Too old for the job search game?

Research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has found that one of the main difficulties reported by applicants seeking work was that employers “considered applicants too young or too old”. For the past 10 years I have been running career guidance programs and I would strongly substantiate the findings of the ABS — but with some qualification. Over 85 per cent of people I work with at first said that their age was the biggest obstacle to finding their new job. This is the applicants’ perspective. When I question employers on the same topic, their perspective on why applicants are unsuccessful is quite different.

To discriminate against employing someone because of age is unlawful in this country. There are a few exemptions to this such as people under 18 years of age working on the gaming floor at a casino, but in the main, there are few legal loopholes which allow discrimination on any level. Employers are usually quite adept at understanding the anti-discrimination laws and so it is highly unlikely that applicants were told they were unsuccessful because of their age.

Why do job applicants assume that their age is reason that they did not get the job? In my opinion, some of the reasons might include:

  • Not objectively analysing their performance;
  • Continuing to approach the job search process in the same strategy that has not worked in the past;
  • Not knowing how to job search differently;
  • Not finding any other reasons and age seems to have popular support no matter how unfounded.

I am not naive enough to believe that because it is unlawful to discriminate against older people that it does not happen. I know that some employers will be age-prejudiced. I also know there are many other reasons why people are not getting jobs. If age is a real barrier then there are ways to effectively minimise the issue.

The employer’s case

Employers are restricted in what feedback they can give to applicants because of anti-discrimination laws. Rejection letters and notifications are usually standard replies such as, “We have appointed someone who has more experience in this area. We will keep your resume on file for future reference.”

Employers get frustrated with the time and cost of recruiting. Reading resumes, matching selection criteria, arranging interviews, the interview process and checking references are all time-consuming.

Employers are not social workers. They expect applicants to do their research and to know what is expected when applying for a position. My advice to applicants is invariably to put themselves in the employers’ shoes at this point. Many job applicants take a very passive approach to the whole job search process. Those who do, do not get the job.

A range of research illustrates employers’ experiences in recruiting staff. The Morgan and Banks Job Index was first released in 1995 and is published quarterly. It analyses the outlook of over 3,800 key employment decision-makers from every major industry group. An extract from the February-April 1998 survey shows that:

  • Literacy and numeracy problems seem quite widespread in job applicants. Over a quarter of employers indicated that between 1 and 10 per cent of their applicants had literacy problems and some 14 per cent indicated that more than a fifth of their applicants had literacy and numeracy problems.
  • Less than 30 per cent of organisations indicated that they have no problems with the work attitude of applicants.

A recent survey of employers in eastern Melbourne was conducted by CES. This survey provided some insights as to what was lacking in job applicants at interviews. The two most common answers were personal presentation (dress, grooming and selling of skills and abilities) and the basic desire to work.

Most employers look for general skills rather than highly specific skills. Assuming that you have the basic requirements, the following list of attributes may swing the interview in your favour if you can demonstrate these adequately:

  • Basic skills (numeracy and literacy).
  • Communication skills (written, verbal and physical).
  • Computer awareness (not expertise) if this applies to the position.
  • An inquiring mind.
  • Good interpersonal skills (humour, co-operation and friendliness).
  • Personal discipline.
  • A general knowledge of the business and industry.
  • Some practical experience.
  • Realistic expectations.
  • Internal motivation.
  • Willing to work flexible hours.

There are some things that you can control and there are some things that you can not control, but you can always influence. The effectiveness of your influence can make a huge difference to how comfortable you are in your later working life. You can not control your age, but you can control your attitude. Whether this is positive or not is up to you.