02 March, 2011

Age Discrimination Revisited

My previous two posts have generated a lot of questions about age discrimination. Despite the fact that I recently served on a task force whose aim was to identify employers who are eager to hire so-called "older workers" and despite the fact that I have written on this topic many times before both in this blog and in publications like Business Lexington and Living Well 50 Plus, a few of my readers seem to think I don't believe bias against older workers is real. They misunderstood my last two posts and completely missed my point that issues like your age and your unexplained employment gaps only matter if you are wasting your time playing what I call the "low percentage game" of sending resumes to strangers, assuming that the hiring process is meritocratic and fair. You shouldn't, it isn't.

The hiring game is not a fair fight. The people who get the jobs are the people who have an unfair advantage over the competition. The people who get the jobs are the people who have a relationship the other candidates don't have. If you have such a relationship, your age and your employment gaps won't matter because you and the hiring manager have a mutual, trusted colleague or friend who is "co-signing" for you, assuring the hiring manager that you are the person for the job. 

My point is not that age bias and employment gaps won't hurt you in a fair fight against younger candidates with better resumes: my point is that you shouldn't be in a fair fight because it's not the people who fight fair who get the jobs. Let me invoke John Steinbeck who said "If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck."

Employers work very hard at obscuring the fact that you aren't in a fair fight. They post jobs that are already filled. They make candidates interview for the job 4, 5, 10 times as if this is a meritocratic process.

What they don't tell you is that a better-connected candidate - employment gaps, age spots and all - can skip the line at any time and win the job over younger, more qualified candidates.

Instead of spending 8 hours a day filling out online applications, uploading resumes to strangers and taking online tests only to end up at the end of the week with no callbacks and no interviews, do what I told you to do in yesterday's post: get out the legal  pad, make the list I told you how to make and start contacting people you already know. One of them knows your next boss and will lead you past the   long line where people who think job search is fair are waiting obediently in line and introduce you to the boss. This is how 90% of professional jobs are really filled. 

If you still don't understand my point that I want you to stop playing the low percentage game and start playing the high percentage game, let me ask you how you choose a plumber if you don't already know one or how you choose a CPA if you don't already know one. Chances are, you are paralyzed with indecision until a colleague or friend or vendor or customer recommends a CPA or a plumber. The same thing is true of hiring. Hiring managers can comb through stacks of great resumes and interview dozens of highly qualified people and still fail to make a hiring decision then one day someone's professional co-signer cuts the line and ushers his friend into the hiring manager's heart and mind.

That is the correct order, by the way - first heart and then mind. Even though we humans have these big brains the way we make important decisions is really embarrassing. We "decide" with our hearts and then we "alibi" or "rationalize" with our big brains.

There is no heart in filling out online applications. There is no emotional element in the filling out of online applications and the taking of online tests. These bottlenecks exist to perpetuate the myth that hiring is dispassionate and fair and meritocratic but the reality is that when your old pal from Excess Capacity Corp. hand delivers your resume to his friend over at Meritocracy Corp. that hiring manager feels the cockles of his heart strangely warmed and the job  is now yours to lose even if you never applied for it.

Everybody else waits in line for the call that will never come.

Oh, the guy who hires you has a big brain and, if anybody asks, he will use that big brain to rationalize his decision to hire you.

Your gray hair won't matter.

Your employment gaps won't matter.

HR won't matter.

Stop playing the low percentage game of spending all your time sending resumes to strangers. Don't be a stranger. Find the connection between you and your next boss.

Re-read my previous 2 posts and then do what I said. This is how 90% of professional jobs are really filled. 

But if you still want to play the low percentage game and you just can't let the subject of ageism go  see my 2 May 2010 post called "Institutional Ageism" :: http://higginbothamatlarge.blogspot.com/2010/05/institutional-ageism.html

After you've read it, abandon your time-wasting, low-percentage game of sending resumes to strangers and start networking your way to a new job. Someone you already know knows your next boss.

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