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Facing Discrimination during Your Job Search & How to Deal With It
17

no-job-discriminationUnfortunately, discrimination during job search is widely spread in the United States and around the world. A topic about age discrimination became one of the most debated topics in our LinkedIn Job Search Group and we felt it is necessary to address the issue of employment discrimination in more detail.

It is illegal for employers to discriminate based on age, race, gender, religion beliefs, physical characteristics, disabilities, family status, and medical history in the United States.   Nonetheless, many job seekers are facing just that every day.  Discriminating at work is wrong and unjustified.  However, before giving any advice on how to deal with it, we first need to understand some of the different types of discrimination and the reasons to why employers discriminate in the first place.  As an employer, I can share some of the misunderstood reasoning (again, often not justifiable) that sometimes makes employers “look the other way”. Hopefully, by understanding these reasons better, we can formulate effective strategies for dealing with discrimination at work.

Types of Discrimination

Age Discrimination Age discrimination is becoming very common in the United States.  Apart from younger workers generally willing to work for less, there are several common reasons for age discrimination.  Let’s address each one of them in more details:

no-job-discrimination2Many employers are often concerned that older job seekers may not have sufficient computer skills required for office jobs.  Basic computer skills are becoming a requirement for virtually all office jobs.  I am absolutely convinced that in order for job seekers of age to be competitive they MUST have basic computer skills and be able to demonstrate them to potential employers to eliminate any doubts. By basic computer skills I mean ability to use the Web, E-mail, and Word Processing.

At the same time, we must be realistic about the fact that not every job is right for every age.  Younger people do have a natural advantage when it comes to learning and picking up new skills.  For example, I’ve been running an IT company for 14 years and during my career I have rarely seen a fifty-year old learn a new technology with the same ease and speed as some of the younger professionals (of course, there are always exceptions).  However, at the same time, I have never seen an effective 18-year old senior manager. My point is, there are jobs that require “young brains” or physical stamina and there are jobs that require seniority. If you are over the age of fifty, chances are you have been seasoned and posses the experience, discipline and worth-ethic that many youngsters just don’t have. Make use of that and demonstrate it to potential employers – there are plenty of management and supervisory positions where these merits are necessary. Same goes for younger employees, some jobs just require a certain level of experience and seniority that only comes with age.

 

Due to some heated discussions around this post, I felt that a clarification had to be made. 

In my opinion, age discrimination is wrong and unjustified.  Age has nothing to do with the argument I was trying to make.  I am a firm believer that positions should be awarded on merit and not on stereotypes.  If a fifty-year old programmer CAN show same or better skills compared to a 20-year old, they should be hired – no questions about it.   It goes both ways.  As an employer, there are many jobs that I would never entrust to an 18-year old and not because of their age, but because of the insufficient experience and maturity that may be required for the job.  The matter of fact is that our bodies do age diminishing our physical and mental abilities.  If a job requires certain levels of agility, dexterity, mental acuteness and learning abilities, and a fifty-year old can demonstrate them, as an employer, I would actually prefer to hire a more seasoned and a more experienced employee as opposed to an 18-year old.  It is the same logic that goes for physical tests in the military, for example.   If individual can perform the duties required, their age should never matter. 

The only point I was trying to make was that research and common experience does tell us that younger brains naturally are better quipped for learning new things.  For example, young kids are better in learning new languages.    I learnt English myself when was younger (it is not my first language) but I would be very reluctant to undertake a job that requires learning a new language.  At this point, I feel it would be well beyond my natural abilities to pick up a new language.  Other people can learn new languages when they are sixty.

The bottom line is – the only way for job seekers to deal with age discrimination is to show that they can perform duties same way or better than younger employees.

Physical Stamina As we grow older, our bodies don’t get younger. While there are no official age requirements for many jobs that require physical strength and stamina, you still will have to prove that you are physically capable of doing the job.  For example, if you are turned down for a job in construction, it may not be necessarily because of your age but because of your physical abilities to perform labor-intensive tasks. The best advice here for workers of age is to stay healthy and in shape and be realistic about the duties that you can or cannot perform.

Medical, Disability or Family Reasons no-job-discrimination3One of the main reasons employers often discriminate is due to concerns of higher health insurance premiums. Depending on a company’s group policy for health insurance and the coverage plan, employers may face significantly higher premiums for employees who have spouses or children that need coverage or who have serious medical conditions.  Medical conditions can also mean extended paid and unpaid medical leaves that may pose additional problems for some employers.  The only thing you can do is to safeguard your medical information and information about your family status. It is illegal for employers to ask you for such information.

