Is This Age Discrimination Or Not, You Tell Me?

I was recently co-interviewing candidates with my client for one of his open positions. Together we interviewed 3 candidates all in the same day.

Obviously, two of the candidates didn’t get the job. One of the candidates that didn’t get the position was the catalyst for writing this article.

We began in the morning with the first person. The first impression of this candidate was weak. Although professionally dressed in a suit, it didn’t fit him well, it was clear it had been worn a few times without being pressed, he was overweight, hair was combed, but groomed would not be used to describe him. His overall presence was OK, it  just didn’t overwhelm us when we first met him.

As the interview progressed, he didn’t come across with great energy or enthusiasm. His body language was low in the chair and even when he was asking questions he never seemed to change how he sat in the chair.  His voice was monotone. Eye contact during the interview was good and he did his best to engage us.  Not that he did poorly, but the spark of a person who really enjoys what he does day to day wasn’t there. He came across as bored and would work because he needed a job until he retired.

He asked a few insightful questions during the interview, but nothing all that impressive. He closed the interview politely.

Again, no real knock out blow, and with the weak appearance and the interview we just weren’t all that impressed.

The next candidate was different. Candidate #2 was well dressed and groomed. Polished comes to mind. He came across in the first impression as confident, with drive and energy, and as someone very comfortable meeting people. He was all business but didn’t over do it.

As the interview progressed he wasn’t overly friendly, he stayed focused on the business at hand without a lot of small talk or joking. We could see from his answers that he listened well to our questions.  His body language was clearly designed to engage us. We assumed that he had been trained this way. He leaned forward when stressing a point, he mirrored a lot of our movements, which is a technique used to make us feel comfortable, and he used voice inflection very well to stress points and add emphasis.

He asked a number of very good questions during the interview that demonstrated he really understood the position and many of the issues that he would encounter if he was to come on board.  He left the interview on a positive note.

We were impressed with him, his professionalism, his approach, and his ability to engage us.

Candidate #3 was completely different, as this time the candidate was a she not a he. She was very professional. She was dressed in a very professional business suit and groomed perfectly. It was apparent that she had dealt with senior level executives and knew how to present herself. She was outgoing, friendly, and engaging from the moment we met her. She was just one of those people that has that extra spark. She knew how to conduct small talk, demonstrated the appropriate level of humor for the circumstances, and was just comfortable in a business environment. This was all from the first impression.

As the interview progressed, so did she as a candidate. Her body language was much like the second candidate. She sat up straight when needed, her eye contact was continual and even when she wasn’t speaking directly to me I felt like she was, she was well prepared to not only answer our questions but asked some excellent questions as well. Unlike candidate #2, even though we did spend the vast majority of time discussing the position, it just didn’t seem that way. She was very business focused just as the second candidate was, but somehow it didn’t come across that way.

She left the interview on a positive note, but made a little extra effort to make sure that we were satisfied with her and her answers.

We decided to proceed with the last two candidates. I had to call the first one and let him know the bad news. This is positively the worst part of being a recruiter. The comment that he made to me is what sparked this article. He said, “I’m not surprised,  I could tell you were looking for someone younger than me.” How he surmised this is beyond me. He was clearly implying age discrimination.

We never once discussed age or anything even close to it. He just assumed that because he didn’t get the job it was due to his age. I think many candidates do this. I agree age discrimination exists. I just don’t think it is as widespread as most candidates do. I have written other articles on this topic. Too often, just like candidate #1, when candidates don’t get the job the first thought that surfaces is age discrimination when in fact, it is all of the other things they are doing wrong that are really the cause.

The big problem with thinking that age discrimination was the reason is that the candidate will never step back and consider that maybe it is something else. Why would they consider anything else when they have already decided that age discrimination is the reason they didn’t get the job and there is nothing they can do about that?  Then they don’t do anything to improve themselves.

As the late Paul Harvey would say, “Now the rest of the story.” It goes without saying that we never discussed age during the hiring process. However, as the hiring process continued, so did the need to perform our due diligence.  This meant that I needed to verify each of the candidate’s degrees. In order to do that, I needed the year they graduated from college. This isn’t always an indicator of age, but in many cases it is a benchmark.

Candidate #1 indicated on his resume that he received his degree in 1979. He is probably near 50. Just a guess.

Candidate #2, one of the candidates we continued to be very interested in, graduated in 1975.  Probably the oldest of the three.

Candidate #3, the person ultimately hired by the company, received her degree in 1978.  Most likely, but no guarantee, she was close to the same age as candidate #1.

