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Stop Ageism! Here are five tips to combat ageism in hiring

As part of their effort to plan 2020 content, the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC), a nonprofit consortium dedicated to equity and inclusion in the academic workforce, put out a simple open-ended survey question to over 2,000 job seekers:

“To help you advance your higher ed career, what topics would you like HERC to address in its job seeker materials?"

The second-most common response – requests for how to combat ageism.

Appearing 68 times in the 762 responses, the ageism theme was second only to general questions about transitioning careers. It beat out topics including salary and negotiations, general hiring trends, resume/CV tips, interviewing tips, and professional development.

Sub-topics requested under the ageism umbrella included:

  • Dealing with the ‘generation gap’ while interviewing with younger teams

  • Competing against younger people who can accept less money for the same positions

  • Addressing the need for training and mentorship as an older person

  • Combating the assumption that age equals digital ignorance

Higher Education is an industry with a reputation for celebrating experience and investing heavily in the longevity of its practitioners (such as with programs like tenure tracks). So, job seekers in higher education concerned about ageism is a chilling example of how concerning this ‘ism’ trend has become.

Whether in higher education or any other industry, there are things we can all do to combat this concerning trend.

Five Tips for combating Ageism in hiring:

1. Remove age-based language from job descriptions

Job titles and job descriptions set the tone for who should apply for the job. The wrong language can inadvertently (or not) alienate candidates of specific age ranges. This will unnecessarily limit the talent pool, or worse, can be perceived as discriminatory and open the organization up to liability.

For example, age-based language in titles and descriptions such as “junior-level” could alienate those who do not fit the age ranges described. Switch to terms such as entry-level or associate.

Descriptions that are overly active and loaded with terms such as “energetic” and “go-getter” are often perceived as a not-so-subtle hint that the organization is looking for younger talent. Rather than focusing on the word, focus on the why behind it. Do you need the “energetic” person because they are on their feet for ten hours at a time? Because there is always a different task demanding their attention? Because the store is always overflowing with customers? Bonus: giving the specifics of the experience helps everyone self-identify if the job is a good fit for them.

2. Pre-define the requirements and interview questions before posting the job

To reduce the impact of bias and ‘isms’ such as ageism impacting the hiring process, pre-define the minimum requirements and questions before evaluating the first candidate.

Without the pre-defined process, the organization risks the hiring team going ‘off script’ based on biases. Not only do bias-driven ad hoc questions put the candidate at a disadvantage by being forced to defend what they are rather than showcase what they can do, it can also open the organization to dangerous discrimination liability.

Imagine how a candidate would feel if they were asked if they have enough energy to accomplish the job (if older) or if they can stay focused on the job with ‘life’s demands’ of dating and/or young children (if younger). Sound ridiculous? Unfortunately, it happens all the time.

Keep the hiring teams on script and out of the ‘isms’, have pre-defined questions.

3. Remove maximum values in years of experience requirements

Requirements such as “3 to 5 years of experience at [something]” implies that if the candidate has more than five years of experience at a given task or role, they are no longer qualified. With very rare exception, maximum years of experience serves no purpose except to alienate or disqualify those with more experience. In other words, it feeds ageism.

There are many justifications for this practice: “the job is meant to be entry-level” or “the pay range is designed for fewer years of experience”. However, these types of justifications stem from bias.

Rather than limit the talent pool, leave it up to the individual on whether the job is right for them.

Consider this: there are some employees who truly enjoy the work and have no interest in climbing the ladder or taking on different responsibilities. Some value culture and their teams far more than pay. Some want to ease back into work after taking time off and others have had a fulfilling career and are now looking for a role they can enjoy without the stress of high-ranking positions.

4. Do not accept “overqualified” as a reason to disqualify a candidate

“This candidate has all the skills and knowledge, but I don’t think they would work for this job – they are just too overqualified.”

What does this mean? This person is too good? Has too many years of relevant experience? Is too knowledgeable about what it takes to be successful?

The simple truth - “Overqualified” is not a thing. Don’t accept it as a reason for disqualifying anyone.

Overqualified is usually motivated by concerns such as ‘this person will want too much money’, or ‘they are a flight risk as they will get bored quickly’ or ‘hiring this person will put my job at risk if they outshine me and then want my job’.

Identify the concerns behind the ‘overqualified’ and address that. For example, test to see if the applicant is okay with the salary, if they will be a flight risk, or what their aspirations are for the future.

Note: This goes for any age-based reason for disqualifying someone. Get behind the concern and evaluate the candidate against those concerns.

5. Add anonymity to the candidate screening process

There are a ton of little hints that could expose a person’s age within their resume and profile. For example, year of graduation, years of experience, their email address, the number of jobs or titles, and sometimes even their name. The best way to ensure that age-related biases (or any other biases) don’t knowingly or unconsciously effect if a candidate is screened in or out, is to not have the information at all.

Adding anonymity to the candidate screening process ensures that candidates are evaluated by what matters and not distracted by what doesn’t. If employers don’t know if the candidate is 28 or 58, they are forced to evaluate both by the same standards.

As much as possible, only expose the information relevant for each step of the screening process. Add pre-defined requirements and questions with anonymity, and organizations can objectively qualify candidates without having any idea of the name or age, gender or ethnicity, or any other extraneous information that could lead them astray.

Bringing it all together to combat ageism

Ageism is the only ‘ism’ that we all risk experiencing. From our first job or first management position when we may be seen as too young, to crossing the magic age where suddenly we are ‘overqualified’. Luckily, a few small changes can make large differences in combating ageism.

You can do it and we can help. Career.Place is a blind candidate screening platform to help organizations hire more effectively and efficiently, without bias, while mitigating compliance risk. With, organizations combine pre-defined requirements with anonymity to ensure every candidate, independent of age, has a fair and equal opportunity for jobs.

Together, we can remove ageism and other biases one hire at a time.

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