Also, keep in mind that employers may be concerned about medical conditions and disabilities (if they are obvious) that could affect your performance at work. The best defense for that is to demonstrate otherwise.

Race & Religious Beliefs Discrimination It is just plain wrong. We are not going to be giving any advice on how to deal with racial or religious discrimination in this article – it is a complex and a very controversial subject.  Unfortunately, discrimination of this type is often based on ethnic prejudice and stereotypes and there is very little you can do strategy-wise to deal with it. It is never justified and if you feel you are a victim of racial or religious discrimination, our advice is to walk way (you don’t want to work there anyways) and report the offender to EEOC

Gender Discrimination no-job-discrimination5There is a lot of good material out there concerning gender discrimination. Unfortunately, as with racial discrimination, it is often also based on stereotypes that are hard to beat.

One thing that many women overlook is that while it is illegal, many employers (especially smaller firms) are wary of maternity leaves, especially for younger and recently married women.  While Maternity Leave Laws are absolutely necessary to protect our families they also do pose a strain on smaller firms.  If you are visibly pregnant, employers by law are required to treat pregnant employees the same as other employees on the basis of their ability or inability to work. However, please understand that many employers will seriously consider whether to hire and spend time and money on training an employee that will be soon going on a maternity leave.  This may pose a problem for smaller employers who seek immediate and permanent help and may not be able to afford a temporary replacement. For such situations it may be more prudent to seek part-time or temporary employment or jobs with employers that can comfortably give you a maternity leave.

Physical Complexity / Characteristics We have recently written a widely popular article titled Why Do Taller Men Earn More and Overweight Women Earn Less?  If you are concerned with such type of discrimination, we suggest you study that article to understand this phenomenon in more detail. 

What Can You Do?

Know Your Rights There are Illegal Interview Questions that employers cannot ask you: from your age to martial status. It is important that you know what these questions are and if you get asked one and you are not comfortable with answering, you may point that out to the interviewer. The answer that we recommend is “I feel that this is a personal question that I am not obligated to answer according to the Equal Employment laws. However, I would like to assure you that what you asked doesn’t affect my ability to perform my duties, which I am willing to demonstrate.” This not only shows the potential employer that you understand your rights; it also addresses their concerns and if you can provide them with additional reassurances, it won’t hurt your chances of getting the job.

no-job-discrimination4Control the Information If you are concerned with possible discrimination, understand where the compromising information could be coming from. Many large companies are required to submit Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) reports that may ask you to voluntarily provide information about your race, gender, etc. on the job application form.  This information is supposed to be used by federal government for statistical purposes; however there have been court cases where this information was also used for discriminating against job seekers.  Therefore, if you are concerned with possible discrimination, just leave that information out – it is not required.  Please also understand that dates on your resume, both employment and education history, do reveal your age, especially when it comes to your graduation dates for college and high school. Finally, your profiles on social websites like Facebook and MySpace could be a golden mine of information from your age to martial status that can be used to discriminate against you.

The Bottom Line While we don’t condone discrimination of any kind, it is also important to understand that being confrontational with an employer will not get you a job.  Your best strategy is: be smart and well-informed, know your rights as well as identify the potential weaknesses (in the eyes of the employer) and come up with ways to address any valid concerns that an employer might have.  Please understand: most employers that discriminate do it not because they have something against you personally but because they may view you as a liability or are concerned of your abilities to perform the job.  It is your responsibility to convince them otherwise. However, if you find yourself victim of unjustified and demeaning discrimination, we suggest you immediately walk way and file a complaint with the EEOC.

We hope that these advices will help you with your job search. Good luck!
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  • Peter Lemery

    I am a white male, 64 years old, who has never faced any form of discrimination during my 42 year career, ...until now. I've talked to many peers in my situation who are facing age discrimination for the first time. The most interesting conversation I had about this was with an African American professional woman. She indicated that dealing with age discrimination is much more difficult than dealing with gender or race discrimination. She has been able to overcome both age and gender discrimination by demonstrating that she is exceptionallly capable. However age discrimination is different because no matter what you're qualifications, you are pre-empted in spite of your exceptional qualifications. In addition, it is a more accepted form of discrimination, even though every company would deny that. Until the effected Baby Boomers form a voice as loud as the civil rights movement in the 60's, age discrimination will have a growing impact on those older workers who want and need to extend their careers.

  • Christiaan Schildt

    Not to get OT for a moment,but someone recomended Climber.com to put my information in,and its a paid site you get 30 day free,then you pay to belong to that site.
    Now back to to the topic I agree that there is still Age discrimination,but there is also compensation discrimination as well,most companies that I've either worked for or applied to tend to go with both cheaper,and younger candidates,that have what they're looking for in a job candidate.

