“There’s no such thing as growing old…’ – it’s a favourite lyric from ‘Career’, by the band Mott (an offshoot of early 70s rockers Mott the Hoople). It’s not a line I would have given much thought to as a younger man, but upon hitting 50 and getting more reflective it suddenly holds a whole new meaning.
I’ve been a Recruitment Consultant for some twenty-seven years, seen hiring trends evolve and recognise we are now in a much different employment market to the one I joined in the mid ‘90s. Diversity and inclusion are rightly playing a crucial part of employment strategies now, but I’ve repeatedly noticed a glaring omission in many of my client discussions - ongoing age discrimination.
As an immediate disclaimer, I say this more from an anecdotal evidence-based perspective. Also, I only recruit for a select range of industries/skills, so my commentary is confined to what I’ve observed within my sphere. That said, I think my observations are valid.
Diversity and inclusion initiatives are hugely positive, but they can be unwittingly contradictory if they are only ‘selectively diverse’. I recruit for the research, insights and marketing industries. Fact is I’ve noticed that while clients are often very keen for us to prove we supply a diverse set of applicants, whenever selection criteria are listed (usually verbally), age is never mentioned. Now that can be a two-way thing. There are plenty of very disadvantaged young people not getting a look in either. But at least time is on their side. Equally – and as a client pointed out to me recently – ‘it’s not as if there aren’t any older people in our business, but all those people occupy more senior positions’. That’s very different to the hiring challenge faced by an unemployed older person who has excellent skills to offer but who isn’t at senior/executive level.
Why? Dare I say it, it is still a ‘cultural fit’ thing. True we are often asked now by many clients to remove all indicators of name, age, gender and ethnicity from CVs where possible (as opposed to candidates completing online diversity questionnaires of which some people are suspicious because they ironically ask them to ‘tickbox’ the very things they perhaps don’t want to reveal re. perceived discrimination). Even so, I’ve observed many ‘older’ candidates now do not list their full career history – partly to be more relevant to the role applied for, but mainly because I suspect they’re concerned they’ll get the ‘too experienced’ blow off before even getting an interview. And if they do get interviewed and are still rejected, everyone stumbles around finding a way not to say how they just don’t fit the ‘younger’ team, working environment etc. Indeed, I’m certain some line managers are simply uncomfortable overseeing someone who they perceive as being even more experienced than they are. Even if said interviewee has possibly reached a point in life where the rat race is behind them, and they’d just like to get paid for a job they have the skills and experience to do.
Why ignore the benefits such experience can bring? Is it because there’s a perception that with ‘age’ also comes a certain mindset that might not ‘fit’, let alone fit in? I have large amounts of anecdotal evidence that where clients have taken the step to hire an older candidate, the results have been amazing.
So, in the most candidate short market I’ve ever seen in the commercial sector, we should welcome these experienced, skilled ‘older applicants’ with open arms, and just get over some subtle prejudices regarding age! It’s what the NHS, Waitrose and many other organisations are doing.
The term dinosaur is much misused in this context. Dinosaurs are extinct – the older workforce that I know is available, is very far from that!