How Recruiters and Mature-Aged Candidates can Battle Ageism

Here’s the scenario:

A recruiter has lined up a series of potential candidates for an opening. Having carefully ascertained their capabilities, character, potential and degree of experience, one candidate is heads and shoulders above the rest.

But there’s a problem. He’s got too much experience. You see, the candidate is a babyboomer – and he’s got the grey hairs to show it.

It’s not a problem for the recruiter. After all, he knows genuine talent when he see it. But he also knows his client. And it’s not looking good. Now what?

He dare not tarnish his reputation by sending through a no-hoper, given the client’s discriminatory attitudes. Rather, he’ll send in the next-best (and younger) candidate to bat for his agency…and hope for the best. Our first-class candidate is left out. Again.

Despite how mainstream media tends to paint the picture, unemployment is not only a graduate’s concern.  Far from it. The number of job seekers aged above 50  have increased by 53% over the past year. 170,000 have been looking for work for more than 12 months. Horrific stats. And behind each number stands a worried individual – and usually, a family as well.

The Causes of The Great Depression / FDR Memorial Site
Recruiters need to provide careful guidance to even the highest quality mature-aged candidate to earn an interview, let alone a placement, for two key reasons:

1. The hiring process has seen drastic changes in recent decades. Mature-aged candidates who previously enjoyed constant employment often need assistance in navigating through an unfamiliar recruitment process. An example, is of course, the candidate’s CV. Dated formats, focuses, and language have few fans amongst today’s employment managers.

2. And then there’s the additional hurdle: strategies need to be developed for both CV screening and interview stages that combat ugly stereotypes that promote unofficial policies of ageism. For example:

“Older candidates are inflexible and set in their ways…”

If a candidate is able to pinpoint areas where previous weaknesses have been systematically and proactively addressed, a strong degree of flexibility and openness for change have been successfully demonstrated. In addition to addressing the stereotype, the candidate has also clearly highlighted an advantage older candidates often have of their younger counterparts: a greater degree of self awareness and a more developed level of emotional maturity.

“Older candidates can’t be trained…”

A candidate who can demonstrate ongoing and successful training will quickly dispel such nonsense. If one is unable to prove their commitment to constant career development, the candidate should consider exploring the vast world of adult education. Through classroom based training or eLearning programs, candidates can develop new skills that are verified by certification. It must be noted that eLearning has the added benefit of demonstrating technical know-how. Regardless, by taking such proactive steps, a candidate demonstrates both an ability and hunger to learn new concepts.

“Older candidates have lost touch with their profession or industry…”

Mature-aged candidates can expect to be tested on this one. Have they kept up with industry trends and developments? If a candidate can demonstrate in the affirmative, they’ll dispel such concerns. What industry events has the candidate recently attended? What trade journals have they subscribed to? And for bonus points, has the candidate made solid contributions to relevant online industry forums via blogging, LinkedIn or Quora?


“Older candidate are technical dinosaurs…”

Oddly enough, this stereotype can even render mature-aged candidates useless for even the least technically-demanding positions.

Mature-aged candidates are best advised to utilise new-generation CV tools that will firmly dispel any unjustified perceptions concerning their irrelevancy in the modern workplace. Furthermore, if the technologically enhanced CV can boast IT training certification and links to social networks, there’s little chance such a candidate will be unjustly red-flagged, like so many other capable mature-aged candidates.

“Generally speaking, older candidates have no advantages over younger candidates…”

While each individual should be judged on his own merits, studies have found that mature-aged candidates commonly share beneficial attributes.

They have been known can hit the ground running, require minimal workplace supervision, and boast a career’s worth of relevant experience and genuine contacts. Older candidates are more reliable, and are proven to stay with their eventual employer for more years than younger candidates.

“Older candidates are angry and bitter that they have to look for work again…”

Presentation is key to dispel this unfair notion. Such candidates need to position themselves as positive,  enthusiastic, and capable – without a trace of arrogance. The candidate is excited by the opportunity, and have a tremendous set of skills and attributes to offer the organisation.

Quality recruiters know how to build and sell a candidate. And with the right strategy, a mature-aged candidate can not only win the placement, but change dated attitudes too-many employers have towards older jobseekers.