    My resume/CV has been redone to the point of reducing my overall experience to as few as six current jobs spaning 10+ years to make me appear much younger in order to get the interview in the past six weeks with the results of three in person interviews I've been turn down for employment,and don't get me started on the phone interviews I have great phone interviews too ,but it's not going any where after I close the call.

    I've since tried to gain employment in the Leasing Industry,and I had teo turn downs so far,but I keep trying something has to hit,owerwise my mom and I will have to sell our house,and move into a Adult Assisted living community,where she has medical help on call,but I'm also living with her untill I can be on my own.

    Christiaan Schildt

  • Mark Schrader

    1. Correlation does not prove causation.
    2. Statistics do not show what is true for a particular person and can lead to prejudice.
    3. I have seen a 60 year old 5'7" 120 lb martial artist throw around students who much bigger and much younger like they were toys. Thus, physical strength, power and stamina is significantly different depending on the diet and history of physical activity of the individual.
    4. The same can be said for mental ability,creativity, innovation, enthusiasm and drive.
    5. You cannot use as evidence a body of individuals who practices have lead to degradation of their health or abilities.

    Conclusion: Each person should be judged as an individual for the job for which they are applying, without exceptions. Age should not be a factor unless it is a specific requirement for the job.

  • Debra Martin

    I am a female 54 yr old sale rep in a high tech industry where most of my colleagues and customers were males and were in their 30s. My manager was 37. Fortunately for me I forgot that I was different and in turn, it appeared they did as well. Fortunately in my job search I can use these valuable resources for references. I do leave my dates off of my resume, I will post the most flattering photo but I will continue to work on my attitudes and stay updated on today's trends to keep me revelant in today's times. I can't personally fight against age discrimination, but I can ensure I present the best package to an employer and maintain a great attitude.

  • Paula Mikrut

    Yes, I actually do disagree with your position on age. There are young people and old people who are quick to pick up new ideas and eager to learn, and there are young people and old people who are set in their ways and unwilling to try anything new. The assumption that people over a certain age are probably less capable of learning anything new is called discrimination. You say that you are willing to let an older person prove that they are the exception. From what you said, it sounds like you've already made up your mind, and it would be an uphill battle; that is, if they had the chance, assuming that their resume wasn't screened out in the first place.

  • Andrew Kucheriavy

    Paula, I do try to be open minded-about things like this. I realize it is a sensitive subject. However, I also found out that there are some people that are unwilling to look at the facts. I hate to bring you the bad news but while there is a lot of speculation, there is also concrete scientific research that did find that reasoning, speed of thought and spatial visualization start to decline at age 27. Here is the abstract of the paper that I am referring to: http://www.neurobiologyofaging... and here is a good book on this subject: http://www.us.oup.com/us/catal...
    Again, all I am trying to say is that employers should look at job seekers’ abilities regardless of their age. Age can and should be a concern for certain jobs because some people’s abilities decline with age. Are you telling me that elderly drivers are being discriminated against because they are required to take a driving test every year after the age of 75? I firmly believe that if a job seeker is fit to do the job and can demonstrate that age should be of no concern. At the same time I can’t agree that asking a candidate for a firefighter to demonstrate their abilities should be considered discrimination.

  • Miguel

    If you want to apply for any kind of job at the UNITED NATIONS, one of the first thing they ask is your HEIGHT and WEIGHT.

    Just try to open an accound at https://jobs.un.org and you'll see that it's true.

    :-(

  • Bill Wilson

    Andrew:

    My response to your insensitivity and lack of a coherent mindset on this point could consume pages. I am a 58 year old attorney. One of the key elements in my profession is knowing what does and does not work. That is the by-product of experience, trial and error by another name. Another is the ability to bring disparate pieces of seemingly unrelated information together in an integrated solution. Most young folks today can't name the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or the Secretary of Defense, or any one of a hundred other key real world data points, but you're going to tell me that they can perform this function better than I can. It is my sincere suggestion you extract your head from the clouds and bring it back down to Planet Earth.

  • Andrew Kucheriavy

    Due to some heated discussions around this post, I felt that a clarification had to be made.

    In my opinion, age discrimination is wrong and unjustified. Age has nothing to do with the argument I was trying to make. I am a firm believer that positions should be awarded on merit and not on stereotypes. If a fifty-year old programmer CAN show same or better skills compared to a 20-year old, they should be hired – no questions about it. It goes both ways. As an employer, there are many jobs that I would never entrust to an 18-year old and not because of their age, but because of the insufficient experience and maturity that may be required for the job. The matter of fact is that our bodies do age diminishing our physical and mental abilities. If a job requires certain levels of agility, dexterity, mental acuteness and learning abilities, and a fifty-year old can demonstrate them, as an employer, I would actually prefer to hire a more seasoned and a more experienced employee as opposed to an 18-year old. It is the same logic that goes for physical tests in the military, for example. If individual can perform the duties required, their age should never matter.

