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Age Discrimination: A Problem in IT Hiring?

"Age Discrimination: A Problem in IT Hiring?

By Allan Hoffman

Not long ago, a programmer showed up for the Monster.com technology jobs chat worried about his career. A recruiter had told him he was too old to change jobs. His age? Just 53. His story is becoming familiar, considering what others say about the challenge of finding a new technology job in their 50s or 60s.

Is age discrimination a problem in information technology jobs? Technology workers certainly think it is. The evidence, though mainly anecdotal, points toward an industry keen on hiring up-and-coming professionals, especially among startups and other high-flying tech companies.

"Discrimination in hiring is the most difficult type of age discrimination to prove," says Laurie McCann, senior attorney for AARP Foundation Litigation, the arm of the organization for older Americans that represents people in litigation. "There's not a lot of hard evidence," she notes. "They send out resume after resume, but they're not getting hired. They know in their hearts it's their age." 

Under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), workers 40 and over cannot be arbitrarily discriminated against because of age in employment decisions, including hiring. The law applies to workplaces with 20 or more employees. 

If an employee already works at a company, he or she may have a chance to gather evidence of discrimination. That's generally not possible for workers applying for jobs. "If I'm applying for a job in another organization," McCann says, "I may not even be told why I did not get the job. More often than not, I don't know who was hired, or the person's age and qualifications." 

Older techies may face a variety of stereotypes when applying for jobs. Employers may think older workers don't have the latest skills, have a less flexible lifestyle due to family constraints, and expect a higher salary and better benefits. 

"I feel that at age 54, I am not marketable anymore," wrote Monster.com member Peggy, on The Tech Jobs message board. "Is that true?" 

Not marketable? That's an exaggeration, but experts in the field see a need for older technology workers to market themselves somewhat differently than their younger counterparts. From testing resumes with employers, AARP found it is best for older workers to emphasize youthful qualities, like experiences that are more recent and cutting-edge skills. Consider taking these steps with your resume: 

Avoid including every job you've had. You've got thirty years of experience? That's certainly an asset, but it doesn't mean you've got to list every job you've ever had. Instead, list the relevant ones, focusing on your recent employment history. 

Eliminate years of graduation. When you graduated is a giveaway about your age. Take it off your resume. 

Emphasize current skills. Be sure to emphasize skills relevant to your current job search, rather than those relevant to the job you had ten years ago. You're looking for a job managing a LAN, and you have lots of experience with mainframes from fifteen years ago? Don't mention it. 

Of course, all of this assumes you have maintained your skills. "It's up to each of us," McCann notes, "to make sure we're current in our own field."

Mike Sweeny, managing director/project staffing for T. Williams Consulting, a strategic staffing consulting firm based in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, says he wouldn't hesitate in hiring someone over 50. But some companies, he notes, may see things differently, particularly when it comes to dot coms with a young staff. "If the place is filled with mohawks and tattoos, and the CEO is 34 years old," he says, "chances are they're not going to hire someone 55 or older." 

But tech employees in their 40s and beyond have advantages, he says. "There's a lot to be said for maturity." Young tech workers sometimes have inflated ideas about career advancement. "If they're there for two years and they're not a vice president," he says, "they're going to leave." 

If you believe you have been discriminated against in applying for a job, you can pursue the case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission."

Copyright 2004 - Monster Worldwide, Inc. All Rights Reserved. You may not copy, reproduce or distribute this article without the prior written permission of Monster Worldwide. This article first appeared on Monster, the leading online global network for careers. To see other career-related articles visit <http://content.monster.com>.

<Note from JobFairy.com: Do whatever it takes to look, act, and dress younger. Dye your hair, update your wardrobe, and think L33T. Limit your resume to the last 10 years; remove all other dates, and make sure there's nothing on it that could identify you as belonging to a particular generation. That means no ancient technologies such as WordStar. You just want to avoid getting screened out in the first place. And make sure your skills are up to date. No one in IT can ever "rest on their laurels".>

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