Over 30? Don’t bother applying for this job…

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 9.46.03 AMI saw this job ad recently for an online group that caters for seniors—that is, people aged 60 and older. The ad made it very clear that no one from the demographic for which they cater need apply: the successful candidate, it said, would be a social media ‘native’, but would have ‘A love for the not-quite older generations’.

It reminded me of a conversation a TV sitcom family might have about how to deal with an elderly relative at a celebration: ‘Just sit dear old grandad in the corner with a party-hat on; he won’t know the difference’.

There are so many things that are wrong with this ad. Don’t even get me started on the grammar—but that’s for a different post.

Firstly, it’s illegal in Australia to discriminate against job-seekers on the basis of age. Of course, actual selection of candidates based on age goes on all the time, albeit surreptitiously. But you’re definitely not allowed to advertise a job of this nature and specify age. By saying they are looking for a digital ‘native’, the company is specifying it wants someone younger than around 30. Actually, by specifying ‘social media’ native, they’re probably meaning someone in their very early 20s.

There is one positive aspect to age-discriminatory advertising: it means people who are 30+ will know not to bother applying for this job. Otherwise, as this company caters specifically for ‘older’ people, it could expect to get quite a number of mature-age applicants, believing that perhaps such a company would appreciate that digital ability is not about age but technological dexterity.

For a site that advertises itself as championing people remaining active in their 60s, this is poor form and a proof that they don’t really believe in their audience. They could sure do with someone who is a good editor, by the way: I took a look at their website and the stories were full of grammatical and typographical errors in every paragraph (as their ad was).

There seems to be a general belief, particularly among the young themselves, that you can only be really good at using new technology if you were brought up with it. Imagine if we applied that to other fields.

For example, P.D. James, who died in 2014 aged 94, started writing in her mid-30s, but didn’t work full-time as a writer until she retired from the civil service in the UK when she was 60. She was born in 1920, before radio and TV broadcasting started. In 2009, aged 89, she was a guest-editor at BBC Radio 4 in the UK, and she interviewed the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson. She was so good, the show’s host, Evan Davis, said she should have a permanent job on the show.

The late Steve Jobs was 50 when he released the first iPhone. Did anyone try to tell him he was too old to be doing such things, and that because he wasn’t a ‘digital native’, he wouldn’t be any good at them? Using the above company’s mentality, if Jobs had applied for his own job, he wouldn’t have got it, purely on the basis of age.

Here’s something else to think about when you advertise that a job will go to a digital native: more than half the people in the world still do not have access to the internet. Australia has immigrants from many different countries, including young adults who came from countries in which they were not brought up with digital technology. Should they be precluded from applying for jobs that require use of technology, because they were not exposed to it as children?

As I often say to young people, ‘Your age group only uses this new technology, but my age group and several before it actually invented it’. (I did not make up this sentiment—I read it somewhere and appropriated it). Many young people I know are quite good at using social media. But not all. Some tell me they don’t particularly like it, and many admit they’re not that knowledgeable about it, particularly if it’s an unfamiliar app or medium.

It is true that demographics show that a greater percentage of younger people than older people use new technology, particularly social media. But that doesn’t mean older people can’t use technology. And just because some can’t or won’t use it, doesn’t mean all of them lack these skills. You shouldn’t be precluded from a job because of what someone else can’t do.

I know also that many mature adults would like to use more social media, but most social media use is recreational: it’s about play, entertainment and fun. And unfortunately, most adults are time-poor, particularly those who are middle-aged or older. They might have a 10-hour+ work day including a commute, have to care for children and perhaps elderly parents as well, have to pay a mortgage and provide a living for themselves and their dependents. Finding time to play on social media is increasingly difficult.
Ironically though, the fastest-growing group of new gamers in Australia is the over-50s, according to Digital Australia 2016, and 49% of Australians in this age group play computer or video games.

On the other hand, young people can also be discriminated against because of their age. When I was just 22, I became the assistant editor of a big rural newspaper where I had been working as a reporter. The editor had been promoted to a higher managerial position, and another older reporter was promoted to editor, even though I’d been effectively doing the job for the last six months. The owner said he would have liked to have made me editor, and he knew I could do the job: the only reason I was made assistant editor instead was that I was too young. People would not accept someone my age as editor, he said.

I am very much against ‘youth rates’ that Australia and some other countries have, too, unless a young person is unable to do the same job as an adult-rate person. I think it’s exploitative.

My point is this: if you are an employer in the field of communications, try not to have pre-conceived notions of who might or might not be able to do the job you are advertising. Choose the person who is right for the job as if you could not see them: not by age, looks or other incidentals. Choose by aptitude, enthusiasm, and the ability to relate to the audience you are aiming to reach.

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