes looking for an administrative assistant I get nervous when I see someone with a Master's degree applying. The only reason is because my fear would be they are going to leave as soon as they find something more inline to their educational studies. As Sara's says if you are ever asked those questions, don't be afraid to call them out on it.

Anonymous User
Title: CFO
Company: Local Government Agency
(CFO, Local Government Agency) |

Both you and Sara are pre-judging the candidate based on your own suppositions of their own personal considerations outside of job related qualifications that you may not have any right or need to know.

There are a plethora of reasons that people might "trade down" that are completely acceptable to them.

Maybe they have taken on additional family responsibilities.

Maybe they are going to night school and want less work commitment so they'll have more time to devote to their studies.

Maybe they just suffered one of the "three D's" - Death, Divorce or Dislocation.

There are many personal reasons for such employment changes. Just ask those ubiquitous Walmart greeters!

BTDT! More than once in my career.

We all want to maximize our profits and sell our labor at the highest possible rate. But, as in any business decision there are considerations beyond immediate profit that may come into play. And, potential employers shouldn't be so quick to make judgments such as these.

Employers have their own angles and motives that they will not reveal and employees, even potential employees, should be allowed the same privacy in some matters.

One of the stupidest questions, which caused me to lie and provide an equally stupid answer, that I ever heard from and HR person at an interview was, "You've been paid more than what we are offering in the past. What's to prevent you from taking this position and then leaving if someone offers you more money?"

It took everything I had not to say, "Nothing you idiot! If someone wants to pay me what I was making, I'll certainly take it. Wouldn't you if you were not working?".

But instead, I made up a sad story about being overpaid in my last position and having been slapped with "golden handcuffs". And, I got the job. But, I never had any respect for that HR person who, it turned out, had been a third grade teacher in a prior life.

Geez!

jason gentile
Title: Peer Tutor
Company: Anne Arundel Community College
LinkedIn Profile
(Peer Tutor, Anne Arundel Community College) |

Christie,
I am writing this to address your concern about the person with a Master's degree applying for an administrative assistant position. That person is most likely trying to use that position to move forward in your organization. Even though the skills sets for a manager are different from the skills needed for an administrative assistant, that person hopes that they will make an impression on you once they have been in that entry-level position. That should have been the answer you should have gotten from that person. Hope this helps you if this a common issue for you.

Sue Ashe
Title: President and CEO MobileAccountantAZ
Company: MobileAccountantAZ
LinkedIn Profile
(President and CEO MobileAccountantAZ, MobileAccountantAZ) |

I find this type of thinking disgusting sorry. I was out of work for years and all I heard was "you're overqualified" to which I would say yeah and so what? And so what if employees leave? Are you telling me that people with a lower skill set and high school education don't leave also? I'm actually thrilled now that people like you ASSumed that about me since it was the kick I needed to start my own business and stop playing the HR games you all love to play.

Lynn Fountain
Title: MBA CGMA CRMA, Past Chief Audit Executiv..
Company: Business Consultant
LinkedIn Profile
(MBA CGMA CRMA, Past Chief Audit Executive, Business Consultant) |

This is a response to Sue's comment in this thread where she felt the thought that certain people used the "overqualified" term was offensive. I don't necessarily disagree with you Sue. But unfortunately, that seems to be the way some employers justify going to younger or less experienced candidates. They feel the overqualified worker may be either to expensive or assume they will leave when they find something better. But in today's world, all they need to do is look at the employment stat's. The typical new professional now spends about 4.4 years in a job before they move on for whatever reason. I'm 57. When I came out of school the trend was to stay with an employer for a long time. My last long-term employer closed in 2008 and I was a VP. It was a large publicly traded organization. At the time I was 52 and had some success doing my own consulting. Then I went to another company thinking it would be where I retired. Unfortunately, the job was not a good match. I've been on my own again now for 4 years. Some years I've done well, other years not so well. But at age 57 I find a very strong aversion by employers to even look at my resume. Some of it may be my age, some of it may be because of some of my listed accomplishments on my resume. They may assume I'm overqualified. The point is, I often can't even get a phone screen. So yes while it is great to be able to start your own business and be successful, there are a lot of personal variables involved in whether that is an alternative any particular individual can take.

I applaud you Sue for being able to jump start your own business and make it successful.

