12 August, 2011

Age Bias Against Older Job Applicants: I Experienced It When I "Mystery Shopped" Some Large Employers

At some employers and staffing agencies, the job application process is front-loaded for age bias.

My mystery shopping  experiences at several staffing companies and large employers will illustrate what I mean.

1. At 2 companies, young job applicants were led to a bank of computers where they applied for jobs online while older applicants like me were handed clipboards with paper applications. When I asked one of the 20-somethings why she led young applicants to a computer bank but handed me a paper application she actually said "Well, my parents aren't computer literate so I figured you might rather have a paper application."

2. At one employer, the 20-something worker who was handling my application started speaking to me s-l-o-w-l-y and loudly when she saw me use reading glasses. To her, if I needed reading glasses I was also deaf.

3. Two major employers, one a staffing company, the other a transportation company, literally tried to talk me out of applying for jobs at their companies. They said things like "Uh, Mr. Higginbotham, you do realize  the job you're trying to apply for involves hard physical work, right?"

At some companies, the recruitment/application process is front-loaded for age bias because the 20-somethings on the front lines of that process stereotype older workers. Twentysomethings believe older workers are technophobes and Luddites. Twentysomethings think older workers can't hear because we wear reading glasses. Twentysomethings think older workers can't do physically demanding work.

Twentysomethings naturally want to stock their companies with other twentysomethings with whom they'd like to be "social".

The reason there are so many twentysomethings on the front end of the hiring process is that this initial screening role is seen as an "entry level" position that is wasted on more experienced HR people. Maybe employers need to re-think this. After all, what could be more important than getting the best people - regardless of age - into the next round of recruitment?

A twentysomething employer told me he wanted to hire "people with tight buns" who looked like "college soccer players."

If you don't have some older workers on the front end of your recruitment/application process your company may be one of the companies that discriminated against me when I went out to "mystery shop" staffing firms and other employers.

Employers need to diversify by age for the same reason they need to diversify by race and religion and gender.

Is your company's recruitment/application process front-loaded for age bias?

Have you ever hired a mystery shopper to report on your application/recruitment process?
Would you like to serve on a "older workers task force" or would you like to recommend somebody? Call me at (304) 550-6710 or email me at JosephHigginbotham@gmail.com to learn more.