I recently volunteered to review resumes at a job fair for those who are “50+”. The first thing that disturbed me were the plethora of tables devoted to pet sitting, senior caregiving, entry-level hotel positions, porta-potty companies, and the like. I was actually surprised that someone wasn’t taking applications for “Greeter at WalMart”.
Then came the long stream of people wanting input on their resumes. Person after person had been “IBM’d” ( https://www.vox.com/2018/4/20/17261798/ibm-layoffs-retirements-older-workers-age-discrimination-claims ) from various companies. I was absolutely flummoxed by the end of the day. Why is this happening?!
In the last year, I have been interviewed for positions in both human resources and recruiting. From C-Suite, to VP, to Director level roles. Here are some of the mind-numbing things I have been told, some “in confidence”:
- “The COO said he wants to go with someone more junior.” Me: “Um, we didn’t discuss salary, so how does he know that he won’t get senior expertise at a junior price point? The last time this happened to me, it really meant ‘younger’.” Recruiter: (Pause) “Yeah, I wouldn’t want to work for a company like that, either.” Read: You are right in your assumptions.
- After a tour of a company office, I commented about how I didn’t see anyone in my age demographic there. One of the Principals: “That’s because we only hire young people. We want fresh ideas. We are in our 40s, and we are the oldest persons here!”
- “We do not hire senior people because there is no career path. The highest level we hire is mid-level.” Me: “What if I don’t want a career path because I have succeeded in accomplishing more than I thought possible and now just want to invest my expertise in a start-up that can benefit from my seasoned experience?” Hiring Manager: “You have to be a cultural fit.” Read: in a company where 92% of the employees are under age 30, you are too old.
- “We don’t want to make our current workforce here uncomfortable because someone reminds them of their parents. You know, young people rebel against their authority figures. I don’t think older workers could establish a trust with our employees or a good rapport.” (I wish I were making this up. This came from an entry-level recruiter, on the job for less than 30 days.)
- “Your resume only goes back 15 years. What were you doing for all of those years after you left college?” (Ummm…and my CURRENT skills and expertise, which are a 100% match to your requirements, are of no interest to you?)
- “We find that senior candidates think they are worth more, demand more, and the truth of the matter is that our health insurance rates will go up because they are based on an average age.”
- “You need to start talking about the oldest position on your resume. Walk me through how many people you managed and why you were promoted each time. We need to be certain that you were worth those raises.” (“Progressive leadership experience.” Read: I had to start at the bottom and work my way up. You don’t deserve this job because you had a hockey stick career.)
- “Every new hire gets 10 days of leave. No exceptions. You are not entitled to more leave just because you have worked longer than the rest of us. You haven’t done it here.”
- “I skipped over an intern applicant who was older. I will go back and review, now that you made a point about ageism.”
My favorite? “Your homework assignment is to provide a detailed plan of what you will accomplish in the first 90 days to improve our recruitment process.” The last 4 times I did this, I was then told that the position had been downgraded. (Of COURSE it was! I just solved all of your immediate problems. For FREE!)
I would add more, but some of those details will “out” the companies I interviewed with, and this article is not to call them out, but to try to propose some solutions, as Carmen Hudson@PeopleShark requested via Twitter of Derek Zeller@derdiver, in response to his blogpost on diversity panels.
First of all, how does one erase internal biases? One person in her 30s saw me come through the door, and the glazed look said it all. She simply saw me as a heart attack waiting to happen, or someone on multiple medications. She quickly breezed through my resume points, eyes on the paper, having already written me off. When the question about compensation came up, I knew that this was going nowhere, so I started singing: “You know it’s all about ‘dat base, ‘bout dat base, no treble…” (Meghan Trainor). She looked up, startled, and then could not suppress a laugh! Got eye contact after that, chatted a bit more. (Of course it was at the time that song was actually “playing on the radio”!)