    The only point I was trying to make was that research and common experience does tell us that younger brains naturally are better quipped for learning new things. For example, young kids are better in learning new languages. I learnt English myself when was younger (it is not my first language) but I would be very reluctant to undertake a job that requires learning a new language. At this point, I feel it would be well beyond my natural abilities to pick up a new language. Other people can learn new languages when they are sixty.

    The bottom line is – the only way for job seekers to deal with age discrimination is to show that they can perform duties same way or better than younger employees. Do you agree?

  • In terms of age discrimination, I think the reasons you list for employers discriminating are merely assumptions which people often make about those over 50 or so. But the assumption that people 50 or over don't have computer skills doesn't make sense to me in the context of job discrimination.

    Either a job applicant has the required job skills or he (or she) doesn't. Age is not a factor. If having computer skills is a requirement for a job and an applicant doesn't have those skills, then he doesn't meet the basic job requirements. It's not discrimination to not hire someone who doesn't meet the job requirements.

    However, computers have been in use in offices for well over 20 years. So it would be surprising if a man of 50 who's been working since he got out of college did not have computer skills.

    A survey of 1,013 adults pertaining to Internet use was conducted between 10/23/2009 and 11/3/2009, and the results were reported in the online AARPBulletinToday.

    Of those in the 50-64 age group, 46% used the internet for work. In that age group, 20% had used the Internet for 1-5 years; 35% for 6-10 years, and 41% for over 10 years.

    Thus the common assumption about age and computer use is just another of the myths of aging. I've written about it on my blog at
    http://agemyths.com/2009/11/29...

  • Andrew Kucheriavy

    Ian, well… this is exactly my point. As mainframes are becoming obsolete, many younger professionals are looking at more promising areas leaving senior staff dominating this particular arena. Staying with one technology for years is one thing but I was referring to senior IT professionals over the age of 50 picking up NEW technologies. For example, I don’t see many professionals over the age of 50 switching from mainframes to cloud computing, for example. I don’t think you’d argue that younger people with younger brains have a natural advantage picking up new technologies? Of course, I am generalizing, there are always exceptions.

  • Former Bigfirm Consultant

    Assuming that you are healthy and techically competent, who would want to work for a company that wouldn't value your skills?

    Furthermore, even if you took the jub, would you really want to go from day to day wondering if you would be the first let go (for a variety of non-performance reasons, including fact that you are >50 but might have less seniority)?

    I say the best revenge is to form your own company, leverage your experience and whoop-ass in providing supreior value to your customers and clients. I have and I often compete against my old employer (I'm unencumbered by a non-compete agreement.) I am faster, better and more reasonably priced than the large consulting firm I used to work for. They get me - a big selling point - rather than some 24 year old whiz kid with little real industry exposure. I leverage that like crazy and it works!

    Remember - the honorable unspoken pact that used to exist where employers would keep good employees on for the duration of their working career has vanished. Since companies show no loyalty to employees, why should you show loyalty to them? If you do stay, remain ethical, but learn as much as you can, develop every new skill possible and be ready to leave when something better shows up! Quid pro Quo, baby!

  • a human being

    I think there is strong discrimination which I thought was part of third world but now it seems in west too, reason because too many people unemployed and very few spaces out there. I had brilliant interviews in big companies but did not get job due to ethnicity I think. I was getting positive feedback even at interview. Its really widespread and nothing can be done about it I am afraid. I had two 3 interviews with Indian managers and they definitely did not like as they normally are full of hate for their neighbours. Some times people discriminate you because you are from same religion or area and they want to show their managers they are not biased... I had really belief that companies here recruit on merit but that does not seem to be the case if you know someone you will get job, any one who is from third world will say that is the main reason we left our countries to come to just system but is it really ??

  • Ian Worthington

    > I’ve been running an IT company for 14 years and during my career I have never seen a fifty-year old programmer that is on the par with younger professionals.

    Clearly you've never been involved with high-speed transaction processing on complex mainframe systems where after 10 years you can still be a junior team member. Senior staff run rings round younger professionals in this arena.

  • JAVED AFZAL

    I hate discrimination on the basis of caste religion.The sentense of such crime should be death penality. Because i am also the suffer of this kind of discrimination India

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