At what age does ageism commence?

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Obviously a lot of this post has to be anecdotal. Not many companies are going to come out and say “Well, we stop accepting candidates around age 33 for these roles…” because, well, broadly that’s illegal, and most companies ain’t in the game of admitting illegality. (Doing it where they think others can’t see it? Sure.)

In the US, the legal age on discrimination stuff is around 40. Is it really 40, though? I don’t honestly know.

Anecdotally, Part 1

I have a bunch of friends from about 33 to 50 right now, all of whom are in varying stages of job searches, often eight months or longer, with the longest going about three years. There is a lot to unpack here, and this is but a simple blog post, so let me break this into a few bullets to make it easier:

  • You can argue they are not qualified candidates, sure, or not targeting the right employers: When you talk about ageism issues on LinkedIn, this is commonly the “I swallow the load of capitalism” response you get. “They must be bad candidates!” Sure, sure. We can make that argument easily. And when you’re in a long job search, you target whatever employer when money gets tight. That’s sheer reality. No one with $100 in their account is like “Well, Todd, I’m only looking at SEO jobs…” It’s like, no, Barry, it’s time to look at bartender gigs.
  • But I would say… it seems to me ageism starts about 35. If you are north of 35 and lack a strong network, rich/influential relatives, elevated brands in your career so far, elevated titles, or specific expertise… I don’t think it will be easy to find a job. You’ll be unemployed 12–15 or more months. Now, a 27 year-old with limited brand experience and no titles? They might find a job in under 90 days. The difference is often perception of what you can pay each person + we tend to deify youth broadly.
  • This all also ties to the fake nature of the unemployment rate: Because there’s legit a lot of people who just get frustrated and walk right out of the conventional system. How many 50-something Uber drivers have you had? I’ve probably had 100+.
  • And if you want to vet me … PBS has also said ageism probably starts about 35.

The inverse of ageism

What about for top dog roles? Again, I don’t have hard data. My guess would be that unless you’re a founder or a founder who has sold (“successfully exited”), 40–45 would be the line — before that, you probably won’t get C-Level jobs at big companies. After that, I think you could. That will vary by person, perceived level of competence, and company, of course.

What about by industry?

People will claim that “old-school” industries don’t have ageism, which I personally think is bullshit. I know a guy who got canned from financial services at 46 and never recovered. He works for 1/3 of his old salary now and is immensely frustrated. I know there’s stuff like “fin-tech” but financial services is still an old-school industry and, yea, they can be ageist.

Tech? In tech I think 35 means you’re dead. End of story. Put a period on it. Maybe if you have a 4B or higher net worth, you can exist plausibly into your 40s, but good luck not getting sneered at.

Why is this a problem?

Well, we talk constantly about “wanting A-Players” and all this bullshit. Well, “A-Players” would tend to imply, “OK, this person has a certain degree of experience in what they do.” If ageism commences at 35, that means you basically have a 12–13 year window to become “an expert” in something, and then you spend the back-end scrambling to prove that you could maybe do some work for less than you’re worth.

Basically the message of the hiring market is “Get expertise and grow as a person!”

The reality of the hiring market is “Be young and fill the right bullet points.”

That distinction causes a tremendous amount of stress for both individuals, families, grandparents, young children, pets, and more. And it’s all rooted in ridiculous, outdated notions around hiring and cost structure.

But wait, isn’t there a “war for talent?”

ROFL. LOL. ROFL. Sorry, I just peed myself a little bit. “War for talent” is something people mention in white papers to sell software suites. It is not true whatsoever. If anything right now, it’s a war ON talent. See also: “the skills gap.”

These things happen broadly because we over-value youth, lie about our desire for expertise and competence, and don’t like to pay people what they’re actually worth even though goods and services prices are increasing every single day.

They don’t happen because they’re real.

Want to end your “war” for talent? Go hire an unemployed 51 year-old at the rate they’re worth. That will cause a peace treaty in said “war” pretty quickly. Most companies would absolutely never do this, though. It’s not how they think.

What’s your take on all this stuff?

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