Age Bias Is Sneaky. Here’s How to Keep It Out of the Hiring Process.

Want help with your hiring? It's easy. Enter your information below, and we'll quickly reach out to discuss your hiring needs.

Companies should understand by now that a diverse organization outperforms a less diverse organization on a host of metrics, including sales, retention, customer appreciation ratings, and the overall value of the business. But diversity isn’t just about gender identity or skin color, which tend to receive most of the focus in conversations about equity and inclusion at work. Age and generational differences, key components of a comprehensive diversity effort, often go overlooked.

Implicit bias — prejudice that is present but not consciously recognized — is difficult to guard against, yet it’s foolhardy not to. Thousands of age discrimination complaints are filed each year. Furthermore, older workers can bring significant value to your team. In today’s tight labor market, many older workers are actively looking for work. Forty-six percent of Americans ages 60-75 hope to continue working to some degree even after retirement, according to a 2020 survey by American Advisors Group.

Truth is, you’re never going to eliminate bias entirely. However, you can and should take steps to minimize it in the hiring process. Doing so will not only improve the candidate experience but also benefit your organization in the long run.

Recognize the Reality of Age Discrimination

The first step in minimizing bias of any kind is acknowledging that it does exist in your hiring practices. Dig into your application and hiring data to look for clues as to how age bias is creeping into your process. Be transparent with your hiring managers, supervisors, team members, and anyone else involved in hiring about the steps you are taking to mitigate the influence of bias.

Start by analyzing your recruiting efforts. How are your hiring practices potentially introducing bias? For example, are you leaning into recruitment channels that favor younger applicants? Elements of your process may be introducing unintentional bias like this and affecting the size and demographic scope of your candidate pipeline.

Next, consider your resume screening. Identify which skills, experiences, and other factors are important to the position, and be sure to look for those qualifications across all of the resumes you receive. Consistency is key; every resume should be held to the exact same standard. One way to bring more consistency to your process is to look at resumes in a group rather than one at a time. When you look at resumes three or four at a time, it’s easier to group them according to the qualifications you are looking for.

Bring More Objectivity to the Recruiting Process

Implicit bias against older workers is difficult to avoid because misconceptions about older workers are so commonplace. Older workers are set in their ways. Older workers lack creativity. Older workers struggle with technology, are forgetful, just want to retire.

Of course, these assumptions are nothing more than harmful stereotypes. To get beyond these inaccurate assumptions, recruiters and hiring managers need more objective means of evaluating candidate fit.

A personality assessment can offer one way to gain objective insight into predicted candidate performance regardless of demographics. An assessment can identify a relatively broad range of personalities that could be a good fit for the job, rather than confining candidate fit to a single “acceptable” personality type. And while certain shifts in outlook and behavior do occur as we get older, the shifts are not dramatic on an individual level. An adventurous personality tends to remain an adventurous personality, for example.

Pay Close Attention to Interview Practices

You’ve diversified your outreach channels, screened resumes appropriately, and used a personality assessment to add objectivity to the process. Now, it’s time for the interview — an area where implicit bias often has the biggest impact. Face-to-face encounters with candidates can trigger those very assumptions we’ve tried so hard to avoid.

Interviews are no place for improvisation. You want a structured interview with questions tied to the requirements of the job and performance objectives. Each candidate should be asked the same questions. Again, consistency is key.

Even with a structured interview, the inevitable follow-up questions are often where interviews go off track. Be sure any follow-up questions you ask are relevant to the job and center around clarifying something that is a requirement for the role.

That said, you don’t want to overcorrect and avoid asking any follow-up questions at all. Doing that would bar you from a great opportunity to seek further insight into a candidate’s qualifications and methods for handling job-related challenges. The additional clarity afforded by follow-up questions can sometimes make all the difference. Feel free to ask follow-up questions, but always keep relevancy in mind.

Accept candidate answers at face value, too. If someone is explaining why they are interested in the role, and you have unbiased data points (like a personality assessment) to back up their self-characterizations, there is no reason not to believe them — other than your own implicit bias.

Don’t overlook the makeup of your interview team, either. You want a diverse group of people asking questions. A diverse team, much like a diverse workplace, yields better results.

If we want more diverse workforces, we have to start by reducing bias in the hiring process. But implicit bias is a tricky foe. The best way to battle it is by introducing more objective candidate assessment measures throughout the recruiting process, from initial outreach all the way through to interviews.

Older workers can bring a lot of value to your organization. Don’t let stereotypes get in the way of a good hire.

Dan Sines is CEO, cofounder, and chairman of the board at Traitify.

Get the top recruiting news and insights delivered to your inbox every week. Sign up for the Recruiter Today newsletter.

Read more in Discrimination

Dan Sines is Traitify’s CEO, cofounder, and chairman of the board. His belief in the power of human-centered design led him to create the first-ever patented visual-based personality assessment format, which is in use today by some of the world's leading high-volume hiring companies. He and his cofounder, Josh Spears, founded Traitify in 2011, unlocking the potential of psychology for HR while meeting the needs of the modern candidate and employee. Traitify completed a Series B in mid-2020 and is poised for significant growth in the next year.