Age discrimination in hiring is often undetected

Originally published on Clarionledger.com, 9/22/2015, and in print 9/24/2015.

PDF: Age discrimination is often undetected

Back in February, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued Seasons 52 restaurants (owned by restaurant giant Darden, Inc.), alleging that the restaurant chain purposely failed to hire people over the age of 40. The agency investigated the company and 35 restaurants after two applicants claimed they weren’t hired because of their age. For its part, the company disputed the charges, saying that it had previously investigated the claims and found them to be false, and will “defend this claim vigorously”. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in court.

Age discrimination (also known as ageism) is not a new phenomenon. Perhaps as long as there have been employers, older workers have been at a disadvantage when being considered for many jobs. But at a time when the job market is brimming with candidates in their 50s or 60s, the stories are becoming more and more common: many wonderfully-qualified workers are being left in the cold because they’re not considered to fit into some arbitrary notion of the “perfect candidate”. With record numbers of older workers having been displaced since the Great Recession, it’s a real problem for many people who still have two or more productive decades left.

It’s really tragic, because as people live longer, their productive years are also extended; older workers can bring experience, wisdom and stability to an organization, among many other gifts. But it’s likely that many companies and organizations are missing out (or even breaking the law) when they ignore quality candidates who might be considered too old – or young – than their “ideal” candidate. Stereotypes about older workers’ lack of energy, enthusiasm, knowledge of culture and technology and perceived requirements are being exposed; still, hiring managers and search committees continue to use euphemisms like “overqualified” to dismiss resumes of older workers who might actually be just what they need.

Statistics about age-related hiring discrimination are sparse, in part because few admit to it, and because rejected applicants rarely if ever receive accurate, honest information about why they weren’t hired. But some statistics are available from the EEOC, which tracks age discrimination complaints. It’s also important to note that these statistics cover all types of age-discrimination complaints – not just in hiring.

According to the EEOC, age-discrimination complaints have risen from about 15,000 in 1997 to more than 20,500 in 2014. (Those numbers actually peaked in 2008, and have seen slight declines each year since). Anecdotally, people over 50 report that their job search can take much longer than for younger workers. And while age discrimination may be at play, it’s not always the culprit when an older person isn’t hired. An older worker may be legitimately passed over because they lack the requisite skills, knowledge or abilities to do the job.

In many cases, though, age discrimination in hiring is lurking in the shadows; many people may not even be aware of their own biases. Perhaps serving as a bellwether for this trend is hiring of ministers by church search committees. On his blog thomrainer.com, LifeWay Christian Resources CEO Thom Rainer noted that, when looking for ministry staff, many church search committees and hiring personnel seem to be ignoring older candidates in favor of younger ones, or in some cases are even failing to consider younger candidates who fall out of a “preferred” age range.

“I am seeing many churches experiencing difficulty finding pastors and other staff that meet their criteria,” Rainer noted. “The solution could be in looking at candidates who just might be younger or older than they originally anticipated. Don’t be surprised if you find some outstanding candidates either younger or older than you expected.”

Rainer’s conclusion: although members of search committees may be well-intentioned, by building a fence around a specific range of age or experience (even by something as simple as saying their ideal candidate is in “their 40s”), they are closing the door on potential candidates who may possess extensive experience and wisdom. At the other end of the spectrum, they may also be losing out when they pass over younger people, who could bring energy, generational experience and passion, because they might use the position as a “stepping stone” to bigger and better things.

One trend noted by Rainer is the “+15” mental calculation. “Such is the reason many persons 55 years and older have great difficulty finding a position,” Rainer notes. The “+15” calculation goes like this: if the typical minister serves at a church 15 years, you take the person’s current age, and add 15 years. For someone in their mid-50s, that would mean they’d be around 70 – the assumption is that such a person would be ineffective. (That notion would in most cases be ludicrous; consider Billy Graham, or any one of thousands of ministers who are still serving effectively even though they long ago became eligible for Medicare.)

This trend is not only apparent in churches; it seems to be pervasive throughout corporate hiring culture in general. And the ones doing it might not be whom you think. Writing in Forbes a year ago, blogger Kathy Caprino noted that although it’s commonly thought that younger people are the ones discriminating against older workers, it’s in fact their peers – others of similar age — who are often guilty of making or influencing an age-biased hiring decision.

People bring their own biases into a hiring situation, whether they know it or not. And while most people are keenly aware of racial or gender-based discrimination, they might not think seriously about age discrimination. But, in fact, it is illegal to base employment decisions on age if the person is 40 or older (and the business has 20 or more employees).

To avoid age discrimination becoming an issue for your company, it’s a good idea to consult an employment-law attorney, who can recommend best practices. Also, many experts recommend that hiring practices be examined from start to finish, eliminating age-specific requirements unless they’re really pertinent to the job, and avoiding setting up a situation in which age might be discussed. Defending your company from an age-discrimination complaint can be much more expensive than avoiding the problem altogether. The website workforce.com has some good advice on their website.

And, if you’re the one looking for a job, how do you get across the age-discrimination barrier? U.S. News and World Report’s Arnie Fertig notes that, if you do it correctly, you can actually turn your age into a strength. Here is his list of suggestions:

  1. Highlight your engagement. Share stories from your career that highlight how you overcame a challenge by being involved and engaged.
  2. Highlight your stability. Hiring is expensive and time-consuming; most employers disdain the process and try to minimize how often they do it. If you’ve established a track record of hanging in there when times got tough, and helped your company get through a crisis, tell stories that highlight those qualities.
  3. Highlight your productivity. “You can point out that because you are likely to be highly engaged and loyal, your productivity is likely also to excel. Because you are experienced and a quick study, the time it takes you to get up to speed in your new role should be minimal,” Fertig notes.
  4. Highlight your experience. Fertig notes that your experience has been attained over time, and can benefit the new company immediately.
  5. Highlight your up-to-date skills. Make certain that you keep up with the latest knowledge and skills that are relevant for your field,” Fertig advises. “Be sure to put your computer and other skills at the top of your resume. Moreover, talk about yourself as someone who continues to learn and grow.”

