Archive for July, 2012

Job Discrimination is Alive and Well

July 23, 2012

As one might expect, times of economic uncertainty can bring out the worst in hiring companies.  Attention to work/life balance, employee retention and bonus programs take a back seat to the myopic urges to hunker down, delay decisions and starve hiring processes and practices of the time and competency they duly deserve.  By and large, hiring companies still believe it is their world to rule.  Invariably, such a mixture of misguided perspectives and operating manners leads to dysfunctional behavior.  Such is the case in the hiring market.

The dirty little secret that seems to be less and less secretive these days is that job discrimination is as pervasive as ever.  And in some cases, it couldn’t be more explicit.  In some areas, discriminatory practices are a given.  For example, I’m an accomplished bassist who is always interested in learning about new bands.  On a regular basis, I peruse various sites to see which bands are seeking musicians.  It’s quite typical to find: “We are in our late 20s and early 30s.  Don’t reply unless you fit this age range.”  Or “We seek a female drummer.”  If there’s any saving grace, at least these entities don’t beat around the bush.

In the corporate world, I’ve worked with countless hiring executives who use code language.  They’re looking for an “up-and-comer” or someone “on the upswing in their career track.”  This usually means people not a day over 32 and preferably a bit younger.  In other cases, the message is made in no uncertain terms.  Recently, I had a hiring director tell me outright he only hires women sales reps because they are more dedicated, organized, and can better engage with customers.  Another VP of Sales said she won’t touch anyone over 40.  Just last week, a hiring manager explained to a candidate: “Look. if I hire you, you’d be the oldest person on the team.”  I’m certainly no employment law expert, but if that’s not lawsuit material, I don’t know what is.

In many cases, candidates aren’t exactly helping their own cause either.  Starting a resume or LinkedIn profile with “20 years experience…” is hardly establishing a strong first impression that appeals to a wide audience.  And just as hiring companies have their code language, candidates seem to think that thinly veiled euphemisms will somehow make their candidacy more attractive.  Words like “seasoned,” “mature” and “experienced” are not helping matters.  In a similar vein, I’ve seen technical candidates mention DOS, Basic and Cobol.  I’m all for trips down memory lane once in a while, but as my gregarious 10-year-old would say, “Really???”

Other more nuanced discriminatory practices include disqualifying candidates based on their active personal lives.  Once again, it doesn’t help that candidates feel the need to volunteer this information.  Being the mother to 2-year-old twins is quite laudable.  But why volunteer this information and cast potential doubt on your ability to travel or work extended hours to meet critical deadlines?  Also, it’s one thing to volunteer at a local soup kitchen.  It’s another to have along with that:  “avid golfer, kids basketball coach, surfer, guitarist in rock band, restore and sell 60’s muscle cars, and side business running a convenience store.”  Granted, this sounds like a wonderfully full and rewarding personal life that should never count against someone.  But adding all that up seems like a full-time job in and of itself.

Job discrimination is pervasive to the point where it’s quietly accepted.  Meanwhile, through resumes, interviews and social networking venues, candidates are putting more and more of themselves out there for all to see.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not blaming victims for discriminatory acts against them.  It’s more a matter of tact and discretion that I’m alluding to.  Ultimately, many hiring companies continue to engage in discriminatory practices and those of us in recruitment are complicit in it as we endeavor to accommodate our client’s specific preferences.  Meanwhile, many candidates will never know the real reason why they didn’t get the job.


Action items:

1.  In this litigious environment, it would be prudent of hiring companies to train those who interview candidates on the basics of employment law and how to follow it.

2.  Candidates should review the verbiage they use in their resumes and consider the unintended consequences some of those terms and phrases may have.

3.  Candidates should think twice about volunteering personal information throughout the job search and interviewing process.  While establishing rapport is important, sometimes less is more.