When I called candidate #2 to tell him the news that he wasn’t going to get the position, he never even mentioned age as a reason for not receiving the offer.  He knew better. In his case, it really just came down to fit within the organization.

So is this age discrimination or not?  I would really like your opinion.

I do believe, as I said before, that age discrimination exists. However, here is the important take away from this article, don’t take the easy way out and go first to age discrimination as the reason. Use age discrimination only as the final reason. Explore other options first. Then, only after all of the other options have been addressed, consider age discrimination.

To help you evaluate other reasons your search may be stalled, download our free 8-Point Job Search Plan Assessment Scorecard. This is a good start for highlighting other areas in your job search that might be causing problems. CLICK HERE to download yours.

Also consider joining our LinkedIn Job Search Networking Group. This is one of the best resources to provide you with the job search tools you need. There are over 4,800 members in this group to assist you. It will really help you with your job search. CLICK HERE to join. LinkedIn is free for everyone.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on this topic.

Brad Remillard



About the Author

Brad Remillard is a founding Partner of IMPACT Hiring Solutions, co-author of "You're NOT the Person I Hired", and "This is NOT the Position I Accepted". Brad is an award-winning international speaker, retained executive recruiter, and expert on hiring and retaining top talent, and executive job search.


  • By Joe Lavelle, March 30, 2010 @ 10:34 am

    Hi Brad – Great post! So many people have not been given the real truth throughout their careers that finding an easy out is often the only thing they are trained to do. I suspect that candidate number 1 has been passed over for raises and promotions many times in his career and he accepted whatever the company line was at the time instead of seeking the “real truth”. Maybe his work is also “not well groomed”…
    Most of the people that I coach go through revolutionary change in the first 6 months of working with me because I help them seek the “real truth” for the first time in their careers. Once they have the real truth, they can create a real plan of action for growth and prosperity.

    Thanks for starting a great discussion!

  • By Ermete, March 30, 2010 @ 11:14 am

    Interesting that you chose not to discuss the reason that candidate 1 did not receive the position. As he chose to suggest it was an age matter, would it have been appropriate to take that opportunity and discuss the real cause for having taken an alternative direction. For example, you know candidate 1, I understand that you may believe this was a matter of age, yet it is more than that. As a recruiter, it is my responsibility to identify candidates that I believe best fit the hiring organizations position profile as well their image. Though you had done well regarding the interview, I do have some recommendations. At that point, provide as you had in the article, the reasons why candidate 1 was not considered. Just a thought

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, March 30, 2010 @ 12:13 pm

    I think it was clearly because his presentation was so weak. The others were just as experienced as he, but his presences as I stated was not as strong as the others.

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, March 30, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

    Thanks Joe. I agree with everything you said.

  • By Kim, March 30, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

    Ths article surprises me. I wonder if it’s true. You interviewed 3 people over the age of 50….is what you are saying.

    So this article isn’t a good case scenario since you were obviously open to hiring an older candidate anyway and out of all the stuff on the internet, this is absolutely the first time I’ve heard anything even remotely like this (that you interviewed 3 candidates over the age of 50).

    That said coming in with an attitude is never a good thing, be it about age, about gender, about the job itself or the company. One must always come in with a professional attitude and good grooming. Should go w/o saying.

    Fit with older candidates who are professional is a hugh problem (and actually can be age discrimination. Wonder where candidate #2 who presented himself so well, polished, etc. wound up?

    What was the job? And what was the type of company? Just curious given you would be so open to hiring older candidates.

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, March 30, 2010 @ 1:51 pm

    Well know you have. Yes all three. It isn’t about the age it is about level of the position. This was a very senior level VP role. I wouldn’t have expected a person 30 to have the experience and business maturity necessary to perform in this role.
    Some roles do required 20 – 25 years experience. Just like some require only 5 -7 years experience.
    The bigger point is one would never have known the last two were over 50.

  • By Allen, March 30, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

    No, I don’t believe this to be Age discrimination.

    However, you spent a great deal of time telling us how they sat, how they spoke, how the inflected upon their points, how they dressed, groomed etc. all making up a story about the candidate whether it be for this article or for the purpose of the hiring prosses.

    Then you say “He just assumed that because he didn’t get the job it was due to his age. I think many candidates do this”

    Why do you assume he did that without making the same assessments of you? You may not have “said” anything about age, but maybe your appearance during the interview sparked something in him. Maybe he read your demeanor to be casual and disinterested? Maybe your unintentional reaction to his non pressed suit and bald head was more noticed than you thought?

