It’s time to talk frankly about a common, socially acceptable bias in the technology industry: ageism.
It’s no secret the tech sector celebrates youth. What may surprise you, Gen Xers, is that you’re considered old now too. A Payscale study found seven of the 18 top Silicon Valley companies it covered have a median employee age of 30 or younger. An Indeed survey found 43 percent of tech workers worry about losing their jobs due to their age. Eighteen percent worry about this “all the time.”
Ageism isn’t just a problem for older candidates (and occasionally young ones). It has more far-reaching implications for businesses: CEOs who fall into the “culture-fit hiring trap” deprive themselves of the bottom-line benefits of a more diverse workforce. A Harvard Business Review study found companies with higher diversity across multiple measures (like gender, immigration status, as well as age) “had both 19 percent points higher innovation revenues and 9 percent points higher EBIT margins, on average.”
How can companies remove unconscious ageism in the interviewing process? There are several subtle signals worth paying attention to throughout the process, starting before the candidate ever walks through your door or gets on the phone with a recruiter.
Prepping for the interview
All productive interviews start with preparation. You may be tempted to make assumptions about candidates as you get ready to interview a candidate. Instead, plan to ask questions to see whether those assumptions are actually true. Your first reaction might be to dismiss a candidate with a long list of Fortune 500 executive roles who seems overqualified or too expensive for a position at your startup, for example. But, do you know the real story? The experienced (and probably older) candidate may have earned a bundle from a past role and now want a second career or a passion project. You’ll never know unless you ask.
If you’re using a recruiter, ask them for context about the candidate’s career goals. This may explain why a candidate older than your average employee is interested in the job. The candidate could be an empty nester looking for a new challenge. This motivated 50-year-old, perhaps newly freed from some domestic responsibilities, could be just as, or more, energetic than younger employees.
During & after the interview
The interview enables candidates to demonstrate who they are, what they’re looking for and that they understand what matters to the hiring company. It’s also the hiring manager’s chance to test a candidate’s expertise and decision-making acumen — areas where older candidates may
outshine younger ones.
Hiring managers should probe older candidates’ experience carefully. Older workers bring deep perspective and well-honed decision-making skills to their work. They’ve often “seen this movie before.” Engage candidates about the challenges facing your company and industry right now. What perspectives can they bring to your problems? The candidate might be someone who can tell you what’s coming around the corner in six months much better than a “young and hungry” candidate lacking the same years of experience.
If you like what you hear, take time to listen to what candidates tell you about themselves before you draw conclusions. Often people assume older candidates want a fat salary. But, not all do. Imagine hiring someone with excellent experience for a modest salary and a robust equity package — because that might be exactly what they want. Or say the candidate lives far away from your offices. Instead of assuming that’s a deal breaker, address this issue directly. Maybe the candidate’s renting, recovering from a divorce and willing to move closer. Asking will reveal the true story.
Both candidates and hiring managers should talk to the recruiter after the interview. That gives both sides a forum to address content not covered in the interview.