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Age discrimination in the job interview

Age discrimination

Age Discrimination in the job interview. You can do something about it.

Age Discrimination and the job interview

Age discrimination in a job interview is a volatile topic. Candidates can feel helpless when they feel this happens and it isn’t just to folks over 40, 50 or 60+. Stereotyping can be experienced by candidates that feel they were declined because they are too young, don’t look old enough or perceived to not have the experience. Today I provide ideas on where this comes from (so we understand why) and how to minimize the misperception. My goal is to explain this topic over the next three posts without setting off a string of hate hashtags. I wrote on a similar topic in a prior post, how to avoid resume racism. 

A couple of ground rules

  1. I understand that there will always be the recruiter, hiring manager and interviewer, and people, that sees age and all the stereotypes that come with age. This isn’t 100% defendable, but we can minimize our exposure.
  2. Stereotypes are experienced by all groups including men, women, trans, religion, size, shape, color, religion, etc. Remember, candidates from all of these demographics are hired, so it can be done!
  3. There are folks over 40, 50 and 60 that are hired on a regular basis. We know it can be done.

We are not going to be able to get past the interviewer that is closed-minded and only sees the surface of the candidate without getting to know the inside. If a hiring manager doesn’t want to get to know you, we probably don’t want to work with them.

We know that experienced workers are hired every day. What are these candidates doing to either minimize or eliminate stereotypes? Are some candidates increasing their exposure while others are minimizing theirs? Absolutely they are. HRN is here to help you understand and minimize your exposure.

Three posts

  1. The problem from a real-life reader
  2. Why I decline candidates of any age
  3. How to minimize discrimination in the job interview

I recently received the following email from a reader. Although I don’t know all the details, based on 100’s of interviews with candidates who are late in their career, I have a few gut feelings. I thought sharing the email and some candid HRNasty thoughts might help. This post doesn’t just apply to ageism. It applies to ANYONE who feels they are at a disadvantage in the job interview for being too X or not enough Y. Not having enough hair, a few pounds over their desired weight, etc. It can apply to any “ism”.


I am 53 and I get a number of interviews but am not getting the job.  I feel like I am being discriminated against because people think I am too old.  The last interview I went to, the recruiter was great over the phone, we met in person and I was called back to meet the team and the hiring manager. I ended up being interviewed by some folks younger than me including the department manager.  I am convinced that I didn’t get the job because I am too old.  What can I do?  I can’t change my age!  Bette, Bitter in this thankless economy

I assume that because Bitter Bette received a number of in-person interviews, the resume is on point and Bette is qualified. She landed the interview so the resume is working and the skill sets are there. Resumes that are not qualified do not land in-person interviews. If we are being declined after in-person interviews, we are articulating or presenting something during the interview that is causing the rejection. Bette’s email points to me to look at how we are presenting ourselves during the in-person interview.

Discrimination exists

 I would like to say that discrimination doesn’t exist, let’s face it, “ism’s” exists. A few isms are listed below:

  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Classism
  • Ableism (physical or mental)
  • etc.

“Ism’s” exist in much of our everyday lives. In daily interactions with others, our physical presentation layer, how we communicate and articulate our thoughts and values makes an impression. We might not want it to exist, it may not be fair, but “isms” exist.  

None of us had a choice

None of us were able to pick our parent’s physical shape, what country we were born in or when we were born. As a minority, I never understood why others would give me the stereotypical heartache for my heritage. No one gets to pick their race. In the series Game of Thrones, John Snow is treated as if it were his choice to be born a bastard. Tyrion is mistreated with the assumption that he chose to be 4 feet 4 inches tall. Both of these characters are accused and blamed for their situations!

“Ism’s” may be subtle, subconscious, or blatant. At the end of the day, they exist. Heck, if “ism’s” didn’t exist, I probably wouldn’t have a job. If we want to land our dream career, date, job, etc, we need to figure out how to work around preconceived notions. The next few posts will provide you perspective on how the “ism” is viewed from the interviewer’s side of the table.

Nature or Nurture, why does age discrimination exist?

Humans are picky creatures. I used to have preconceived notions about Brussel sprouts. James Beard nominee Chef Eric Donnally changed my mind about Brussel sprouts. He presented them to me in a more thoughtful manner than “boiled and then boil them so more”. I am not saying we should not be our authentic self. But taking the specific audience into account will go a long way.

I believe that at a subconscious level, most of us “practice” discrimination in our daily lives. When we are introduced to new faces in a social situation, at some conscious or sub-conscious level we “size em’ up” and make assumptions. One theory is that back in Cro-Magnon days, our survival depended on making a snap decision about strangers because our safety depended on it. This instinct is wired into our DNA. Another theory is that some interviewers are shallow and self-centered. In most cases, the reasons are somewhere in between the two extremes.   


Age discrimination

I would hire both of these candidates as long as they didn’t bring up their age in an interview.

A real-life example of how I think

Before I accept a new job, I clarify the following with the CEO or whoever I am reporting to: “If we only have 1 opening and both Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci apply, we are hiring both. I don’t want the guy we didn’t hire going to the competition.”  If either candidate makes a comment about their age or our “young” workforce, I will probably think twice about their candidacy. If I make a comment about the candidate’s age, they will probably think twice about working with us. The point is, I am going after both of these more experienced candidates based on their intellect. They are making a decision to work with us because I see them for their intellect and their skill set. If I comment on their age, they can only deduce that I am noticing their age. 

Today we are going to discuss some potential reasons for (age) discrimination and in the next post, we will talk about how to pro-actively minimize age discrimination.

Not everyone is a paid professional

Most professional recruiters receive training to avoid making decisions based on first impressions. This doesn’t mean the training was successful. In smaller companies, this training may not be available to recruiters or hiring managers. Hiring managers may have received training, but the individual contributors who are also conducting interviews may not have received training. Do you know anyone that has received interview training? Do you know anyone that doesn’t hold some sort of bias? As candidates, life isn’t fair. We need to overcome the shortcomings of those that are interviewing us. We need to play the hand we are dealt, even if it includes a short-sighted hiring manager sitting on the other side of the interview table. I am here to say it can be done. 

Stuck with our age

Bitter Bette is correct. We are not able to change our age. We can reflect on how we present ourselves. Candidates who make their potential differences “a thing” will probably be declined regardless of their age. (Candidates who make a big deal out of any “ism” probably won’t get hired.)

If you are too heavy or too tall and make a big deal about either during the interview, you raise the odds that you will be declined. It isn’t because you are too tall or too heavy, it is because the message translates to insecurity.

Why we hire

We hire candidates because their weight, height, lack of hair is not mentioned during the interview. The candidate is comfortable with their personal “ism” and it doesn’t affect their social or professional interactions. It doesn’t affect their personal or professional interactions. Most importantly their “ism” doesn’t affect customer interactions whether these customers are co-workers or paying customers. If an “ism” comes up in an interview, I can only assume it will come up with our customers.

When a recent graduate talks about how they may be too young for the role, don’t have the experience needed or calls an interviewer “old school”, they increase their liability. A more experienced interviewer that makes a reference to the candidate being a youngster, kiddo or suggests that “this is before your time” is not just calling out their age. This interviewer is pointing to differences in a negative way and the younger candidate will leave with a bitter taste. Ageism works both ways.

Next post: Why more experienced candidates are declined

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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