You’re in the middle of a job interview and the recruiter or prospective employer asks, “So, how old are you?”
What do you think when you read this scenario? Let me guess that you are probably caught off guard and thoughts are racing through your head. “Can they really ask me that?” you wonder.
If you are like the majority of age 50+ job seekers, I’ll wager you answered yourself with a resounding, “No.”
And asserting that, you would be wrong.
While it may fly in the face of what you know about the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADE) and, on top of that, be outright rude, the question itself is legal.
You should know before an interview how you’ll react and what you’ll say when asked about your age. Much of what we believe we know about age discrimination is vague and ambiguous. That’s bad news for age 50+ workers. Our opinions about age bias can influence our behavior during a job search and after we become employed. While it’s important to understand the principles of age-discrimination law, it is more important to figure out how to deal with it out in the world.
Age bias in hiring and employment may be the last socially acceptable form of discrimination. While the ADEA makes age-based discrimination in hiring, pay, benefits, training, advancement, and termination illegal, many people over the age of 50, and increasingly older than 40, believe that age bias still exists and affects them.
Research from two recent studies conducted by RetirementJobs.com and AARP confirms that between 80 and 95 percent of people over age 50 believe that “age bias is a fact of life.” The published statistics about actual age-discrimination claims, however, don’t support common perceptions about the extent and power of age bias. All this is not to minimize concerns about age bias. I want you to think about what you can and cannot do about the reality, or self-fulfilling perceptions, of perceived age bias.
Here are five things you can’t do about discriminatory employer behavior or decisions:
1. You can’t compel employers to communicate: If you don’t hear back from an employer you applied to or interviewed with, stop thinking it’s you or something you did or didn’t do. Contemporary recruiting practices seldom provide information to applicants. There is often no acknowledgement other than an auto-reply message, long delays or no invitation to interview, no feedback following interviews, and no explanation or notice of rejection. Employers are often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of applicants and have little choice but to acknowledge resumes via auto-reply e-mail, if at all. Employers have become extremely cautious about what they say to candidates and to employees. Stop expecting promptness and responsiveness; it’s up to you to be persistent.
2. You can’t dictate a company’s hiring decisions or behaviors: Managers and executives will generally make decisions about hiring and firing based on the organization’s financial condition. Staff reductions do not differ in motivation. This may not seem fair, but here’s the deal: Older and long-service employees often receive better pay than younger coworkers, and health care and retirement-income costs tend to be higher for older workers. Employers may decide to lay off more costly employees. This is permissible as long as age is not the basis for the decision.
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