Six serious candidates for the job were identified. The most qualified on paper, and in other ways, was 55 years old. We’ll call him Dan. He was interviewed twice and then sent a rejection by email with the usual boiler plate non explanation. The person hired was 30. It suggests age discrimination but few have time to pursue it. Since this occurred in a business where I have contacts but am generally unknown, since most employees drink in the same pub after work, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to isolate the decision maker and engage her in conversation. Here is her, unfortunately not isolated, reason for picking the 30-year-old.
“I don’t want to hire anyone who’s over-qualified. The fact that Dan could do a better job walking away wasn’t the only factor in my decision. (Why not?) He’d probably stay for years and expect to be promoted. That would discourage younger people who know less. He wouldn’t fit in and he wouldn’t want to go to the pub after work. (Why? Dan could be a lush for all we know.)
“I want people who will learn on the job.” (Note: Everyone learns on the job if only about the organization’s culture and politics.) “He’d be better at office politics than the rest of us. The big bosses would like him better.”
“I want people who are grateful to work here. Dan wouldn’t be. He’s worked for much more impressive companies and he might even try to send some of our best people to his old employers.” (If Dan did that it would be an act of mercy.)
“The person I picked was lucky to get the job and she knows it. Dan wouldn’t have seen himself as lucky.”
The tail on this tale: Workers over 50 need inside contacts and information to help them get before the right audience. Being rejected by the person in HR at the bottom of the food chain happens too often. Does it matter whether ageism was a factor since Dan clearly didn’t get in front of the right audience? How many profitable companies are sabotaged in this way by employees whose motives are not profits but sociology?
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