Is It Age Bias or Just Good Customer Service? You Decide

A new poll conducted by SHRM claims that the average HR professional spends less than five (5) minutes reviewing each applicant resume.

Personally I was encouraged when I read that, because a couple of years ago the stat was six (6) seconds, and I think five minutes (more or less) is an improvement.

But I was really drawn to these two findings:

  • When asked what gave candidates a positive edge over the competition, the top responses from the poll participants included … a resume tailored to a specific industry (43 percent);” and,
  • Respondents wanted job applicants to include eight to 10 years of work experience on their resumes (38 percent), or every year of relevant job history (38 percent).”

These brought to mind a very recent email exchange between a certain wily President/CEO (who shall remain nameless, naturally — but if you ask me privately, I’ll give up the goods STAT) of a local staffing agency and yours truly.

I’d complained to this CEO that I found his underling’s question, “What year did you graduate from college?” to be both irrelevant and stinking of bias, especially since:

  • The first time I was asked (via a telephone interview) I’d answered “A long time ago.”
  • The second time I was asked (in person), I’d answered with a question of my own: “Why?” The underling declined to explain and moved on with her other questions.

Is there age bias in the hiring process?

Although I’m not a recruiter, I’ve done my fair share of sourcing. Not once have I asked a candidate what year she graduated from college because I can’t conceive of any legitimate reason to do so, especially during the very early stages of the interview process.

And while I’m aware that many staffing agencies tend to front-load candidate information (for their own selfish purposes, I might add, and it just burns me up how inconsiderate recruiters can be in this regard), questions about graduation dates from candidates with 10 or more years of experience is just asking for trouble, in my view.

(By the way, according to my own unofficial poll — consisting of my brother, my three girlfriends, and my lawyer neighbor — this question was 100 percent out-of-bounds. Just saying.)

The targeted resume: An issue that needs attention

The targeted resume: An “issue” that needs attention?

I’d emailed my complaint to Mr. CEO without expecting any response whatsoever, which would have been fine with me.

My goal? To say my peace and in some small measure disrupt this man’s day so that the next time his teenybopper underling decided to ask questions she had no business asking, she’d think twice. Maybe. A girl can hope, anyway.

However, I got a response. And while I think it’s a complete crock, in the interest of fairness, I’m including it here:

First and foremost, when our clients ask us to confirm graduation, many colleges and universities ask us to provide not only the name and social security number but year of graduation.

Secondly, many of our clients request a complete job history and if you or anyone for that matter cuts down on their resume and for instance, provide only the last 10 years of employment but graduated 25 years ago, that in fact is an issue that needs to be brought up.”

Is that so?

More BS from the CEO

Now you see why I was so intrigued by that SHRM survey? (And yes, I know I’ve taken shots at SHRM in the past, but today, SHRM, I couldn’t love you more.)

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‘Cause I knew that guy was full of it. Yes, my HR resume doesn’t include the first 10 years out of college when I worked as an editor, because … WHO CARES? (I mean, besides recruiters trying to weed out the old folks, that is.)

But here’s the kicker. Wily CEO concluded his message as follows:

Lastly, while we DO NOT discriminate based on age, sex, religion, creed, nationality or origin, the fact of the matter is some people do. Based on the culture of some companies, they might not want someone over a certain age b/c they might not fit in. While I don’t agree with that practice, would you rather not waste time and interview at a company that would never hire you or simply move on and find one that wants you for all the right reasons?”

Gee, I guess I should be feeling all warm and fuzzy on the inside right about now, Mr. CEO. Instead, here I am thinking you’re a bigoted butthead, when you’re only trying to deal me a solid hire. I’m such a bitch sometimes.

Age bias is more than a number

In FY 2013, age discrimination charges totaled nearly 23 percent of the EEOC’s docket. That number is down from its peak of 25.8 percent in FY 2008 but still troubling.

And what’s also troubling is the fact that even older people discriminate against older people. Trust me, wily CEO is no spring chicken.

Earlier this year, Liz Ryan wrote a piece about age discrimination in which she advised older job seekers to not be discouraged and instead “think like salespeople, and zero in on the business pain likely to be keeping our hiring manager up at night” as a way to distinguish themselves from the pack.

She continues:

Get your hiring manager talking about what’s really going on behind the job ad, and you’ll find that the quality of the conversation shifts dramatically. All of a sudden, you’re not a supplicant but a trusted advisor, a consultant digging to learn more about what’s not working.”

And maybe I’ll try that next go ‘round… if I can get past the teenybopper underling.

In the meantime, there’s always email.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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4 Comments on “Is It Age Bias or Just Good Customer Service? You Decide

  1. Fabulous article. What a cop out on the part of that CEO. His lawyer would flip if she knew he was putting that in writing.

    1. Thanks, Karen! “Too old to fit in?” It’s laughable and
      maddening at the same time.

      The kind of energy that’s created when workers from multiple
      generations focus collaboratively on a common goal is incredible!

      Creep.

  2. Wow, Crystal. So glad you alerted this agency CEO of his staff member’s unfortunate questioning. But, sheesh, can’t believe the reply. Total FAIL!

    I actually had a similar experience a few years back when a search firm presented me to a client for a phone screen. The corp recruiter was *arrogant* to say the least. One of the first questions was the graduation date thing. Which of course was a complete RED FLAG that this wasn’t the type of organization I’d care to join.

    However, being concerned about retaining my relationship with the search firm, I went along and answered it, but things only got worse from there. It was one of the worst interview (interrogation) experiences ever!

    Plenty of other truly obnoxious behavior on the part of the corp recruiter. I documented the situation and shared my thoughts with the search firm – as to “protect” any other candidates from going through that.

    Not to link drop, but this (graduation date) issue was also raised during a twitter chat last year. I ended up writing a blog about it and would appreciate your thoughts

    http://www.recruitingblogs.com/profiles/blogs/are-you-sure-you-need-the-answer-to-that-question?

    Kelly B @TalentTalks

    1. Thanks, Kelly! I enjoyed your article very much. Sounds like you gave that Tweeter/Recruiter a run for his/her money with your arguments.

      It’s very interesting to me how some people will hold to their questionable practices no matter how much information they’re presented with indicating a change is in order. VERY interesting.

      In a recent LinkedIn conversation, another recruiter seemed prepared to fight to the death for her right to ask about current salary in the first conversation. She claimed she didn’t want to waste a candidate’s time, when it was pretty obvious she couldn’t have cared a rat’s ass for the candidate’s time–she just wanted to get the information as expeditiously as possible without giving up anything in return, and she felt entitled to do that.

      Listen, if you’re going to be arrogant, then be arrogant, but please don’t insist that I like you for it! Crazy.

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