"This is an excellent opportunity for a recent college graduate looking to get their start in automotive!!” reads a recent job posting on LinkedIn.
"The ideal candidate is a digital native that is fueled by big ideas, driven by measurable results and is inspired to lead,” says another posting, also on LinkedIn, for a mid-level marketing position at Amazon.
"Current College Students — Now Hiring Product Demonstrators!” says a third ad, from a company that specializes in product demonstrations and wants candidates with flexible hours.
The common thread through these three postings: Each uses age-biased language that is discouraged by advocates for older workers and in some cases could be legal evidence of discrimination.
More than half a century after a federal law was passed to give older adults a fair chance at competing for job openings, employers — either by design or out of carelessness — continue to post jobs in ways that suggest bias against older applicants.
The federal government has warned employers against using terms like “recent college graduate” or “college student” in postings because they could be considered evidence of age bias. But a search conducted by AARP in October on three major sites for job postings — LinkedIn, Indeed.com and Monster.com — turned up thousands of want ads that use these phrases.
LinkedIn had 4,749 job postings with the term “recent college graduate,” Indeed had 1,124, and Monster had 513. The numbers are a small fraction of the millions of job openings posted online, but they still represent thousands of instances in which older candidates might not have received a fair shot at a job.
The fact that these terms appear so frequently despite clear guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that they may be violations of federal anti-discrimination law suggests that many employers are either unaware of or indifferent to the regulations. But older job seekers, who account for more than 20 percent of the nation's workforce — up from 13 percent just 20 years ago, and still rising — are likely to pick up on these signals and decide not to apply.
"That's why those terms were put on the list when the regulation was drafted,” says Raymond Peeler, an attorney for the office of legal counsel at the EEOC. “The thinking was that they would discourage older workers from applying because it implies that the employers are looking for younger workers.”
Age discrimination in hiring has two main causes, experts say. First, employers incorrectly assume that older workers will cost them more in salary, benefits or both. Second, they often may think, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in 2007, that “young people are just smarter.”
Mark Goldstein was laid off from his cybersecurity job in 2017 and has since seen thousands of ads seeking “recent college graduates.”
"Every bone in your body says, ‘Your chances of getting this job are practically zero, because they are biased against older employees',” Goldstein says. “But you try anyway."
Goldstein has unsuccessfully applied for many openings, including for a large national company, during his ongoing job search.
"I did not hide the fact that I had graduated over four decades ago because I wanted them to know that I had all the requirements that they listed in terms of skills and experience,” he says. “But the one thing that I couldn't do was to be a recent college graduate. I heard almost immediately that I was rejected."
He has filed a complaint with the EEOC.
Is Bill Gates, 64, tech savvy?
Beyond the terms the EEOC specifically warns against, employers sometimes use code words in job postings to imply a preference for younger candidates. Think “cultural fit,” “tech savvy,” “go-getter,” “high energy.”