Episode #115 – Steps for Fighting Age Discrimination in the Workplace

Samantha: Welcome to “The Animal Health Employment Insider,” brought to you by The VET Recruiter. In this podcast, executive recruiter Stacy Pursell, founder and CEO of The VET Recruiter, provides insight and practical advice for both employers and job seekers in the Animal Health industry and Veterinary profession. The VET Recruiter’s mission is to help Animal Health and Veterinary employers hire top talent, while helping animal health and veterinary professionals attain career-enhancing opportunities that increase their quality of life.

In today’s podcast, we’ll be talking about age discrimination in the workplace and what professionals can do to fight it. Hello, Stacy, and that you for joining us today.

Stacy: Hello, Samantha. As always, I’m glad to be here.

Samantha: Stacy, I know that age discrimination was a hot topic several years ago, but is that still the case now?

Stacy: Regardless of whether or not age discrimination is in the headlines a lot these days, there is no doubt that it still exists in the employment marketplace. And actually, it was in the headlines this past year. That’s because tech giant IBM was sued earlier in 2018 for age discrimination.

But I’m glad you asked that question because age discrimination was a hot topic several years ago, due largely to the Great Recession. Attitudes about older workers changed during the recession. Now, it’s true that workers of all ages lost their jobs, but it’s what happened once the economy started to recover that’s important. What happened was that employers began to show their preference for younger workers when they started to hire again.

There were a couple of reasons for this. First, they believed they would have to pay older workers higher wages because of their experience. Second, they were operating under a host of mistaken assumptions.

Samantha: What kind of mistaken assumptions?

Stacy: There’s a whole list of them, including that older workers:

  • Aren’t as strong or vibrant.
  • Aren’t as productive.
  • Are not as technologically savvy.
  • Will take more sick days.
  • Are more of a drag on an employer’s health insurance.

Samantha: So basically, employers were using those assumptions as reasons not to consider older workers, is that right?

Stacy: Yes, that was the case, and as a result, age discrimination became more prevalent. And although quite a bit of time has gone by since the Great Recession, age discrimination still exists. Tulane University conducted a study recently proving this.

As part of the study, Tulane sent more than 40,000 resumes to apply for 13,000 job openings posted online in 12 U.S. cities. School officials responded to each job posting with three different resumes representing a different age group. These included younger, middle-aged, and senior applicants.

Samantha: Let me guess: the senior applicants received fewer call-backs.

Stacy: You’re absolutely right! Even though all of the age groups had nearly identical skills, the study found older candidates received far fewer callbacks than younger ones. The difference was anywhere from 20% less to 50% less.

Samantha: So there is still definitely a problem in the marketplace. So, at what point does age become a potential problem for a person?

Stacy: It used to be that someone in their 50s or 60s had to worry about age discrimination. Now a person has to start worrying about it when they turn 40. It seems as though the age continues to drop with each passing year, which also contributes to the problem. Not only does age discrimination continue to be prevalent, but the bar seems to be dropping, as well.

Samantha: But I understand that you have tips and advice for us today for how professionals can fight age discrimination.

Stacy: I do! And where I want to start first is with the resume. That’s the most logical place, since that’s where most people being their job search.

This might go without saying, but I’m going to say it, anyway. Don’t focus on your age with your resume! If you don’t want a potential employer to focus on it, then you shouldn’t focus on it, either. Now, that doesn’t mean you’re ashamed of your age or anything like that. You’re just not making it a focal point of your resume, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Samantha: So what should a person focus on?

Stacy: They should focus on the same thing that everyone should focus on: value.

We’ve mentioned this before, but everything in the employment marketplace comes down to value. After all, that’s why Animal Health and Veterinary employers hire new employees in the first place. They want those employees to provide value that will make the organization more productive. That’s when the organization is more productive, it usually becomes more profitable.

Samantha: So what you’re saying is that more value equals more production and more money?

Stacy: That’s correct. And a person’s value is broken down into two main categories. Those are their skills and their experience. Obviously, the more skills and experience you possess, the more potential value you can offer to an employer. So when it comes to your resume, emphasize your value over everything else, and that means emphasize your skills and experience.

And I also have four other tips for fighting age discrimination with your resume.

Samantha: That’s great! What are they?

Stacy: First, you don’t need to put every single job you’ve ever had on your resume. It’s really only the most recent positions that are important. Those are the ones that the hiring manager is interested in. If you list every single job you’ve ever had, including the dates of employment, then the hiring manager will figure out how old you are.

Second, there’s no need to provide the dates of your education. All you need is the name of the college or university. And this is also important: if your school has changed its name since you graduated, make sure that you use the new name.

Third, be very careful with the words you use. Don’t spell out how many years of experience you have. If you say that you have 30 years of experience, once again, the hiring manager is going to figure out approximately how old you are. There’s no reason to give them any clues.

Fourth, you must show that you’re up-to-date with technology. This is extremely important, because as we mentioned earlier, one of the assumptions that employers have is that older workers are not good with technology. This includes computers, smartphones, social media, you name it. My advice to older professionals is to learn everything you can about everything you can. The more knowledge you possess, the more valuable you are, and value means everything.

Samantha: What other tips do you have, other than the ones for the resume?

Stacy: I also have some tips for the phone screen and the interview. Obviously, when you speak with someone over the phone or meet them in person, they’re going to suspect that you’re older. The problem with that is that people are going to brand you in their minds before they’ve even had the chance to get to know you. That’s what age discrimination is all about. So during the phone screen or the interview, you have to undo all of that branding.

First, you have to be energetic. Don’t seem listless or lethargic. Also, speak loudly and clearly. You certainly do not want to mumble.

If it’s an interview, give a firm handshake. Don’t try to break the person’s hand, but you want your handshake to convey confidence. Also look the person in the eyes at the same time you’re shaking their hand.

Make sure that you’re smiling, even if you’re on the phone. This will help to convey enthusiasm for the position. The hiring manager wants to see and hear energy and enthusiasm.

Samantha: Stacy, aren’t there questions that are illegal for employers to ask pertaining to age, too?

Stacy: Yes, there are. An example would be asking when a person graduated from high school. An employer can not do that. If a hiring manager asks questions like that, do not answer them.

Unfortunately, age discrimination is probably not going away anytime soon. But there are things you can do to protect yourself and continue growing your career.

Samantha: Stacy, we’re just about out of time. Thanks so much for joining us today and providing all of this great information.

Stacy: You’re very welcome, Samantha, and thank you. It’s been my pleasure, and I look forward to our next episode of The Animal Health Employment Insider!