Age bias and forms: Illinois gets curious

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“Attorney General Lisa Madigan today sent letters to six national career and job search companies over potential age discrimination violations in setting age requirements for job seekers searching career opportunities.” That’s from a press release sent out on March 2, 2017, from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The letter was sent to Beyond.com, CareerBuilder, Indeed Inc., Ladders Inc., Monster Worldwide Inc. and Vault, requesting information about the way they handle resume creation and age. Not sure why they left out LinkedIn (or included Ladders, for that matter), but I guess you have to start somewhere.

So what’s the problem? In a nutshell, the forms these sites use have arbitrary restrictions on the dates that can be entered when providing experience and skill info. “In one example, a company provided 1980 as the earliest possible choice for users’ education or previous employment start dates, barring anyone who is older than 52 from full use of the company’s services. Other sites used dates ranging from 1950 to 1970 as cutoffs.”

Can we say bad site design? You can just imagine the programmer sitting in front of his/her screen, thinking: ‘surely no one would have relevant data before 1950! That’s like the dark ages, dude.’

There’s another perspective here as well. Are the dates relevant at all? Should candidates be required to include them? On the one hand, a more recent date tied to a degree or skill could imply that the candidate is more ‘up to date’ on the latest techniques, technologies, and so on. But on the other hand – as a honest-to-God English major can attest – dates and degrees can be meaningless. It’s what you can do that matters.

But what is really at the root of this dust-up is something more fundamental: the HR and recruiting world still works several decades behind the ‘real world’. They live in an environment where resumes matter, where dates matter, where your alma mater matters, and where your work history is only as good as your last certification. Job boards serve this world. And thus…dates. We like to think that candidates are hired on the basis of rational thought, clear assessment, and unwavering focus on ‘getting the job done’. But that is often not the case. If you’re too old, fat, female, black, poor, smelly, or shifty, you won’t get the job. Because…people aren’t rational. They hire on their biases. It’s that simple.

Back to the Attorney General, though: come on, job boards, this is an easy fix. Expand your form, don’t assume, and make your programmers test their product on real people. Please.

NOTE: Hat tip to Steven Rothberg of CollegeRecruiter who pointed me to this. His site is an example of one that doesn’t require dates for education or experience, fyi.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Joe

    Agree wholeheartedly that job seekers should have the ability to not enter dates. And, we do not require that a date be entered for people creating a portfolio on Beyond, and we advise job seekers–as do most career advocates–to showcase your most recent, relevant experience, and to consider not listing dates for education. The usability questions is interesting–since in a drop down list, usability is also impacted by how many items that you have to scroll through. Of course, the vast majority of applications require a recent resume, so the job seeker has the ability to present themselves the way they see fit.

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