What happens in Vegas…can cost you your next job

Before you post those pictures taken during that wild Spring-Break weekend, it might be a good idea to think about your future. Now, this may sound like your Dad talking here (and I happen to be a dad of two teens), but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that what happens in Vegas …or Mexico, or wherever… almost never stays there.

While reading a blog post by my friend Glenn Shepard about personnel management, I noticed that Glenn had posted a link to a study by Crosstab.com showing that employers and recruiters are almost always including social media in the process of vetting potential applicants.

The study was actually conducted a few years ago, but it’s likely that it’s even truer today that your online reputation is an integral part of your reputation. According to the study, 7 of 10 recruiters and HR professionals have rejected candidates at least partially because of what they found online. Interestingly, only seven percent of consumers believed they would be rejected because of those racy Instagram posts.

Many companies, the study reported, are actually requiring online checking, especially more so after several well-publicized instances of online misbehavior. Companies are displaying a high degree of sensitivity to any online missteps of their employees. In one case, a PR rep for InterActive.com who composed what many considered a hate tweet about Africa before boarding an international flight was quickly canned.

Logically, Google searches are the most-used way to check up on applicants, but increasingly Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others are being checked as well. Employers are looking for information about candidates’ questionable lifestyles, inappropriate comments and other red flags.

Experts advise potential job seekers to use discretion when deciding what to post, checking your online reputation. “Googling” your name is a good start, and deleting anything that might cause an issue can help (but it’s not a 100-percent guarantee). In addition, there are “reputation management” companies, but they usually can’t remove negative information, only increase the likelihood that positive info will come up higher.

The best advice: don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your Mama to see. After all, she’s likely to be online these days, too.

Originally published in the Clarion-Ledger on 3/27/2014.

Have you ever gotten a job from an online job search site?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve become very familiar with online job search tools like Monster, CareerBuilder, The Ladders, etc. etc., and even with industry-specific sites. My own experience, and the stories others have related, have led me to the conclusion that many of these sites are of dubious value when it comes to searching for a job. In fact, submitting information to these sites seems to result only in solicitations from companies in industries with high turnover rates or selling franchise licenses.

I know this may sound like a harsh judgment, and I’ll be the first to admit that my opinion is colored by my own experience. But it does appear to have some viability. In a story called “How online job searches worsen the job crisis,” CBS News Moneywatch’s Susan Lucas notes that, while online job search mechanisms make it easier for applicants to click once and you’re done, it appears that they are flooding companies with resumes, many of which are thrown out because they don’t meet some ideal qualification standard. Certainly, there are many, many job seekers out there, and companies must be hiring to replace workers, even with the economy and fear of unknowns like the effects of Obamacare. So, what gives?

Frankly, friends have reported that they doubt if any of their applications actually ever make it to the company. Industry-specific applications seem to produce a higher level of initial responses. But the best advice I’ve seen recommends that you devote most of your time to “networking”. Come to think of it, I have never gotten a job by sending a blind resume or filling out a random application; every job has come through a personal referral. But there may be some success stories out there from people who have gotten good jobs online; otherwise, these sites would have folded by now, after they ran out of initial venture capital and couldn’t justify their own existence.

With all of this in mind, I’d like to put the question out there: have you ever gotten a good job through an online job board? If so, tell me about it in the comments section or by emailing me at moakconsumer@gmail.com. And, if you have successful job search tactics you’d like to share, let me know.

Mississippians warned about alleged employment scam

Originally published in the Clarion-Ledger on 8/28/2013.

Attorney General Jim Hood is warning consumers to be aware of an alleged scammer, who is accused of advertising available positions, then demanding money.

A news release today from Hood’s office reported that a man I.D.’d as Brandon Williams with “Wipe Out Windows” filed job orders with WIN Job Centers in Vicksburg, Greenwood and Forest. “Williams, as he will be referred until his identity is confirmed, claimed to be needing general laborers whom he would pay $12.50 per hour,” noted the release. “The Greenwood agency referred 29 applicants to Williams, while Vicksburg referred 10 and Forest referred three. An additional 16 people were referred to Williams by the WIN center applicants.”

Hood alleges that Williams contacted the applicants after 5pm on Friday (August 23) and told them they had the job and just needed to pay a fee of $61.95 by 6pm Sunday (August 25) to cover the expense of a shirt and a Transportation Industry Card. He then told the applicants to show up at the WIN job center Monday morning ready to report to work. In total, 40 people paid the requested “fee” to Williams for a total of $2,478. Some of these applicants also provided their social security numbers to Williams.

“The Mississippi Department of Employment Security immediately reported this issue to us and is working to provide our office with information that will hopefully lead us to this con,” added Hood. “These type of scammers almost always choose to prey on the vulnerable, in this case folks needing a job.”

The AttorneyGeneral warns Mississippians to never, ever let their guard down and offers the following tips:

  • Never feel pressured to pay an “up front fee” by a certain deadline. Most legitimate companies will not use such pressure tactics and will certainly understand your need to verify facts.
  • Do not give out your personal information over the phone.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions of anyone claiming to make you a job offer without ever meeting you in person.

Anyone with information about this scammer or who thinks they may have fallen victim to this scam is encouraged to call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800- 281-4418.