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Since I originally started writing this page, the job market turned sour; so some of the advise here might not be currently appropriate. Also, TRW no longer exists, having been taken over by Northrop Grumman.
After writing Recruiting Mistakes Made by Employers…, I not only remembered another mistake the employers make, but I also finally got a job. Both events are noteworthy.
First, the additional mistake:
When did you graduate high school?
When did you graduate college?
Before offering you employment, these questions are not only wrong; they might even be illegal. It is definitely against the law to ask a prospective employee how old he or she is. Since most students graduate high school when they are 17 or 18 years old, all you have to do is subtract 18 from the year of graduation to be within a year or two of a person's year of birth. Similarly, most bachelors degrees are received when a student is 22 or 23; subtract 22 to get very near the year of birth.
Age discrimination is real. It is also very hard to fight. Making the problem worse, employers have discovered that the penalties for getting caught are minimal. Unlike racial and gender discrimination where large punitive damages are often awarded by the courts, the law generally limits damages to lost wages in an age-discrimination lawsuit. And today, we have a justice on the U. S. Supreme Court who, while head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, deliberately held up over 20,000 age discrimination complaints until the statute of limitations expired. (Anita Hill was a diversion; Clarence Thomas committed an act of legal malpractice that should have had him disbarred.)
Over the phone, during a pre-interview screening, asking these questions is absolutely wrong. On an employment application, it is still questionable. When a written offer of employment is made, however, then the employer should even be allowed to request a school transcript.
How do you respond to these questions?
If you are within ten years of the requested date, don't make a fuss. Be honest, and tell then when you graduated.
If more than ten years has passed since you left school, do not answer. I didn't put the year I graduated from UCLA on my resume. Offer to sign a release for the prospective employer to obtain a transcript, but do not offer to submit the request to the school yourself. The request usually has to have a check attached and will take a few weeks. By putting the burden on the employer, you delay giving them the date and also avoid an expense. Effectively, you discourage the employer from pursuing an answer. In the meantime, you imply that you have nothing to hide about your education and you appear very cooperative.
If they still press you for an oral answer or complain that you omitted this very important information from your employment application, politely explain that age discrimination is illegal and that they can tell your age from the date of graduation. Anyway, do you really want to work for a company that makes such a big deal over such a minor issue?
TRW — my last employer before retirement — made none of the mistakes about which I have written. They did not have a blind ad. Instead, I got a call from someone with whom I had worked several years ago. He heard from a mutual friend that I was unemployed and asked me to send him my resume. (This made the third time in my career — out of six jobs total — that I became employed through networking. The three networked jobs combined resulted in 32 years of employment. Networking works.)
TRW requested neither my salary history nor my Social Security number before the interviews. They did not give me an employment application until all interviews were done; then they also gave me an envelope and told me to fill out the application at home. (They made one mistake in that I had to put a stamp on the envelope, but I forgive them the 32¢ (first-class postage back in 1997).) The application asked about my education but not about when I was in school. (In 1996, I saw many applications that asked the date of my schooling. In 1997, the only companies that asked for the date also committed several other mistakes that, combined, made me sorry I ever thought of working there.)
When someone finally asked me about what kind of salary I wanted, it was during a phone call, just after he said: "If we were to mail you an offer of employment …" Within four days of that phone call, I received a written offer of employment at TRW, with a starting salary $2,000 more than I requested!
In the meantime, I had also interviewed at Amgen, which was much, much closer to my home than TRW and had (and still has) a very good reputation as an employer. Those interviews were very positive. When I received the offer from TRW, I called some friends who worked at Amgen to have them discretely inquire about my status. The feedback was that, of all candidates interviewed for the position, I was rated the highest — except by the manager to whom I would be reporting. The reality was that she had already chosen the person she wanted to hire before the recruiting process ever began and was going through the motions merely to meet the demands of her superiors and the company policies. I accepted TRW's offer. Shortly thereafter, I heard that the Amgen manager who had rigged her recruiting had left that company.
Out of all the companies where I interviewed during my second four months of unemployment, two really upset me. I took my own advice and decided I would never, ever work at either of them. I wrote letters withdrawing from consideration, explaining that I was accepting a very attractive offer of employment from another company (without naming TRW). I included a brief description of how their Human Resources people were unacceptably demanding regarding my salary history and Social Security number. In one letter, I mentioned how — at that company — they required me to fill out an employment application without any prior warning and without providing a proper place to write. I mailed these letters to the managers who interviewed me, with a comment that with the job market now improving [at that time] they would find truly talented employees refusing to be interviewed under these conditions.
Two days after mailing the letters, I got a call from a recruiting agency. Although I had already accepted an offer of employment, I listened to what the recruiter had to say. The job he described sounded familiar. I asked him where the employer was located. Then I correctly guessed the name of the employer. It was where I had mailed one of those two letters. I told the recruiter that the company did not have enough money to pay me to work for them and why he would have a very difficult time finding any one willing to put up with their demands. (It sure was nice to have a job in my hand and be able to be honest like that.)
I also sent very polite letters to all others who interviewed me but who never gave me any feedback. I explained that I had to withdraw from consideration as an employee because I had accepted an offer from another company. I concluded by saying that my conscience required me to notify them so that they would not expend any more effort evaluating me. Several of these companies — including one of the two "nasties" — really had no understanding that I was telling them: "Don't bother me; I already have a job!" Instead, they responded as if I were asking for my status; they sent me letters regretfully informing me that they had selected other candidates for their positions.
29 January 2004
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