Categories: Articles for Employers, Articles for Job Seekers, Articles for Recruiters, Current Affairs, Current Affairs, Rectruitment Trends


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13 Comments on “How Recruiters and Mature-Aged Candidates can Battle Ageism”

  1. Ross Mierendorff
    February 4, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    I find the above comments “quotations” to be very patronising.
    Age discrimination is rife around the world including countries where it is against the law.
    “Older candidates are inflexible and set in their ways…” This could be true however it is up the the senior manager to manage the business for the stakeholders and if he cannot “change the ways” it may be him who should be addressed.
    “Older candidates can’t be trained…” This is rubbish and generally it is the older candidate who is in touch with the latest technology and it is he / she who can adapt the technology to the business because of their experience in working.
    “Older candidates have lost touch with their profession or industry…” all candidates have to be in touch with the industry as their employment should depend on performance no matter what age the person is.
    “Older candidate are technical dinosaurs…” how so many industries change but still remain the same. The basis of many industries have appeared to advance but still return to the basic principles after time. Principles can be advanced for the better and it is all employees to remain in tune.
    “Generally speaking, older candidates have no advantages over younger candidates…” true apart form one thing, – EXPERIENCE..
    “Older candidates are angry and bitter that they have to look for work again…” and why would not anyone get angry. If the tables were turned and the younger people were not even considered then this type of attitude would change.

    Until such time that age discrimination is outlawed internationally the only time things will change is when something goes horribly wrong and it will be the person with the experience and the ability to work correctly under pressure and revert to the basic principles of the operation instead of following some half baked notion that the processes have to change to become better, when it is probably just a need to follow principles properly, communicate and report accordingly.

    Wake up and sniff the roses, people…

    • February 6, 2011 at 6:23 am #

      Ross, we couldn’t agree more with you – the quoted stereotypes are extremely patronising and highly offensive. However, one can’t run away from reality – these stereotypes unfortunately do exist in many hiring circles.

      Thanks for your comments.

  2. Richard
    February 4, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

    Well, I am not in that age bracket but it seems from your attempts to dispel the perceptions, rumours or back room closed door talk that we know goes on, you are in fact trying to pigeon hole mature candidates into the same basket as everyone else.

    Quite clearly any candidate should be able to demonstrate their capability to be able to help fix the problems that a company is seeking to resolve. Who cares who they are, what their background or what age.

    In addition, there is no harm is recognising maturity = experience. The one I always come across is they will be too expensive and therefore ruled out despite the candidate being the right fit for the role. We recognise the benefits of a mix of people within a team from the usual MR loud to the quiet character. Each one has their place and those attributes should be harnessed and managed. Much the same as the grad and the boomer – they are different people and should be treated as such that meets the needs of the business.

    Many very senior execs may not have a CV or people that have worked for many years in one organisation. The CV will not get them in the door but good old fashioned networking will. The CV should only be a summary but that is it, it doesn’t provide a ‘3D’ view of the person (unless you are an author!)

    Just one last point, your third paragraph then blames the customer for their perceived culture. The client wants the best people that fit the bill. You are stating that the recruiter would not provide the CV because you think the client may not like want mature candidates. In this case, both the recruiter and potentially the client is wrong and it is exactly that behaviour that is to be fixed. An aging population will require more positions!

    • February 6, 2011 at 6:20 am #

      Richard, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      Surely the notion that “older candidates are too expensive” is merely an excuse; a smoke screen for ageism.

      The recruiter should be fully aware of candidates’ salary expectations, and a candidate should fit the client’s requirements – including salary. If the candidate’s salary expectations are fixed beyond the position’s compensation, the candidate won’t be sent in for an interview. If the candidate is presented, the client can safely assume they have room for reasonable salary negotiating.

      Richard, you’re spot on regarding the importance of networking. Many candidates fail to realise its potential. However, successful networking will generally only get a candidate half-way; without a solid CV, the task of “getting through the door” for an interview is extremely difficult. Networking and a quality CV must work hand-in-hand – and a jobseeker who doesn’t utilise both of these tools is at a disadvantage.

      A recruiter would find it most difficult to provide an older candidate’s CV only if he has picked up on subtle (and not so subtle) clues regarding the client’s preference for younger candidates. That’s why a strategy is needed to present a quality mature-aged candidate to such a client.

      However, if the recruiter has no reason to believe the client has such a preference – they just want the best person for the job (as you mentioned) – there’s no reason to be concerned. However, one only has to gain if stereotypes are still actively addressed.

  3. Vivian Thorne
    February 7, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

    I find this article to be very relevant and can vouch for the authenticity of what the writer is communicating based on the fact alone that I have experienced this exact thing within the last twelve months of dedicating myself full time to searching for employment. I have let the recruiters know that I am able and willing to work temp jobs, contract work and will accept assignments where I would make much, much less than I was used to making in order to get in the door and prove myself to be an asset to the company.

