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Age discrimination in hiring (and how to spot it)

Are you 40-years-old or older and looking for a job? Whether you’re seeking a promotion from within your current company or looking for a position with another firm altogether, you might expect that your years of experience and hard-earned knowledge more than make up for a few gray hairs on your head.

Unfortunately, employers may not think the same way. Even though the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) expressly prohibits age discrimination in the workplace, ageism is still a problem. Many workers aged 40 and over who are looking for jobs or promotions find themselves in a competition they can’t win against younger applicants due to employer bias.

Why do employers discriminate against older job applicants?

Employers engage in ageism for a number of different reasons, including:

  • The desire to be seen as a youth-oriented company, especially if their target market is young
  • The belief that older workers simply don’t have the same stamina or energy that younger workers do
  • A belief that older workers will simply “coast” in their position until retirement, while younger workers will actively seek to improve the company
  • Fears that older workers won’t be able to adapt to changes in routine
  • A deep-seated belief that anyone who isn’t a “digital native” can’t handle the emerging technology that is so important in many businesses today

None of those beliefs are necessarily true and reflect biases that are often directed toward older people. There’s another concern, however, that’s purely practical: money. When a company hires or promotes an employee with years of experience, the company generally has to pay that employee a bigger salary and better benefits than they would have to pay someone just out of school.

How do you detect age discrimination in the hiring process?

Sometimes, it can be difficult. However, you can sometimes find subtle codes in the job descriptions themselves. Phrases like “digital natives ” or “recent graduates” are codes for “younger.”

Similarly, be suspicious if you’re discouraged from applying for a position based on the idea that you’re “over-qualified” or “don’t fit the culture.” Both of those terms may be codes for “too old.”

If you believe that you’re the victim of age discrimination, it may be time to find out more about your legal rights.