Question: Does ageism in recruitment exist? If so, how can we counter it?
This question comes up time and again, and particularly for the many people who were stood down or made redundant as a result of Covid.
In this interview, Project Displaced volunteer Michael Bartura discusses his own experience with ageism, and offers insights into managing it.
In your experience, does ageism exist, Michael?
I do think that it does operate in Australia. I came back here at the age of 50, with 20 years of senior experience in not-for-profit management, and yet very rarely managed to make it through the first round of resume culling.
I think I applied for 400-500 jobs. It takes about an hour and half to do a proper application so it can be quite disheartening if you keep getting rejections.
In my personal case, it’s because I have a very eclectic CV (across sectors), and 95% of my experience is overseas experience. I find recruiters in Australia can be very conservative in terms of how they approach CVs. If it doesn’t meet the mould or is possibly a cognitive challenge to make sense of, it’s harder for the recruiter to give you a pass.
Each one of those jobs gets 300-400-500 applications. Someone has to cull them down to the next layer and that doesn’t pick up complexities. Being older compounds that.
Often, the person who does the first cull is a junior and doesn’t have the skills to do it properly. So for senior applications, their ability to understand intricacies of long life journeys is limited.
To counteract this, look at spending more time on building personal networks and somehow getting through a personal connection rather than getting.
That must have been difficult to deal with. What was your approach?
The key is not seeing rejection as a personal negation, but more of a circumstantial situation. For whatever reason, if someone is older than the average applicant and they get rejected, people take it on as invalidation of their own worth. They have a choice here in the way they interpret the response.
My advice is: don’t take things too personally. We tend to, of course, because we know our value proposition and believe in it, and so we think they negated us. The reality is that a decision was made by the potential employer because it suited them – this could be their own purpose or situation; anything, really. It doesn’t mean we have a low value.
It’s important we curate the inner conversation in our own head, and understand that everyone else’s interpretation is different and also irrelevant. It’s just our experience – if we didn’t get the job, then it’s not the right match up . So for us the mental practice is ‘OK it si what it is, and…. what else can I look for?’. The resilience comes from an inner sense of self-worth.
A recent blog post talked about the importance of forging relationships rather than relying on applying for jobs online. What’s your view?
Quite often in a job ad, there is a phone number for more information. So I would always ring the person even if I didn’t have a question because I wanted to imprint an impression.
Most people are quite shy about ringing. If you are in the 20% who do ring, and then you make a point to do something memorable in the call, it can make a real difference.
I would make it a point to connect personally with whoever is on the phone so it’s more likely they’ll remember my CV. Or I would even say something like, ‘Hey, I’ve just finished writing my cover letter but I just want to clarify a couple of points, and then I’ll send it straight away.’
I was playing to my strengths because I used those calls to reinforce my presence.
What other advice would you offer to people who are facing similar experiences?
It doesn’t matter how long it takes or how many times you get a no, it’s not evidence of your lack of value. It’s purely in terms of the job process itself, or the job you applied for.
If you don’t get results, think outside the box in terms of what you’re applying for – how can you use your skills elsewhere?
Unless you work in a very technical field, your skills as an older person will be better than younger people – you’ve been through hiring, firing, managing people, solving team issues, building teams – regardless of the subject matter, your age actually does give you benefits. It’s important to make them work for you.
Have you ever experienced ageism when looking for a job? Share your experiences in the comments. Or simply contact us and one of our great volunteers will help you work through it, free of charge.