Sunday 26 May 2019

Comment: If you are over 50, you are over the hill when it comes to finding a job

In Ireland, a Behaviour and Attitudes ‘Age in the Workplace’ survey for William Fry Solicitors revealed earlier this year that the average employer starts thinking of employees as “old” at 51 (Stock picture)
In Ireland, a Behaviour and Attitudes ‘Age in the Workplace’ survey for William Fry Solicitors revealed earlier this year that the average employer starts thinking of employees as “old” at 51 (Stock picture)

Miriam Donohoe

I'm an old bag, and it's official. For the first time since I left college at the age of 19, I have become self-conscious about my age, which for the record is a spritely 52. Until recently, I thought of myself as forever 25. The years have passed without costing me a thought. I proudly turned 50 with the attitude: "Bring it on. I have loads more to contribute."

I have been happily self-employed (by choice) for the last seven years, after more than a quarter of a century of fulfilling permanent work.

As a self-employed person, I have loved the freedom of being my own boss and having the flexibility to do interesting things.

There are, of course, downsides. No set monthly cheque, paid holidays or sick leave. No cushion during times when business is slow. That looming tax bill every year.

I recently decided to test the waters to see what was out there in my field, communications, in full-time employment.

I am happily self-employed and thankfully busy but I just wanted to see what was out there.

And shock horror, I am waking up to the fact that being over 50 in Ireland is regarded, in employment terms at least, as over the hill.

I applied for two jobs, both with multinational organisations.

I was conscious in each case the jobs were under my pay grade and level of experience - but I was being strategic and thought if I got my foot in the door it could lead to a bigger prize.

After all, I was 'only 52', right? With another 15 years or more left to contribute to the workforce.

In my innocence, I thought they would have jumped at the prospect of getting someone very experienced and not for a sky-high salary. I was wrong.

I was told in each case, very nicely it must be said, that I was "over-qualified".

That I should be casting the net wider. I didn't even merit an interview to plead my case.

I was amazed last week when a really good friend in her early 40s, who works for a global company, told me she has to start thinking of her next career move before she is "sent out to pasture".

That particular company has very few senior executives over the age of 50.

There is growing evidence to show that age discrimination in the workplace is on the increase.

Earlier this year, researchers at Anglia Ruskin University's Lord Ashcroft International Business School, in Cambridge, undertook an interesting job application experiment, which exposed dramatic differences between the chances of older and younger workers getting past the first hurdle to an interview - even when they had the same level of qualifications and more experience.

The disparity was even more marked among women than men.

The researchers applied for more than 1,800 jobs over a period of almost two years with mock CVs from "applicants" aged between 28 and 50 with almost identical skills and interests.

Surprise, surprise, the younger candidates were 4.2 times more likely to be offered an interview. Younger men were 3.6 times more likely to get an interview than their older rivals, while among women, the gap was 5.3 times.

In Ireland, a Behaviour and Attitudes 'Age in the Workplace' survey for William Fry Solicitors revealed earlier this year that the average employer starts thinking of employees as "old" at 51, and "younger workers" aged 26 years or below.

The survey also revealed that 42pc of employers believe there are upper age limits for 'customer-facing' roles; 60pc think it is difficult for younger workers to manage older workers; while 61pc of employers believe that older workers are resistant to change.

And 71pc of employers believe that the pace of technological change presents a challenge to older workers.

It is against employment law to assess a job candidate based on age.

But the William Fry survey found that 45pc of employers try to deduce a candidate's age based on CV analysis.

This is most prevalent in financial services, retail and transportation sectors.

When it comes to looking for work, the survey confirms the experience of so many.

Those seeking employment feel that being older is a disadvantage, with 38pc believing age had been a negative influence on them not getting work, rising to 87pc among those aged 55 or over.

Employers need to wise up to the fact that years of experience are worth their weight in gold, as is the importance of a mix of both old and young.

Older workers can share skills and act as mentors to younger staff. Organisations stripped of that layer can be very exposed.

I will draw inspiration going forward from a man called Ray Kroc who was in his fifties when he persuaded two brothers, owners of a small drive-in restaurant, to allow him to franchise a fast-food business.

That business was McDonald's. Yes, there is hope for us old bags yet.

Irish Independent

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