Being Young Stinks: Employer Discrimination

Continuing the stream of disillusionment and grumpiness which makes up my blog, here is a rant about youth unemployment. It’s interspersed with Simpsons pics for the hell of it, from the good people at Enjoy!

I got rejected for a job the other day and I was actually glad. Not because I didn’t want the job (I’m doing all right as a freelancer, but it still would have been great to get some extra cash), but because there was actually a legitimate reason for my rejection. There were certain things in the job description that the right candidate would need to be comfortable with doing, and I didn’t know how to do them. They were quite specific things, requiring in-depth knowledge about how to manage a web server, and I can’t say with confidence that given the chance I would have picked up the skills in no time. I interviewed fine and they seemed to like me, but they really needed someone with a different set of skills. Rejection old school style!

Homer Simpson

The reason I’m feeling all right about this is because, as a young person with a couple of years of work experience and a degree, I find myself getting to interview stage often but just missing the cut for the jobs. The reason I’m given, time after time, is that I interviewed very well, however there was another candidate with more experience, or perhaps several years of doing exactly the same job. This is the sort of rejection I’m used to, the sort of rejection which sounds very reasonable, but in practice is anything but. Here are some reasons why.


1. It indirectly inconveniences jobseekers who are below a certain age

Lisa Simpson

Being told you don’t have enough experience to do a particular job would be fine if we weren’t once again in a recession, and the people in charge of running this country seem determined to run it straight into the ground. There are less jobs and more people going for them, which means that, every time I apply for a job, I am guaranteed to be up against people with decades of experience on me. I’m 24, therefore I can’t compete. Even with a work history dating back to around the time of my 16th birthday, I cannot reasonably be expected to hold my own against someone who had a head start in the job market by not being born in the 1980s. And yet this is exactly what I am expected to do, again and again and again. The fact that most employers pick prior experience over talent, intelligence, intuition or natural aptitude is indirect discrimination against young people. There simply isn’t anything we can do about the fact that we haven’t been alive as long as the people older than us.

2. Experience does not necessarily qualify someone to do a particular job


OK, I can see how people advertising a certain job will warm to someone who has had exactly that job title for a five year stretch prior to applying. But experience shouldn’t always swing the decision – it’s not a surefire way to get the person who’ll be best at the job. Case in point: the most experience I have in the job market is as a retail sales assistant (from the age of 16 to 22). I am not a good sales assistant. I’m not a bad sales assisant either, but having all those years of “experience” did not transform me into a model employee. If I were to go for a retail position now, then I’d be far more likely to get the job than someone who only has a few months of experience. Does that make me the best person for the job? Hell no!

For a lot of the jobs I go for (mainly admin positions, entry level and just above), it really doesn’t take long to train someone in how to do them. There are a lot of companies looking for someone who can “hit the ground running”, but as far as I’m concerned, unless you’ve worked for a particular company before, no one can do that. It isn’t fair to discount someone purely on the basis that someone else has worked in a similar position for longer. Who knows – the filing system at their previous job might have been completely different causing them to have a catastrophic mental breakdown before their first day is even over…

3. It’s selfish

Mr. Burns

I’m serious, it is. Graduates and young people have been told over and over again to adapt to the changes in the economic climate (changes we had nothing to do with…). Get more experience, do a course, volunteer, update your CV, apply for more jobs, no, more than that, MORE THAN THAT, chase them up, sit on hold for half an hour a day, go to interview workshops, abandon your chosen career path altogether, don’t be selfish/lazy/entitled, there’s a recession on YA KNOW!

I’m sick of being told that as a young person I must adapt and change and sometimes completely give up on my plans because of the current situation, while businesses can get away with stubbornly dismissing me as a capable worker because of my age. And while I have a lot of sympathy for business owners who are scrabbling around trying to make ends meet, I can’t reconcile the fact that at least they had a chance to make something of themselves. What chance have young people got now when company owners are basically ignoring them from the word go? We don’t get hired for the jobs, so we can’t get experience. Because we don’t have any experience, we get left out of even more opportunities. We’re affected the worst by ‘last in, first out’ firing policies and the jobs which are predominently occupied by us (entry level positions) are terminated. The fact that so many businesses have adopted these practices as hasty survival tactics has effectively eliminated a generation from the job market. This needs to be stopped.

Bart Simpson

Many people might be thinking that maybe I just interview badly, or the other candidates are just better than me generally. In the last year, although I haven’t had many interviews for all the jobs I’ve applied for, the feedback remains consistent: it’s experience holding me back. When I ask the employer to elaborate, they never say anything else. I interview fine, I’m told. I would have no trouble performing the job. However, considering the huge number of applicants, it was decided that the job should go to someone with more experience. This is what swings the vote every time, without fail.

I really wish that businesses would adopt a positive approach to young people who apply for their jobs and take into account the fact that discrimination can be indirect as well as direct. It’s not our fault we’re young, we shouldn’t automatically be dubbed as feckless because of our ages, and we deserve more opportunities than working for free in Tesco (if you can call that an opportunity…). Business owners: the next time you reject a young person on the grounds of experience, remember that they will have heard the same thing over and over again. If you can’t give them a legitimate reason, just make something up – tell them they wore an awful tie to the interview, or that you can’t have another staff member called Stephanie. It’ll at least be more interesting.

Lisa Simpson

3 thoughts on “Being Young Stinks: Employer Discrimination

  1. This is great, I totally agree. I’ve been struggling to get a job for years since I left university due to not having enough experience. It’s true that experience of the role doesn’t necessarily mean you are any good at it, I’m sick of employers being so narrow minded and expecting people to ‘hit the ground running’ (the most over used phrase in job adverts). If I was an employer (keep dreaming, I can’t even be an employee 😦 ) I’d definitely hire some young people as most will be so grateful to have a job at last they will work hard.

  2. It is unfair and a total waste of time to interview someone whose experience is obvious from their CV, then tell them they don’t have enough experience! My theory is that because unemployment is rife a lot of experienced people are trading down in order to move on or to get a job after redundancy. So people are applying for jobs that are well below their skillset in order to be employed.

    And employers tend to pick people with experience, even when the job doesn’t need it, because it feels like a safer bet. When I was last working I had a row with my boss over a role we were recruiting for. The skills didn’t even require A levels, but he put a degree as essential in order to filter out the hundreds of applicants we would have got otherwise. We eventually employed someone in their 30s with a PhD for what was a low level admin role that could have gone to someone else. He was very good – very grateful for the job and quickly bored and frustrated with it. And boss was happy he got more bang for his buck.

    I’ve also been on interview panels where one person has shown up with a skill that wasn’t on the spec and the interviewer has been sold on the idea of using that skill even though it wasn’t in the job description in the first place. Then every subsequent interviewee gets compared to this person with ‘extra’ skills and unsurprisingly is found lacking. Frustrating to watch.

    1. Totally, it’s a bit of a lottery recently. My other half was recently contacted out of the blue on LinkedIn by a company wanting to know if he’d be interested in a position with them, he spent ages putting together his application and they didn’t even interview him on the grounds that he didn’t have the right experience…

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