Monday, January 22, 2007

Not Hired Due to Age

I just want to ask you about age discrimination. How can you prove it?

I recently went on a job interview, which I qualified for in every way. The interviewer was young, probably around 28 or so. I aced the interview. I did all the right things, answered all his questions accordingly, dressed properly, built rapport, and even asked several questions regarding the job and the company. I researched everything about the company beforehand and was sure to let him know that I was savvy about the business. He seemed impressed, and said that most people he interviews ask him questions about the company, because they have not researched it.

I went home with a good feeling and a bounce in my step (almost certain that I would get the job) waiting for the call (as I asked him whether he would contact me on whatever decision was made). I even went so far as to email him a "Thank You" for the interview. But later that day I started having a feeling that perhaps my age would be my downfall, and sure as holy ol' heck, I think it was. I'm 51 by the way.

This morning in my email there it was: the dreaded short but not-so-sweet words, “Thank you for your follow-up email in regards to our customer service position. At this time it has been filled by another applicant.” And that was it, nothing more. Kind of short and rude is more like it. I mean, honestly, don't you think he could have put more meat in the stew, so to speak!

So, after this long winded question, I'm sure you get my point. Bottom does one go about proving age discrimination? To me it is a totally useless law, simply because you can never prove it. -- Deb

Answer by Townsend Belisle, former professional headhunter

What a terrible experience, Deb! The investment you made in pursuit of this job was significant. You spent time preparing a resume and potential responses, making the right impression, researching the company, and working hard to be on-time and dressed appropriately. And with apparently no reason of which you are aware, they chose someone else.

Unfortunately your experience is not unique (read How to Prove Age Discrimination by Deb Koen.) Employer responses like “your information is on file” to “the position has been filled” to “you’re over qualified” are common, flat answers that can make anyone feel rejected and even deceived. One part of your story that especially disturbed me was that you had a promise of a phone call that was not fulfilled.

On paper you did everything right: you were prepared, gave the perfect interview, and wrote a thank you note.

You have an instinct that they are discriminating against you, based on your age – and frankly, you might be right. But here is the truth about your situation: unless you have written proof (e.g. job description with age limits), first-hand experience (e.g. specific age-related questions were asked), or evidence from a third party witness of either gestures or odd age-related questions – it is very difficult to prove age discrimination. Here is a good article from the Wall Street Journal: Age Bias is Hard to Prove But Payouts Can be Big by Kelly Greene. And another from National Public Radio: High Court: Age-Discrimination Suits Need Not Prove Intent by Nina Totenberg. You can read more about what the government says here: Age Discrimination.

But be careful before you openly communicate your concern. Did you consider the fact that they may have hired someone of, say, age 60?

To better understand your rejection, know that there are hundreds of reasons a hiring manager will choose or reject candidates: skill sets, experience, common interests, education, diversity, references… and then there are those off-paper traits of rapport, professionalism, appearance, manners, communication.

One saving grace is that you may not have lost this job on your merit or traits alone. You’re competing with others! Candidates compete on both their strengths and short comings compared to others. (There’s the classic case of a tenured employee who is replaced by someone far younger simply because the younger candidate requires a fraction of the former employee’s salary).

Here’s what you can do (and what I would suggest you do): thank him again (the ‘ol “kill them with kindness”). You could write a most lovely note, tactfully asking for specific, detailed feedback on what you could improve upon to become the top candidate for the next open position. Don’t accuse them of anything. Don’t burn any potential bridges. You never know – perhaps the previously accepted candidate will turn down the job or quickly under-perform - and your professional relations and tact prove that you’re next in line!

Finally let me say you might want to try to let this lost opportunity pass. If you interpret life as “things happen for a reason” - then perhaps this job does not deserve you, Deb.

Good luck – your job is out there just waiting for you to take it. Be tenacious.

“Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs." ~ Malcolm Stevenson Forbes

Job Lounger, do you have a question? Email it and we’ll post your question and an expert’s answer here in The Job Lounge.


debbers said...

Thank you so much for providing the information I requested in regards to age descrimination. I did what you suggested and sent off an email (the ol' kill em with kindness one, and don't burn your bridges) and now I am waiting to see whether or not I receive the courtesy of getting any feedback. Here is the email I sent. If you have any suggestions to me about this email (if I did it right or wrong) please be sure to let me know.

Hi Mike,

In regards to the position of CSR, that has been filled by another applicant, I was hoping that you could give me some feedback on what I could do to improve upon being considered for the next open position that you may have available.

I felt like I had what was considered the necessary skills, but if there are any suggestions that you can give me to critique my resume or interviewing skills, (it could help me for any future interview I may have) it would be greatly appreciated.

Once again thank you for any suggestions you may have.


Juan said...

Fantastic post. Age discrimination happens all too often in our society, and it is likely to increase as more Baby Boomers choose the workplace over retirement. Older workers need this information so that they can identify and combat this ill.

Juan Rodriguez
diversity careers