Avoiding Age Discrimination and Bias During the Interview Process

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, over a quarter of Australians aged 50 years and over have experienced some form of age discrimination in the last two years. It’s no surprise that many older job seekers fear ageism when interviewing for a new role. It’s illegal to refuse employment to someone based on age under the Age Discrimination Act, and it’s bad business as well. Given that mature Australians contribute $65 billion to the economy each year, hiring managers who participate in age discrimination are ruling out an incredibly valuable sector of the workforce.

For hiring managers, it’s important to avoid ageism and bias in the interviewing process. Avoid asking questions about age, and other leading questions such as “Would it be hard working for a boss younger than you?” or “Why would you want this job, given all your experience?” These questions convey to the applicant that the interviewer thinks they’re too old for the job. Stick to strictly job-related questions, and don’t ask about the ages of spouses, children, etc. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask where the candidate went to university, but avoid asking when they graduated.

It can also help to think about the benefits of hiring mature employees, such as the wealth of industry knowledge they can bring to your firm. Then, develop a solid structure for evaluating every job candidate, and stick to the same criteria for every individual regardless of age. Interviewers should undergo training that addresses stereotypes and hidden blind spots through interactive case studies, rather than a series of do’s and dont’s in lecture form.

Senior candidates can also take steps to make sure they’re doing the best possible job of selling themselves during the interview. Take classes to learn how to use any required technology, and have an active social media presence (particularly on LinkedIn) to show that you are comfortable with learning new things. Avoid focussing on your past achievements and calling attention to your age - instead, explain how your experience allows you to accurately judge situations and make smart decisions. You can also feel free to leave some information off your CV, such as graduation dates and even some of your work history - the last ten to fifteen years should be sufficient. Most importantly, think like a salesperson. Do your research and be prepared to deal with any objections your interviewer might bring up. You’ll likely receive questions about your ability to deal with change or how well you can adapt to a different corporate culture during the interview. Prepare examples that demonstrate the potential employer’s desired skills, and project confidence to set the tone for the conversation.