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.

13 thoughts on “Over 30? Don’t bother applying for this job…

  1. I couldn’t possibly agree more, Caron. Age-based discrimination is also illegal in the US, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. And when a company is more concerned with the age of applicants than with their ability to do the job well (shouldn’t that be the primary concern, anyway?), there’s a problem. Among many other problems is that whoever is hired for the job may not, in fact, be the most effective choice. And that means the job won’t be done as well.

    • Exactly. How sad that despite people living so much longer these days, and despite people starting new careers in what used to be considered middle or even old age, there is still so much ageism. Whether your 20 or 40 or 60 or 80 shouldn’t matter, as long as you can do the job well and have the desire to keep learning.

  2. That seems very condescending and just all kinds of wrong.

    Although, it’s interesting, because I’ve been on the opposite end where someone asks me to write up an ad like this. Sometimes the company heads are truly unaware of (-& some don’t care) how they might sound or come off to the public.
    They usually hire someone with public relations skills. In this case, yeah…they may have been underpaid. 😛

  3. There’s another issue with this. Twenty somethings, or even thirty somethings won’t have anything in common with the target audience. The content they produce won’t be relevant.

  4. While I agree with your sentiment, i think that you’re reading too much into the advertisement. I would be more concerned about wanting to join a company that uses such poor English…I would happily apply for this job if I felt I met the requirements of the job description: that is where a potential employer gets to truly define the role and by carefully – and hopefully accurately – defining the skillsnd qualities required to filter out those, regardless of age, who lack the skills to do the job.

    • Yes, I would very much like to correct their grammar and re-write the ad, I agree! So are you saying you don’t think they don’t even realise that they’ve stated they require someone young? I’m not sure about that. Also, I know from interacting with young people that there is a perception that ‘older’ people (could mean over 30 or over 40) don’t know how to use new media. This is despite the fact that many young people I know are not very good at dealing with technology, and many people I know over 40 are. I agree it should be the person’s abilities, not their age…but if there is a preconception, it’s difficult for anyone outside of that to get an interview. I’m glad I’m not on the job-search path at the moment!

      • Because the ad is so poorly written, I think they haven’t really done much more than string a series of buzzwords together…I doubt they have thought beyond ‘we want someone to do the social media stuff’. They probably expect, as would I and probably you, that this would be a younger person…

        • Yes, perhaps they are just using ‘buzzwords’—it’s definitely a possibility, as you say.
          Actually, I wouldn’t expect a social media expert to be a young person, depending on what you define as ‘young’. I teach media & comms at university and I’ve taught thousands of students in their teens and 20s since 2008. I find that while many (but not all) are quite good at using the apps they like in a purely recreational way, the vast majority have very little idea how to use social media and social networking in a professional workplace (or even what the difference is). They also have quite a narrow knowledge of media use and find it difficult to think outside the box, so to speak. I would probably expect someone in their 30s or 40s to be good at a social media management job, though I would be open to someone in their 50s or above, also. After all, the people who INVENTED the technology are now aged 30+, and some are/would be the age of senior citizens.

          • Preaching to the concert, Caron…agree totally… You say that many of today’s youth only know a Lego approach to life…they are very good and fast at assembling the components but only within the context of the directions… Give them a random box of parts and they may not be nearly as fast or creative. I think the best grounding for any information related role is in the language and understanding its quirks and subtlety…you can be an electrician without understanding electricity. Reading that ad again, I doubt the author has the faintest grasp of the subject matter…

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