    In my opinion and from what I have experienced in the past, older workers (50+), I am now 50, have established stronger work ethics, they have much more knowledge and practical experience allowing them to know the structures of companies and can work independently without supervision and more likely to product results within the time frame that is given. We are very trainable and I don’t understand why anyone would think differently. Not everyone is a dinosaur to new technology but based on how things “used to be done” two to three years ago, older workers can appreciate the vast improvements used today and use them to help them produce faster results. A little manual is usually what is needed and we can figure it out. Also, if the reasoning of why something is done a certain way is explained once, we can reason it out each time the situation arises in the future and not have to bother management or supervisors with asking the same question over and over.

    We are too old to worry about what the employee next to us is doing and the gossip and discussing trends. We appreciate whomever gave us the opportunity for the position and will work hard to prove that we deserved it, as well as being very conscious of our responsibilities and duties needed to be fulfilled. You will also find that we are more flexible with our schedules, can stay late to work to finish projects, time ourselves without waiting until the last minute to submit projects prior to deadlines and have many other qualities not seen in new grads and other younger employees that don’t have the experience that can only be gotten with time.

    If these things are brought up to recruiters and hiring managers and they are educated in this area, perhaps they would find themselves enjoying working with an older employee (if you consider 50 old) and find us to be reliable and trustworthy, especially when handling confidential matters.

    Perhaps someone can give seminars or submit articles to trade publications that recruiters as well as employers read as a form of education. Also, passing along the article and the responses to others and keeping the chain going would be one way to begin.

    • February 24, 2011 at 6:54 am #

      Vivian, thank you for your thoughftul post. We wish you the best of luck in your jobsearch.

      Do you know of any organised bodies that fight against ageism?

  4. Paul Basile
    February 8, 2011 at 6:08 am #

    I was told at 40 that my new job, then, would be the last I’d get. I’ve had 4 others since and am proud to be a babyboomer.

    The thing is, we have research and statistics to show that the points made in the post are not simply logical and valid and true on occasion but are true most of the time. Older workers are less, not more, risky than younger ones. No offense to the kids. Older workers are more engaged, more flexible, more in tune with their competencies. The only old things that don’t work well are old prejudices.

  5. Karie D'Amico
    February 8, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    Great topic Adam. As sad as it is, I have run into this problem with several mature candidates that I represented. Comments for rejection have included, “We were concerned if she would be able to keep up with the fast paced environment.” Even though this could be a valid and non-age related factor, Valentino’s idea of including physical activity or athletic accomplishments might be a good idea.

    In another drastic situation, I had a candidate experience what NOT to do in an interview. The folks she met were more concerned with telling her she was overqualified and why she wouldn’t like the position than asking any questions, especially about her skills. They even went so far as to tell her she would not be able to get the position and then go schmooze with other senior level employees to try and land another higher position! Both of us wondered why they even invited her for an interview after that one!

  6. Karyn Lynn
    February 11, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    As a training consultant, I heard two different CLO professionals from two different VA hospitals express this sentiment when talking about real, sustainable change in their workplace ~ “We have to wait for some of these older folks to retire out before we can truly expect the kind of change we need. They are stubborn, refuse to learn, pass on their knowledge or take a positive position.” It sounded like burn out to me but these corporate learning professionals were sure these folks, most of them leaders, were so stuck in the way things had always been that the only hope was their absence.

    I wonder how many clients are looking at the older candidate but seeing problems from their own organization’s culture. Pondering…

  7. David
    February 17, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    thought the info in the article may be fundamentally valid, it does not offer a strategy to get a more experienced candidate in the door . i have also seen other difficult objections for these candidates including ” forgetfulness is an issue.” and “They move slowly and handle less volume” connectted to those “We can hire a less experienced person who never forgets anything, has superior tech skills, flies like a rocket and handles much more volume all for a lot less $.”
    Thoughts on those please?

  8. Leanne
    February 21, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    Many valid points in both the article and subsequent comments.

    The other “elephant in the room” objective I’ve heard is when the hiring manager/director says “…….but this candidate has more experience than me – will they really want to / be able to take direction from me?” Cynically I wonder whether this should really be translated as “…. I’m worried that the candidate will be better than me and takes my job?!”

  9. Lane
    March 21, 2011 at 10:12 pm #

    I don’t see an answer to the question that plagues me as this 51 year old looks for work. “Should I low-light my gray (almost white) hair to overcome an immediate appearance of “older than we’re looking for?”

  10. Ross Mierendorff
    April 4, 2011 at 7:47 am #

    Thanks to one and all.
    Networking is fine however these continue to change.
    You must gear each covering letter and CV directly to the role you intend.
    You can argue to case at the time of interview. BUT You have to get to the interview.
    The next thing to argue and comment on is “selection criteria”.
    Would love to hear about people’s involvement and experiences.

    I would love to get employed in the HR business and start sorting out some of these younger people.

    Lane do not colour your hair. do not think as being white haired just tell people it is platinum blond.

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