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Widespread Age Discrimination Haunts Highly Qualified, Older Job Applicants

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You would imagine that the most experienced, highly trained, and reliable segment of the workforce would be at the top of every employer’s wish list when a position which demands those very qualities becomes available. Well, what you imagine and what really happens are two very different things in today’s job market.

If you are over 50 and looking for a job, “age bias” is your worst enemy.  It’s a form of “profiling” that would bring swift legal action if an employer was foolish enough to mention the issue in an interview or as a determining factor in filling a position. Unfortunately, it’s a form of bias that is easily hidden by prospective employers.

Telling an applicant that he or she is “overqualified” is often the easy way out of an uncomfortable situation where the best qualified candidate simply doesn’t fit the prime hiring age of 25 to 39.

There are a number of factors involved in creating the predisposition against hiring older workers even when they are the best qualified for the position. These include:

•    Older workers are prone to health problems which lead to more absences and higher health insurance costs.
•    Older, more experienced workers command higher salaries than younger, less experienced workers.
•    Older workers cannot be factored into a company’s long-term employment needs.
•    Older workers are “out of touch” with technological advances and do not fit in with younger workers who tend to be more computer literate.
•    Older workers with extensive experience tend to make younger supervisors and managers uncomfortable.

On the other side of the equation, however, are many reasons why older applicants may be far more qualified for many positions for which they are not being seriously considered.

•    Older workers bring enormous experience and confidence to a position.
•    Older workers do not need to be trained or monitored as extensively as those with less (or no) experience.
•     Older workers often stabilize a younger workforce and serve as mentors to younger coworkers.
•    Older workers tend to have a strong work ethic and pride themselves on their reliability.
•    People are living longer which makes the average work-life expectancy greater. Thus, older workers tend to be available for much longer tenures than in the past.
•    Recent massive corporate failures, bankruptcies, and scandals have left highly competent older workers, who had been near or at retirement age, in need of full- or part-time employment to recover from devastating losses to their savings, pension plans, or stock holdings. In short, these people really need the work and will do whatever is necessary to hold a job.

Many business writers and those familiar with the subject like Lore Croghan (New York Daily News), Betsy Cummings (How to Find a Job After 50: From Part-Time to Full-Time, from Career Moves to New Careers – Warner Business Books [Fall 2005]), Renee Ward (founder of Seniors4Hire.org [http://www.seniors4hire.org/]), The Five O’Clock Club (http://www.fiveoclockclub.com/), and the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons [http://www.aarp.org/]) have given a voice to older workers through their efforts to publicize the problem and/or assist in job searches and placement.

Another not-for-profit organization which has been in the forefront of assisting “highly skilled and experienced executives, managers, and professionals who are actively seeking employment” is Forty Plus of New York, Inc. (www.FortyPlus.com).  

Established in New York in 1939, the group “is a cooperative enterprise in which members share their knowledge and skills to reach a common objective: landing a job matched to each individual’s background and capabilities.” The success of the New York chapter led to the creation of other Forty Plus offices in some 21 cities in the United States and Canada.

Richard Calderhead, Chairman of Forty Plus of New York, acknowledged that: “There is plenty of actual bias out in larger corporations. Younger means cheaper and corporate cost-cutting is rampant.” He was quick to point out, however, that at Forty Plus of New York, “we build on the invaluable experience our members offer employers.”  In the end, regardless of what might appear to be important considerations, “nothing trumps experience.”

Another serious problem faced by older job seekers is discouragement. At Forty Plus of New York, weekly membership meetings, peer-review sessions, resume development, one-on-one counseling, and an upbeat, positive atmosphere help members avoid the doldrums and remain focused on the task at hand.

Networking skills are also stressed since, according to Calderhead, “over 70% of jobs are now influenced by Networking and not simplistic answers like broadcasting resumes.”
   
In the end, however, it would seem that, regardless of their experience, qualifications, and abilities, older job seekers must overcome one major obstacle their younger counterparts do not face, age bias and discrimination.

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