    I don’t know I wasn’t there.

    All I am saying is don’t put all the blame on the other guy, without really knowing how he felt the interview went too.

  • By Bruce Skinner, March 30, 2010 @ 5:36 pm

    If there was age discrimination going on here, none of these candidates would have made it to the interview “leg”.

    The first guy just needed an interview coach to film him. Seeing yourself on camera really opens your eyes about how you come across (both physically and emotionally), whether it’s in an interview or in any social setting.

  • By Dee McFarland, March 31, 2010 @ 10:59 am

    That was a very interesting article. I am older than the three candidates described, have been in the job market since November, and although I know that age discrimination exists, it is not my “go to” excuse when I have been interviewed and did not get the job. From the moment I have contact with a prospective employer, my goal is to dispel any concerns they may have about my approximate age (given my graduation dates from two universities).
    It’s a tough job market out there, but I will not use age discrimination as an excuse for not being the best candidate for the right job!

  • By Peyton Farquhar, March 31, 2010 @ 11:50 am

    Your article is exactly why interviewing for a job is 100% arbitrary, capricious, above all, subjective BS that is 100% based on the interviewer’s own personal prejudices. What exactly would have sparked interest – if the candidate in question hired a stripper to impress the interviewers with his so called enthusiasm? How about a box of Cuban cigars? By your own admission, you say he asked engaging questions, but this still wasn’t enough because he spoke in a “monotone” and did not change positions in his seat.

    Maybe you don’t realize this, but people over 40 generally don’t jump out of their seat or speak in a loud, boisterous voice while interviewing. That’s a freshly minted college grad, 22 y/o pom pom girl you’re thinking of there.

    You say it’s not “age discrimination,” but your words tell me otherwise. The subjective criteria used to judge fresh college grads with very little to zero life/work experience should not be identically applied to candidates who are more mature, possess more knowledge, and are a lot more composed.

  • By Madhav Kopalle, March 31, 2010 @ 10:59 pm

    Hi Brad,

    I agree with you on two counts

    1. Normally filters existin organisation to prevent such an event occuring. During the course of Interview, I make it a point to mention that we are a fair playing firm…all stand equal chance of getting the Job.

    2. Normally such feeling exists with inflexible men who cannot explain themselves during the interview and fail miserably




  • By Joe, April 2, 2010 @ 11:50 am

    Why wouldn’t recruiters and companies practice age discrimination? When bottom lines rule, whether you’re a school district or a Fortune 500 company, salaries, benefits, health, expectations, attractiveness and investment of time versus return are only a few of the reasons to discriminate. A veteran job counselor I spoke with recently, estimated two out of three employers discriminate based on age. You may get the interview because your “over qualified”, but the youngster that meets the minimum requirements will more often get the job.

  • By Chloe, April 25, 2010 @ 7:31 am

    Age Discrimination is so evident in todays market it isn’t even funny. EEOC has hired 3x as many agents to investigate charges since 2008. We witnessed the ads in government listings last Feb 2009. That is when my husband was laid off from Ford Motor Co, Dearborn, MI. They laid off consistently employees in there 40’s and 50’s and all 60’s year olds. In my husbands (55) case they used “bad performance” as the excuse however, he had saved all documents going back 2 years in field sales to dealers showing where he ranked. Further, the Regional market manager called a meeting the next morning and told all other employees after they asked why a great sales guy was let go. He stated Bad Performance. He further stated that if any dealer asked why he was let go tell them Bad Performance. This is out right SLANDER! And yes we have filed with EEOC! Don’t be surprised if you see my on YOUTUBE, Facebook and any other network device.

  • By Kristine, May 11, 2010 @ 8:07 am

    What about for positions that are not necessarily senior level. Age discrimination is most definately a huge factor. It this was a job for an office manager position or an HR manager do think an older worker would stand an equal chance against say a 30 year old?

  • By jean-François Beaulieu, June 22, 2010 @ 6:25 am

    You are wrong, age discrimination is largely spread and for some professions the great majority of the employers will not consider someone who is over 40 year’s old (computer science especially, many engineering junior positions, accountant,etc..).
    In your story someone got an interview; normally if you send resumes you STOP TO GET INTERVIEWS after a certain age. The resume which was working well 10 year’s earlier is not even considered now. After 3 years you go back to school to switch for a new career, but even if you score is 20% above the average (88%) you hardly get any interview while the younger candidates will get plenty. But your date of birth is written on your school report.
    There are multiple reasons, one is that in a new career you must start with a junior position and your supervisor is often younger; he doesn’t like the idea to supervise you.

