Looking for a job when being over 50 can be a daunting adventure. Some of my clients face this challenge.
I coach and witness them looking for a job despite being over 50. When they get one, it is often not what they had expected. Sometimes, they are overqualified, or they must be happy with irregular short term job assignments. Some do not find any job at all and obviously their age is the biggest weakness.
The rising endorsement of diversity and inclusion policies is a fact among businesses and organizations Nevertheless, not all discriminated minorities gain the same traction. For example, gender and ethnic diversity is very popular and the subject of many actions and marketing campaigns. Age diversity gets much less attention.
Recently, in Belgium, a job platform and recruitment agency launched an initiative to foster diversity and inclusion among its clients. The agency sent their clients anonymous CVs of the candidates that were shortlisted by their recruiters. Their clients could not see any personal details but only initials followed by a summary of the candidates’ professional career, skills, and competences.
The journalist who investigated the matter interviewed a few clients who all gave positive feedback about receiving anonymous CV. Nevertheless, a message was given at the end of the interviews by clients who did not want to appear on the TV program. These clients were ok with anonymous CV as long as the age of the candidate appeared on the CV.
Why do these employers think that they respect their commitment to diversity when asking the age of potential candidates?
Cost is one of the explanations.
In many countries, older employees cost more than younger ones. Why? In many countries, during the job interview, it is customary to ask candidates what their financial expectations are. Logically the more senior people are the more experienced they are, and subsequently the higher will be their financial expectations.
More expensive can mean a lot in Belgium for example. In this country at the heart of Europe, the employer pays 2/3 of the social security of each employee, which is a huge burden. The basis for the calculation of the amount to be paid is the wage itself. The higher this one is, the higher is the amount to be paid to the social security.
In such context, it becomes logic to hire the candidate that is the best value for money. Subsequently senior candidates are more likely to remain discriminated during a recruitment process.
Can we change this situation and can we be to be more inclusive with older candidates?
If each job were advertised with its budget, this could reduce the discriminatory treatments. Anyone would apply for a job with a full knowledge of how much the employer is ready to pay. It would therefore be the candidate who decides whether it is ok to work with a lower wage than what was obtained before. Many seniors who are unemployed could be glad to get back to work even with a lower wage than in the past.
The decision to include the budget can stem from the organization/business itself: they assert their commitment to being inclusive. The decision can also be made at the level of the government and a law could make explicit that the whole society endorses the idea of being more inclusive. If all job ads were mentioning the budget, older candidates could feel that they have as much chance as younger to get hired.
Another approach to be more inclusive with older candidates is to look at the true value they bring to the organization. For example, senior people could be involved in training and mentoring younger staff. This brings added value to the organization by reducing the learning curve of junior staff. The added valued of in-house training could be worth the cost of hiring a more expensive senior employee.
Besides the costs, employers may be reluctant to hire senior staff as they might think that being older means being less productive, more easily tired, hard to convince to change old habits and attitudes towards colleagues.
This is often an unconscious bias that recruiters have when interviewing older candidates.
Often there is no systematic screening of these stereotypes. However, youngers employees can display a stronger resistance to change than older employees. An older employee might have gone to several work challenges that have developed useful skills to the organization that a younger candidate may have not developed yet. This may mean that screening during job interviews should be enriched with new questions enabling to give a fuller picture of the added value of each candidate.
As many societies in the Western world feature older populations, it is important that businesses and organizations represent this trend in their staff. It is therefore important to change the perception of older candidates but also to coach them to get convincing selling arguments when they go through a hiring process.
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