Letters special: are recruiters and HR ageist?

A letter recently published in
Personnel Today highlighting the perception of ageism in recruitment has
triggered a big response from readers. Many believe they have faced
discrimination from recruitment agencies as well as internal HR departments.
This is despite the approach of anti-ageism legislation in 2006. Here we print
a selection of the letters

I empathised with
the letter from the 46 year old who suffered the brunt of ageism. I am 47 and
was made redundant last year and have found it very difficult to get meaningful

I am now in a
personnel-related position where I can recruit, and my instructions to a
recruitment agency would contain the words mature and experienced. With fewer
young people in the marketplace, and people choosing to work longer because of
improved health, it is madness to disregard a resource with the key ingredients
of work ethic, reliability, experience and knowledge.
Does my 30 years of business experience count for nothing against a school
leaver or graduate with no practical experience? It would seem so. Recruitment
agencies are full of 20-somethings who simply cannot relate to older
candidates; all they see is their mum or dad walking in the door.
Employers plump for young people who are brash and full of confidence – they
pay to train them, pay them inflated salaries and then wonder why these
youngsters leave or attempt to blackmail their way into another salary bracket.
It is time HR and recruitment agencies actively attempt to redress this senseless
and upsetting discrimination – studies have shown the older employee is more
productive and committed than their younger colleagues, but sadly, most things
are directed at the young.

Debra Rixon, Personnel admin assistant, ESRI (UK) Ltd

I am a 49 year
old and having been made redundant twice last year, I have found the
recruitment market appalling.
HR and recruitment have much to learn regarding communication and fighting
their corner on ageism, particularly when you consider they are people businesses.
I have had a successful career in financial services over the past 20 years but
it seems experience and maturity count for nothing. Fortunately, there are one
or two recruitment agencies that do care but they are far and away in the
minority. A lot start with good intentions but just fail to deliver.
I have more determination, energy and enthusiasm now than when I was in my 20s,
and I would like to ask ‘why am I being ignored?’.
Harry Geary, via e-mail

There is life
in HR well beyond the age of 46 – I am 57 – but the trick is to be flexible. I
took voluntary redundancy two years ago from a position to which I was
appointed, initially on a short fixed-term contract at the ripe old age of 50,
and since then have continued to work by adopting the following principles:
• Forget blue-chip companies as they tend to be in the vanguard of offloading
the middle aged.
• Focus on short-term contracts, be they interim or locum positions. They
enable you to get your foot in the door and prove what you have got to offer.
• Consider geographical flexibility – a Monday and Friday commute can be less
of a hardship if the role is stimulating and for a limited period.
• Be flexible on sectors – most of my career has been in the private sector but
the public sector seems to be less ageist and more open to taking on private
sector expertise.
When it comes to recruitment agencies, I think we have to bear in mind that
they are, at heart, outfits dedicated to maximising sales income. A good number
are staffed by people who would do equally well in double glazing or
second-hand car sales and interest in the well being of an applicant does not
show up on their radars.

Phil Hodson, Plymouth

I was made
redundant by a large publishing company in December and have mainly relied on HR
agencies to assist me in finding employment. I would very much like to know the
criteria these companies use on their CV database, as time and time again I
have been called to attend an interview only to be told a day later that the
position has been filled. Sometimes it is worse – I receive a standardised
rejection letter that has not even be signed.
Also, it would be nice to be contacted by an HR consultant who has actually
worked in HR and not a high-volume, high-turnover graduate trainee.
I have now secured a very exciting role as the HR manager for a global
cosmetics company, and was placed by McKenzie Douglas in Windermere. The
support and advice they gave really kept me motivated and the question of ‘who
motivates the motivator’ was certainly answered by the consultants – who have
worked in HR for some years.
The bigger the agency is not always the better agency in my opinion, so look
Matt Oliver, Northampton


Marcia Roberts is director of
external relations at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation says:

REC advises its members to
consider all applicants equally (regardless of age) in advance of the changes
to our equality laws. In addition, we have produced a ‘Good Practice Guide’ for
members wishing to promote diversity. Many of our members have joined the Employers’
Forum on Age and many more refuse to accept ageist instructions from their

For example, candidates’
details can be sent with all reference to age removed to prevent so that the
selector cannot inadvertently discriminate – many agencies do this as a matter
of policy.

I would add that in response to
some of your letters, just because a recruitment consultant may be young does
not automatically mean that they will discriminate or that they cannot relate
to older workers – this is an ageist assumption in itself.

If agencies are ignoring older
workers, they do so at their peril. With an ageing population, there are a
wealth of people out there with a multitude of skills and experience to bring
to the workplace. If this valuable resource is ignored then it is bad for
agency business, bad for the job seeker and bad for the UK.


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