    Switching for another career where you have an alledge shortage

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, June 23, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

    I hear this all the time. Then I ask those indicating there is a lot of it if they have ever discriminated based on age and they all have said “NO.” I find that interesting, everyone is doing it yet nobody admits to it.

  • By Doug Boswell, July 19, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

    Yes, there likely was age discrimination here. Candidate #1 wasn’t hired because he exhibited a number of age-related stereotypes in the interview. The other 2 just happen to compensate better for it. You even commented that Candidate # 2 seemed to have been coached. (If Candidate #1 had been under the direction of a career coach he might have the job now, and then it might still be age discrimination as you’d have hired the youngest candidate.) BTW, at no point did you say who was the most qualified according to the needs of the position. Candidate #3 may even be an example of reverse gender discrimination. You seemed to be quite taken by her. You cad you.

    Yes, Candidate #1 was wrong to assume age discrimination, but then did he know who the other candidates were? Probably not. Since in the past couple years people at this senior management level have been routinely passed over for interviews and job offers for younger ones, can you really be surprised? Lots of companies would like to get that fast-rising, 40ish hot-shot VP or CEO.

    People who have always excelled in their careers and have never had trouble landing the next job are experiencing a different outcome this time around. They are have trouble getting noticed, much less hired. They think to themselves, “I’m as good or better than ever before, but no one is chasing after me. I’ve been through down economies before and never had this kind of trouble. What’s different? Only that I’m older.” It’s not too hard to draw the conclusion that age discrimination is the problem.

  • By Mary, September 13, 2010 @ 10:02 am

    Even though companies are not saying it, there is a trend to hire those definitely under 40. Unfortunately, companies have the belief under 40 implies creativity, results-oriented, dynamic, etc. If a company has truly developed their employees and outlined clear expectations, you will always find creative, results-oriented and dynamic people. It all depends on the type of leadership coming down the pipe. On another note, it would certainly help those candidates who are not selected, if reasons were provided for non-selection. I certainly appreciate it if someone tells me where I went wrong on an interview. Less assuming to be done otherwise.

  • By Stacy, February 7, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

    I know for a certainty that age discrimination is alive and well in this country.

    Having written resumes for job seekers for over 30 years, and having both studied interview techniques, and provided advice to those looking for work, I know how to present myself at my best in a job interview situation.

    However, after losing my job almost two years ago, I have since lost every job for which I have interviewed. I carefully reflect on my performance post-interview after each interview process. At the end of the day, at almost 63 and knowing when I am, and am not, qualified for a job, I am fully aware that companies *must* see my age as a downside. Why would a company want to pay the kind of salary an older, highly experienced person could command, when they can hire someone with nearly equivalent experience, and pay them 30 percent less? Why would they not fear that I am job-hunting so that I can retire in three years?

    I have carefully and closely observed the culture within the companies with which I have interviewed. To a number, the cultures are youth oriented.

    You folks interviewed three people. How can you possibly write an educated commentary about age discrimination based upon such limited evidence? Did you perform a study? Did you take a poll? Did you perform a broad-based poll of a significant percentage of companies in the US regarding their unspoken policy about hiring a candidate past “X” age?

    A close friend, who is also a judge at a major government agency, posed the question of age to the agency’s director at my request. Her response: “Well, we don’t like to call it ‘age discrimination,’ but, yes, we want people who can stay around for 30 years.”

    I continually evaluate my own interview performance, as well as my genuine qualifications for a job. I learn what lessons need learning, do my research, and adjust accordingly. At the end of the day, all the evidence (collected over time) strongly suggests that I am simply too old to be considered a viable candidate for nearly any position for which I apply.

    I fear that you have failed to manage your due diligence in providing solid evidence about this issue, done your research, or engaged in any sort of study other than your own, entirely anecdotal “story” about one man’s complaint about age discrimination. You should be ashamed.

    PS – You need a proofreader.

  • By smartand45, April 26, 2012 @ 10:48 am

    Although it may have been true 20 years ago that younger people had better technical skills, this has changed. Many people over the age of 50 have perfectly good computer and technical abilities. They have “caught up” with the younger generation. Also, just a word of caution to HR managers: quit asking someone over the age of 40 if they have the “energy” for the job. Its insulting and crude, and reveals your own personal age biases.

Other Links to this Post

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

CommentLuv badge

Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree

Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.