Dear J.T. & Dale: My boss is practicing age discrimination, and I can’t stand it. Someone is retiring, and my manager’s comment was, “Finally, we can get some young blood in here.” Since then we’ve had incredible candidates in their 40s and 50s apply, but my boss keeps saying they
aren’t a “cultural fit,” which is code for “not young enough.” Meanwhile, we’ve interviewed young college grads — they have tons of energy but, in my opinion, are completely clueless and will be a nightmare to train. What can I do? — Emma
J.T.: Age discrimination is real and tough to do anything about. As long as your boss hires a person he or she believes is capable of doing the job, then those older folks don’t really have a case. You’d have to catch your boss on tape specifically saying people were too old. However, do that and your career will suffer more than his or hers. No point in risking it.
DALE: As the old guy on this writing team, I am past being offended by your manager’s simplemindedness. I’m not even certain that the laws against age discrimination have helped older workers get jobs. The truth is, by driving underground the mention of age, we veteran workers have been limited in our ability to have honest debates about the value of experience. Sure, many older workers are burned out or out of touch, but I’m ready to have the debate that older is better, and to let employers specify age ranges of people they want to hire. Let’s get it out in the open.
J.T.: What I would suggest to you, Emma, is adopting a new mind-set. A younger person in the office can bring new energy. You’ll learn something from him or her, too. This generation is tech-savvy and can get you current on many things you have not even considered. I hate to say it, but you could be in the wrong here.
DALE: Hold on. While there are great younger workers, the issue here is prejudice against older workers. Energy isn’t the right measure; it’s useful output that matters, and older workers can hold their own and then some. There’s also the myth that younger people are more creative. The reality is that creativity is about making mental connections, and the more information you have, the more new options are available to you. To discriminate against older workers is foolish, and if we’d allow companies to actively recruit and screen by age, we’d soon have the data to prove it.
J.T.: You sound like so many seasoned pros, people who assume they have tons of knowledge that makes them superior. But then, many of those people don’t keep up on changes and trends in their industries. Try to keep an open mind, Emma. Age diversity can benefit you and your team.
Dear J.T. & Dale: I have been on Social Security disability and haven’t worked since 2002. There is a freelancer website called oDesk.com that looks interesting. I’m also interested in traditional part-time work. How do I get around saying I’m on disability? How do I set up my résumé with this huge work gap? — Corrine
J.T.: Using sites like oDesk, Elance or Freelancer means you won’t have to put up a traditional résumé. Instead, list your skills and expertise. I suggest trying to quantify your work — for instance, you list how many projects of a certain type you have completed in the past, without needing to say when that was.
DALE: Then, as you get assignments, you will begin to have current work experience to list on your résumé and talk about in interviews. Moreover, getting hired for part-time work is very much like getting freelance work: The company is hiring people and their skills in a low-commitment way. This means they may not be terribly fussy about your work history, especially if recent freelance work can assure them that you are familiar with relevant software or jargon.
J.T.: There’s no reason to mention the disability. The companies you apply to may well be glad to have someone who truly wants part-time work, as opposed to a person taking the assignment while pursuing a full-time position.