I spoke on a career panel at the Foreign Service Institute and shared with retiring State Department professionals that they need to have an updated wardrobe, hairstyle, and cannot have “bird watching” as a hobby on LinkedIn. A woman came up afterward and said that while I was talking, she went on her LI profile and removed “bird watching”. (Me: red-faced)
Sourcers, recruiters, and hiring managers, oh my, what is up with this? So, we look a bit school-marmsy, some have AOL email, and some actually like bird watching. This does not make us irrelevant, stuck in “annual performance review” mode, or unable to adapt. Nor does it mean we will have to ask you how to use gifs in Slack. Remember Ronald Reagan? This is my all-time fav story about “old people”. He recounted a meeting where a young man challenged him:
“‘You didn’t grow up in an age of instant electronics, of jet travel, of space travel, and journeys to the Moon. You didn’t have . . .’ and he went on with all the things—cybernetics and all the things that we didn’t have. When he finished, I said, ‘You’re absolutely right. Our generation, we didn’t have those things when we were your age. We invented them.’”
I have been interviewed as the “Token Over 40 Person” for too many interviews. I am not the appointed spokesperson for the “Over 40” protected EEOC class of people, but I would like to say that many of us are simply not finished inventing things, creating things, disrupting things, and bettering things. So, here are some of my suggestions:
Give us a chance. Don’t interview us so you can tick the box of, “interview diverse candidates”. I can count at least 4 times this has happened to me. In all four companies, I knew I was just a diverse interview requirement. The only grey hairs I found in their company pictures tended to be in men’s beards. Honestly, hiring anyone these days is a risk, so…
Please stop promoting your company with pictures of young people and ask us to picture ourselves working there. You may have included males, females, and some race categories, but is there someone in a wheelchair? With a comfort animal? With a hijab? Is this because you don’t actually have anyone in your company who represents diversity of thought?
I once attended a conference where the recruiters for a large, federal contractor said that they are not permitted to submit any candidate to a hiring manager unless they have interviewed at least one female and one African-American. We should include “over 40” to this mix. And veterans. And disabled. And…you get the picture.
Please don’t make assumptions. We do not all think we are “entitled”, think we know better, (okay, sometimes we DO know better, but we will help you, and make you think that you thought up the idea,) nor are we all planning our retirement to the beaches in Florida for 5 years hence. Clutch did a survey that showed that 30% of unhappy millennials planned to quit their jobs within 6 months. When you get to be over 40 years of age, you tend to be less inclined to job hop. Also, just because we are senior does not mean that we are going to demand to be compensated according to the expertise and seasoned experience we bring to the table. Not to say that it is unfathomable to me that you wouldn’t put value on such expertise. It means we are used to being devalued for our contributions because some who are under 40 do not have a context for what, exactly, experience DOES add to the ROI, and we have adjusted our expectations accordingly. (Just don’t demean ANY person by lowballing them. #Respect #RecruitHuman)
Factor in older workers when creating your “wrap rate”. Yes, you should give more leave to a person whose career started before you were born. Expecting new hires who are senior level in their expertise to go back to the same leave they were offered on their first job out of college is something I cannot wrap my brain around. (I mean, seriously, who comes up with this stuff?!) Factor in older ages when working the budget numbers for medical coverages. Do not make financial decisions that will preclude you from hiring someone over 40.
Do not disqualify an older or more seasoned worker who must report up to a younger, less experienced manager because:
1) You assume they will not be subordinate and will continually challenge their bosses, or 2) You assume (or have been told) that the younger, less experienced manager will feel threatened by having this person report up to them. Assuming you are hiring people over the age of 18, we are all adults here! Expect people to act like adults. (Novel idea, I know.)
These are just a few suggestions to get started.
Also, why are we having to erase all of our work history save the last 10 years on LinkedIn and on our resumes? You are already (illegally) asking us to enter in our years we attended/graduated from college before we can even apply for your job. We may have a gap from needing to stay home to raise children or care for an ailing spouse or parent. Does this really mean we are less qualified?
I have to ask myself why this article even needs to be written. I have seen things happening in this country that I never thought possible. My father retired when he was younger than I am now. Not only do I wish to never retire, I also want to continue to disrupt work as we know it, to help make it better and better for generations to come. I am not alone in this desire/quest. Thanks to Laszlo Bock for inspiring me and countless others! Because of your kind encouragements,