Mary Boettcher
Title: HR/HRIS Specialist
Company: Marion County, Oregon
(HR/HRIS Specialist, Marion County, Oregon) |

Good questions to ask someone who appears overqualified would be, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" or "What are your long-term goals and how do they fit with this position?" Hopefully, if they want to move up or on, they will be honest with the answers to the questions. However, you may find that the person's life situation, priorities or goals have changed since the MBA. Maybe the higher level job was too stressful or took too much time from the family. Maybe they are taking care of an aging parent or small children and need a position with more flexibility and less responsibility. I have seen many things in my years in HR. This is one case where you cannot always judge the book by the cover :)

Lynn Fountain
Title: MBA CGMA CRMA, Past Chief Audit Executiv..
Company: Business Consultant
LinkedIn Profile
(MBA CGMA CRMA, Past Chief Audit Executive, Business Consultant) |

This is a very good point Mary bi hear from many older generation workforce looking for positions that are having difficulty even getting interviews because their past resume shows strong skills. Yet life challenges have re-prioritized their goals and they fully understand they are applying for lower level positions. The question of "where do you see yourself in five years" can be tough for someone who is 57 and experienced a lot of variations in life challenges. They may see themselves working till they are 70 because of financial requirements or possibly they still have hopes to retire at 65. They sometimes are looking to be able to finish out their working days in an environment that can help balance their needs. But they are afraid to spill to much about those needs to employers because they feel it is either too much information or will create some type of prejudice. It is a question with so many variables depending on if you are the interviewer or the interviewee

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

I think it's good for the employer to think about it from the perspective of what can this person bring to the position even if for a short period of time. If I were to hire someone with a Masters degree for an administrative position, what's to say they don't bring their talent to the role and help take it to the next level. They may actually pave the path for the next person to be even more successful.

Anonymous
(CFO) |

Exactly!

My father, a 30 year middle manager at a giant phone utility in his day, had many great administrative assistants over the years. He always said the best were people pursuing graduate level education often in things like English or law. They were known to add value to my father's written communications that were way beyond his own communications skills. ;-)

Topic Expert
Scott MacDonald
Title: President/Owner
Company: AlphaMac Resources, Inc.
(President/Owner, AlphaMac Resources, Inc.) |

Since most people stay at a company an average of 3 to 5 years, the question of where do you want to be in 5 years seems to be irrelevant. Much better to talk about skills and what someone brings to the company.

By the way, one of my pet peeves is the request for a resume to include all past employers with beginning and ending dates. Might as well just ask people how old they are.

We also need to stop being the person who decides whether someone will be happy in the job. If a person applies for the job, and you tell them what is expected of them, it is up to the person to decide if they will be happy. It seems to be a bit arrogant to try and decide what makes another person happy.

Lynn Fountain
Title: MBA CGMA CRMA, Past Chief Audit Executiv..
Company: Business Consultant
LinkedIn Profile
(MBA CGMA CRMA, Past Chief Audit Executive, Business Consultant) |

As one of those people over 55, I would agree with your observation Scott the question about, "Where do you see yourself in 5 years". That may seem relevant for a young professional but even then, stats show the workforce is more fluid than previously. In addition, depending on the age of the candidate, that question could be viewed as age discrimination (assuming you know the person is within 5 years of possible retirement). I would hope employers would be more interested in what the candidate can bring to the table regardless of age. Although I understand the comment on retraining, that is part of today's market and I would hope employers would not pre judge a candidate becaus they perceive the person might leave. That would appear to be prejudging.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

My reply, just based on the event this last week (August 24th - 26") is how can I tell you when no one expected a 1,000 point drop in the market, a 300 point up open and then a 500 point drop by end of day.

These are really HR trying to play psychologist and they are in the wrong sandbox.

Mary Boettcher
Title: HR/HRIS Specialist
Company: Marion County, Oregon
(HR/HRIS Specialist, Marion County, Oregon) |

You have a great point, Scott, about judging whether a person will be happy in a job or not. Unfortunately, fierce competition and economy can cause someone to take a job that they otherwise might pass up because they don't think they will be happy in it. I think this is the root of the fear of many employers. They think the overqualified, older person will take their job and leave as soon as they find a position more suited to their experience and qualification level; which brings us back to Lynn's questions that started this thread.

Since the SS retirement age keeps increasing to obtain maximum benefits, that person at or over 55 may still be looking at 10 to 17 more work years, so I am not so sure that a 5-year outlook would be unreasonable. It is only age discrimination if you ask only the "older" candidates that question and it is your intent to filter age with it. However, it is probably prudent to not ask, if you think it could be grounds for a legal complaint.

I have to admit that my knowledge of work length averages comes mostly from public sector; so, if average length in a position is 3-5 years in private sector, why would age, education and/or experience be a consideration anyway? Take advantage of the person's wealth of talent, knowledge and experience while they are with you.

7586 views

Get Free Membership

By signing up, you will receive emails from Proformative regarding Proformative programs, events, community news and activity. You can withdraw your consent at any time. Contact Us.

Business Exchange

Browse the Business Exchange to find information, resources and peer reviews to help you select the right solution for your business.

Learn more

Contribute to Community

If you’re interested in learning more about contributing to your Proformative community, we have many ways for you to get involved. Please email content@proformative.com to learn more about becoming a speaker or contributing to the blogs/Q&A Forum.