Age and Finding a New Job
As a ‘mature age’ worker, I get extremely frustrated with the stereotypes that are associated with people of my generation about our lack of ability or worth to employers. A recent study led by Melbourne University found three themes emerge when employing older workers.
- Older workers were referred to as ‘rusty’ – really rusty? I’d like someone to say that to my face! There is a perception that many recruiters view older workers as slow and unfit, a combination that leads many to believe they’re at risk of injury. This was particularly a point of view held by those who were once employed in blue-collar industries.
Quite a few of those in the study made reference to their skills, which had been made obsolete by technological advances. And then there were those who did retrain in a different field but had their job applications knocked back because employers “don’t want older people … they want young, youthful people, good-looking people.” AAArgghhh really this is 2017. Mature age workers can learn new skills, look at me I am blogging!!
- The second theme is known as being “invisible”. It’s linked to the tendency for young employees, by virtue of a seemingly vigorous appearance, to be eye-catching. One of the interviewees in the study reminisced about times gone by when she was in her 20s and 30s, a time when how she looked was valued as much as her work experience and qualifications. But later in life, she says, “a woman becomes invisible … because we’re not as attractive, physically.” Another spoke about the interview experience. Typically, on arrival, you see the manager’s “face drop when you walk in the room.” Another adds: “They take one look at my grey hair, and just completely dismiss you.” This is unfortunately worse for women than for men.
- The third theme is labelled “threatening”. It has little to do with looking old but a lot to do with simply having experience and history. The participants in the study felt they were discriminated against because of flawed perceptions that mature-age employees resist change, challenge authority, and are less adaptable.There were a variety of ways this manifested in the study. For example, younger managers were seen as feeling threatened by older workers who “might know more than they do and show them up for being perhaps incompetent”. Another example is that uni graduates are seen as more pliable: “a fresh, clean slate in their mind so they’ll … [be] more likely to follow company policies.”
I know that discrimination does occur, I have heard much of these comments first hand. However, it’s also hard to distinguish between perception and reality. For instance, how does one know for sure it’s a glance at a grey hair or the suspected insecurity of a youthful boss that determines the lack of job-seeking success? How do we know it isn’t a badly worded CV or one that hasn’t had any training added to it in decades? Or that the attitude of the older person was arrogant and inflexible at interview?
As an owner of a recruitment firm, I would like to say that whilst the data can not be argued with, not all recruiters, managers or recruitment firms discriminate on age. What the data unambiguously shows however is that if you find yourself suddenly out of the workforce later in life, there are forces at play that make it not very easy to find a new role.
Written by June Parker, Director and Career Coach