Are Knowledge Workers Really Past It at 40 and Toast at 50?
Wednesday, July 08, 2009 at 05:50 AM EDT
Some time ago I spoke to a technology recruiter who told me he wouldn’t dare proposing anyone over 40 to his clients.
The recruiter in question was well past this particular age and quite shamefaced, but he said clients just don’t want to see older faces waiting outside the interview room.
Information technology companies and users appear to be among the worst offenders for this, closely followed by public relations, media and telecom companies. However in some ways they are just more honest and upfront about their prejudices. Age discrimination is not restricted to these industries, you’ll find it just about everywhere, I know of one person applying to work in a department store being turned down for being too old. She was in her 40s.
Before going any further, I should disclose that I personally passed the big five-zero barrier a few months ago. I’m not complaining about my circumstances, as far as I know, most editors don’t care much about the age of their freelance journalists – in my business other factors matter.
However, I am concerned about the feedback I get from people of a similar age who read my writing on the subject.
It’s worth putting this invisible age barrier into some kind of meaningful context. People my age are not actually that old. While those of us who have just passed 50 might have been alive in the 1960s and probably can hum more than a dozen Beatles tunes, I didn’t come of age until after the Sex Pistols and the Clash appeared on the scene. One of my first printed stories was an interview with The Stranglers.
Admittedly my early years in journalism were spent hammering on a manual typewriter, but my first paying job was on an already established personal computer magazine. And yes, it is true that the last time I looked at a line of programming code, it was written in Pascal.
On the other hand, I should point out I’m a good four years younger than Bill Gates – does anyone out there regard him as over the hill?
Maybe they do. After all, he has retired. And the people recruiting staff for Microsoft probably would almost certainly regard Mr Gates as too old for employment.