Ask the Headhunter: How to show employers what age discrimination is costing them

Do older workers need to master texting and Twitter to get a job these days? Photo by Media for Medical/UIG via Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: I just watched you on NewsHour and saw how you implied that the problem of unemployment for the over-50s is due to the over-50s not having the skills and the capability of doing what a prospective employer expects of them. You said it is the over-50s' problem to have the skills necessary to solve the problems the employer has (experience means nothing).

The Maxwell's Equations (if you know what they are ) have not changed, nor has the Fourier Transform, nor has La Place's equation, so what skills do they need to be current in? Texting, or posting stuff on Twitter?

You are a sad example of an American.

Nick Corcodilos: What you saw on NewsHour was a few seconds of a much longer interview. The video segment, and most of the transcript of that interview, both appear here: "Long-term Unemployment: Is This Blatant Age Discrimination?"

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I don't think over-50 job hunters are any more or less likely to have "the skills necessary" than anyone else. It's up to the job applicant to make sure he or she has selected a position that they can handle. Today's methods of applying for jobs online encourage people to apply to any job that's even remotely related to their interests, skills, and experience, so they do — with results that make them look like fools. They're simply not ready to demonstrate in the interview how they will do the work profitably, making it too easy for the employer to focus on what they lack (or on the color of their skin, their sex, or their age).

Worse, foolish employers invite such tire kickers in for interviews, based on their fit with certain "keywords." The odds of failing in such an interview are enormous — for the applicant and the employer. Older workers fare even worse because they are being discriminated against on top of other challenges all job hunters face.

"The costs to employers of age discrimination are staggering."

As I point out in the transcript of the NewsHour interview, the costs to employers of age discrimination are staggering — they miss out on tremendous skills, experience, and institutional knowledge. They have no idea what this is costing them.

Your rhetorical questions miss one key point: It's up to the job applicant to know what exactly the employer needs, and to be ready in the interview to demonstrate the relevant abilities — and then to show how the applicant will use them to benefit the employer. Why else would anyone hire an applicant?

As Einstein once famously suggested, Maxwell's Equations and other facts and tools can be looked up in a handbook. What matters is what you can do with the information — but you must show it. And the bottom line is, no employer is going to figure out what the applicant can do. (Yes, that's the assumption you must make if you really want to control a job interview and optimize your chances of landing the job.) It's up to the applicant to explain it — after first assessing what the employer really needs. To complicate matters, employers don't tell anyone exactly what they need. They merely allude to it in a job description that's been mashed up by the HR department. This impacts all job applicants, not just older ones.

"And the bottom line is, no employer is going to figure out what the applicant can do."

In the end, when an individual applies for a job, the system is not going to help him. He's got to figure out what the triggers are for getting hired in that position. The obstacles are clear, and age discrimination is a big one.

So, how does that older worker help the employer get past the grey? Pardon the corny expression, but it's apt: Show them the green.

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I've coached workers in their 50s and 60s to get jobs, and every time it's all about revealing to the employer how much it's going to cost if they don't hire the person. You have to meet the employer on his own turf and explain it to him in language that he understands.

Finding a job listing online, filling out a form, and showing up for an interview are losing propositions. Taking the time to carefully select an employer, a manager, and a job is a far better strategy — and so is cultivating the contacts necessary to get introduced and recommended.

If you're being discriminated against and you don't want to take this approach, then there's one other option you can take: Sue the employer. You've every right to. I think my approach is smarter, faster, more effective, and in the end, probably less costly.

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Age discrimination sucks. Employers often behave irrationally and stupidly. Complaining about it gets us nowhere. Admitting that it happens and that there's no magic solution — other than filing lawsuits, which aren't magic at all — helps us realize that just one thing makes the crucial difference to the offending employer: Hitting them in the pocket.

Pick jobs carefully. Take time to research and understand what a manager really needs. (HR departments make this increasingly difficult by relying on automated recruiting that isolates managers from applicants, but it's up to you to connect with the hiring manager.) Walk in the door and show how you'll deliver profit on the job. If you can't, then you don't deserve to be hired.

I believe the measure of Americans lies in our ingenuity. Job seekers must take the initiative to connect the dots and show why they're worth hiring. Employers don't hire people who have experience or skills. They hire people who step up and show how they will do a job profitably.

Just as I hope an employer will judge you by more than your apparent age, I hope you'll judge how good an American I am by more than a few seconds of edited video. You'll find dozens of my weekly Ask The Headhunter columns on the NewsHour website.

Dear Readers: What's the answer to age discrimination? More important, what's the best way for an older job seeker to land a job?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth "how to" PDF books are available on his website: "How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you," "How Can I Change Careers?", "Keep Your Salary Under Wraps" and "Fearless Job Hunting."

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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