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Age discrimination doesn’t get the attention that racial and sexual discrimination get, and winning an age discrimination case is difficult for employees.

But while it may not be a well-publicized topic, older workers do appear to be hitting a wall when it comes to finding work. According to AARP, two out of three workers between ages 45 and 74 say they have seen or experienced age discrimination at work. And, 19% of older workers cited that not getting hired is a form of age discrimination they have experienced.

If you or your clients are overlooking this group of experienced workers, you could be missing out on a wealth of star candidates.

What is age discrimination in hiring?

Age discrimination in hiring is treating an applicant less favorably because of their age.

There is a federal law that makes age discrimination illegal. The law is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). It forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. This applies to all aspects of employment, including hiring.

You might also have to comply with state laws that are more stringent.

If an applicant can prove that you use discriminatory hiring practices, they may be able to create a lawsuit against you.

Why you shouldn’t overlook older workers

By passing over those 40 and older, employers miss out on a tremendous asset to their companies. Here are some reasons to consider older workers.

Older workers often have an incredible work ethic. Members of the Baby Boomer generation are known for being extremely hardworking and dependable. They tend to define themselves by their professional achievements. And, they tend to be loyal and committed to the workplace.

People 40 and older often have a deep knowledge base. Their years of experience and knowledge are invaluable. Savvy companies have realized this and often use older workers in consulting and training capacities.

Older workers might have fewer attachments. Unlike a worker in their 30’s or early 40’s, someone nearing retirement age is unlikely to be tied down by a young family. These older workers are often more willing to travel and relocate. This makes them perfect contract staffing candidates. In fact, many like to take contract assignments in different locations so they can explore new places while they work.

There’s a myth that people nearing retirement are less productive because they are slower. But this simply isn’t true. Older workers might waste less time than younger workers. They might take fewer sick days for themselves or ill children.

Older workers make great contractors because, while they may need to supplement their retirement income or want to remain active in the workforce, they might not be interested in the 9-5 rat race. Contracting allows them to take time off between assignments or work more flexible schedules. This is driving a trend known as retiree re-staffing, and some recruiting firms are even concentrating specifically on finding contract assignments for retirees as demand from candidates increases.

How recruiters can prevent age discrimination

How can you avoid age discrimination in hiring? Use the following tips to treat all job applicants fairly, despite their age.

Be aware of your biases

The first step to preventing age discrimination is being aware of your biases. When you think about older workers, what comes to mind? What are your assumptions and negative stereotypes?

You need to fight against your biases. You should never purposely avoid older applicants. And, you shouldn’t only be recruiting passive candidates who are young. All candidates should have an equal chance of getting a job.

Check the job description

When writing a job description, check it for wording that might unintentionally spur age discrimination. This includes any wording that might appeal to or single out younger applicants and exclude older ones.

Wording that might cause age discrimination includes:

  • Digital native
  • Recent graduate
  • Full of energy
  • Youthful
  • Sales rockstar (Or anything that includes guru, ninja, or other “hip” job titles.)
  • GPA of 3.5 (Or other wording that implies that the worker is young enough for test scores to still matter.)
  • 3-5 years of experience (Or anything that places a cap on an applicant’s experience.)

Advertise the opening wisely

When you advertise a job opening, be careful about where you post it.

A social media recruiting strategy is a great way to reach thousands of diverse candidates. But, many social media sites skew toward younger users. This might eliminate older workers.

If you pay for targeted ads, you might accidentally leave out older workers. When you narrow down the groups that see the job advertisement, you might not leave a broad enough age range.

If you advertise at universities, you will attract many younger workers. But, there aren’t many older adults at universities. You might attract older workers in masters and doctorate programs, but even then, the pool is small.

Avoid discriminatory interview questions

When you interview candidates, you should avoid questions about their age. This includes asking them their birthday or even the year the graduated. The ADEA does not prohibit you from asking an applicant’s age, but these questions can deter older applicants. And, some state laws might make it unlawful to ask an applicant’s age.

Also, you should not ask older candidates questions that you wouldn’t ask younger candidates. For example, you should not ask:

  • Are the technology demands of this job too much for you?
  • How can you work these hours with your family?
  • Would it be difficult for you to work for a boss who is younger than you?
  • Don’t you think you’re overqualified?
  • How do you think you’ll fit in the company culture?

These questions can deter older candidates. And, these questions make you and your client more susceptible to committing age discrimination.

Don’t miss out with an older candidate

By accepting older candidates, you can have a win-win-win situation for you, the candidates, and your clients. This applies to both direct hire and contract staffing opportunities. Baby Boomers (retirees) often bring an incredible work ethic and knowledge base that benefits clients.  A contract staffing scenario is a great alternative for a retiree because they like the flexibility and the extra income they earn for every hour they work. And in either scenario, hiring older candidates is a win for a recruiter, too.

This article has been updated from its original publication date of 9/10/2013.

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