Why Older Workers Don’t Get Hired

Career advancement articleWay too many mature career pilgrims are all too quick and willing to cry “age bias” when they don’t get the job or promotion for which they feel they are rightly entitled. And a dandy way it can be to deflect attention from the real issues. I wish I had a case of Metamucil for every out-of-work or underemployed and youthfully challenged worker who has simply dumped their work woes in the pity pot of age discrimination. Regularity would reign forever.

Now don’t get me wrong. Of course there is age bias in hiring and promotion. Just as there is gender bias, race bias, religious bias, personality bias, way-you-dress bias, where-you-went-to-school bias, who-you-know bias and the countless other forms of  bias (illegal or not) that are  part of the imperfect world of who eventually gets the job or promotion. I don’t believe that age bias is any more or less prevalent than any of the other irrelevant factors that seep into a deficient selection system.

It’s altogether too easy to point to one’s gray hair and smugly declare that it is the reason why your career is stalled, job offers have dried up or promotions go to the next generation.  I think age gets used all too often as a convenient excuse by a lot of people who want to ignore the real issues that may be blocking their advancement.


This statement is generally true. And since there are fewer higher paying jobs and lots of people who want them it tends to take longer to get one.  Often the scarcity of opportunity at a given salary level is the cause of protracted job searches, not the age of the candidates. Folks are often too quick to blame gray hair (or no hair) for what is in fact a supply and demand reality. I have a real problem with surveys from many of the national outplacement chains that show older workers taking longer to find jobs, implying that the cause is age. These studies never “salary adjust” these results to account for the higher compensation and lower demand (and thus longer job search times) for these situations. This only fosters the misperception of age bias. Higher pay expectations and fewer high pay opportunities play a more significant role than the color of one’s hair.


Many older workers (younger ones too, actually) are not worth what they are currently paid or were paid in their previous positions. This is not to say they are bad or worthless people. It just reflects the ever changing price tag for the value that a person brings to the marketplace. In some cases this is exactly why they are unemployed. Some were promoted and often paid beyond their contribution. Others wound up in crafts that are not valued as much today. Thus the fifty-something who was paid handsomely to run the elevator ten years ago can not expect the same salary to sit and oversee the automated elevator go up and down on its own. Age is not the issue. The value that you bring to the enterprise is. This is no different than the young dot-commer who can’t find work these days that pays a six figure salary, includes a BMW, massive stock options, company yacht and seven figure bonus. They whine for sure, but it’s not because they think they are the victims of age bias. Most just miss the fun of Fantasy Land. The value of your skills has nothing to do with age. The Market, not one’s gray hair, determines worth.


Young or old, this is the biggest job search and promotion killer. Unfortunately many older workers go to the job market with a lot of baggage- fear, resentment, anger, entitlement, insecurity and sometimes arrogance. Many believe that they have “earned” the right to a job and compensation equal to or greater than their previous job. For many, things like tenure, and job security, loyalty and paying dues meant something in the past. One can bemoan the passing of these values but it won’t help to get a better paying job any faster. The reality of today’s world of work demands that we have to prove our worth to the enterprise every day. It is all about what I can do for you tomorrow. Not about what I did for someone else yesterday.  No one hires resentful, angry, insecure, fearful, and sometimes arrogant candidates who are stuck on the diminished value of their past accomplishments- no matter what their age.

Yes, of course there is age bias. But it is not the deal killer that many make it out to be.  I bet a lot of gray bias would magically disappear with some attitude adjustment, a realistic market appraisal of one’s worth and the recognition that it is competition- not age- for the better positions that makes them scarce and hard to get.

Take great care of yourself- and your career.

Peter Brener

PILOT Workplace Advisors

651 Holiday Drive, Ste. 300

Pittsburgh, PA 15220

412 928 2058

www. pilotworkplace.com


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