Myth or Reality?

At Partners International, we often hear a persistent belief that job search technology has resulted in a proliferation of age-related bias. Discrimination by automation if you would. Older jobseekers today especially feel tha has been magnified by on-line career services and right at the top of that list is LinkedIn. Could it be that this view is driven more by usage behavior than an increase of age-related bias?

Here’s a simple truth. Age-bias exists everywhere because it is part of the human condition. Whether conscious or unconscious, we see it in many walks of life. Breaking news… it has always existed. Naysayers are either uninformed, untruthful or too young to have experienced it in their somewhat brief careers. 

So, why and how does it apply to job search and what can people in transition do about it? Most companies and recruiters won’t admit it, but a person’s age influences the employer’s consideration of things like compensation, longevity, suitability, trainability, job commitment and these days MOST importantly, cultural fit. Why would anyone be surprised? Through the employer’s lens, it’s not a person’s age per se but rather the “risks” they perceive around it. The estimated cost of employee turnover is ~30% of the departing employee’s annual salary. As for Recruiters, they merely reflect the concerns, needs and preconceptions of their clients. From everyone’s standpoint, it’s not ageism but rather risk management. This applies to younger workers as well!

LinkedIn is not a cause of age bias, but it certainly provides yet another way for recruiters and hiring managers to identify and mitigate the hiring risks described above. Yes, there are techniques we can use to mask age on LinkedIn by leaving certain dates off and not listing all our roles. We can eliminate dating phrases, write in the first person and do other things that are contemporary. Of course, these are best-practices and at Partners International we suggest doing all of these things but be warned, this may not change the stimulus.

The feeling that age-bias is more prevalent for today’s older jobseekers is driven in great part by a negative feedback loop that older applicants are particularly sensitive to. EVERYONE gets more rejections or non-responses these days because of the sheer number of submissions. In a pre-LinkedIn world, when resumes were read first by humans and not Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSs), age bias was alive and well because ageism has always existed. But applicants were not bombarded with rejection or worse… silence.

On-line submission has reduced the natural friction once associated with manual (mailed) submissions. Someone had to actually open the envelop you know. In a classic law of unintended consequences example, what seemed a viable efficiency solution now overwhelms employers with ~250 resume submissions for EACH professional or executive job posting. The sad reality is employers can’t possibly manually read all the submissions even if they wanted to because technology has removed the natural throttles.

Worse yet is the seductive and deceptively “easy” way in which to apply for jobs these days. It is so efficient, just point and click! Ironically however, this practice proves just as efficient when delivering the highly impersonal and dreaded auto-response rejection or worse yet, the black-hole effect where you NEVER hear anything back. Must be age-bias right?

What can we do about it when searching for our next role? In my Partners International workshop on ageism, we discuss accepting the reality that ageism exists and focus on all the many ways we need to manage that challenge in our job search. More importantly, we focus on roles where the attribute and differentiating value IS age aka, experience! Naturally that will lead to positions where experience, track-record, accomplishment, presence, and the ability to manage people and situations effectively with a steady hand is a prerequisite. Will this reduce the roles we might apply for, yes.

I often tell clients to STOP applying for jobs that draw competition that is younger, less experienced, more ambitious, energetic and… and…yes, cheaper. There I said it! It is a prescription for failure and each rejection lands another blow to your confidence and professional self-worth. Albert Einstein defined insanity as “performing the same act and expecting a different outcome.” I wonder… did he submit 100s of resumes without success too! Maybe it’s time to stop the insanity.

LinkedIn is a one of a kind technology, not because of its search prowess, but rather because it connects us with and allows us to see where our professional network is… in micro seconds! It is unmatched as a networking tool for someone in transition because it identifies the human side of employment opportunity. Where, by the way most will still find their next opportunity. It is the modern equivalent to the Rolodex… on steroids. Did I just date myself with the Rolodex reference?

A common theme in my Partners International LinkedIn webinars is if you’re going to use LinkedIn use it for the RIGHT reason! To build and work your network which should include everyone and anyone you think will recognize you and be willing to help when you ask for an introduction, a referral or some insight into a role or company. Use it to search for the RIGHT jobs where experience (age) and proven success is an ASSET and not a liability. Then use it again to network your way into those opportunities. Think quality over quantity… please.

This approach blends the old, “it’s not what you know but who” with technology that “marries” the right human asset to the right opportunity. Without that approach, you are riding the on-line submission treadmill and the odds of converting a “cold” submission without referral or network introduction into an interview these days is extremely low and that’s regardless of age.

I often share with my Partners International and private clients the idea that simply pushing a button to submit countless applications and resumes is a seductive byproduct of a technology-inspired but highly impatient generation. It is insidious and bred by conditioning as we now routinely experience information delivery and communication in light speed . The sugar rush of applying for many roles this way is soon replaced by the crash effect of no response or auto-rejection.

The “trick” then is to leverage technology as a compliment to a tried and true approach for finding our next role. After all, 70% of new jobs still come from our networks directly or indirectly. The pursuit and adoption of an “easier” way has resulted in greater frustration and confusion without the desired result. So, let us remember our old friend Albert, jump off the countless on-line submission train, and get back to basics. Or in other words, stop the insanity!

Michael Rutigliano is a Senior Career Transition Consultant at Partners International and the founder of Career Navigator usa, Inc. He has guided, assisted and mentored diverse Executives and Professionals in search of high professional achievement and career success. Michael is an Affiliate of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital Harvard Medical School and a member of the NYC chapter of the International Coaching Federation. He is a graduate of the NY Institute of Finance and has served as a subject matter expert to the London School of Economics, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Georgetown University.

A former member of the NYSE and past elected President of the 1000-member Organization of Independent NYSE Floor Brokers, Michael was appointed Senior Staff Governor by the NYSE Board of Directors in addition to serving on numerous NYSE committees, industry and non-profit boards.

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