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‘Pick a footy team’: Is this the silver bullet to landing your dream job?

Photo of candidates waiting for a job interview. Selective focus
This is what employers are really looking for, explains Dave Taylor. (Source: Getty)

Here’s the scenario: it’s been a rough morning in the office – you’ve copped a whole stack of emails, and endless calls from stressed out clients.

You’re tired and anxious, but you’ve got a whole afternoon ahead of you dealing with the same stuff.

How do you cope?

This is actually a real question companies are asking job candidates to gauge how well they’ll fit into an organisation.

The recruiter I spoke to who disclosed this also told me that there were two candidates vying for this position (a young candidate and an older job seeker).

The first candidate, the older one, responded by saying he would “engage in some banter in the kitchen with my colleagues.”

He didn’t get the job.

The company told the recruiter he wasn’t a good “cultural fit”.

The company also told the recruiter off the record that “you know what, he's probably not going to be able to engage in the banter in the kitchen with his colleagues because he really won't have too much in common with them to talk about.”

The successful candidate was, you guessed it, younger.

That’s age discrimination right there.

Here’s another example.

A recruiter I spoke to that specialises in placing white collar workers in finance, administration, and technical roles says for many admin and tech-heavy roles companies are blatantly preferencing younger candidates.

Now, again, of course, this is illegal, but it is happening, and it is taking a toll on those who are on the wrong end of it.

Australians aged between 45 and 65 now make up about half of all unemployment support recipients with more than 330,000 on welfare payments as of September last year.

The Age Discrimination Commissioner, Kay Patterson, has ruled out setting age diversity targets but she says her team is working on programs to educate employers on the benefits employing a diverse range of age groups.

Tips for older workers to get the job

So, what about some practical tips to landing a job for older folks who are feeling the discrimination pinch?

I asked two recruiters (same ones as above), and here’s what they came up with:

The first recruiter said older candidates should, “through the interview stage and through their resume speak to the digital question and talk about their capabilities in that area.”

The recruiter says too many candidates are putting their head in the sand and assuming that their years of experience will get them through.

And the digital question doesn’t just relate to having the necessary skills to navigate software or online tools.

It also relates to what people talk about in their spare time, and indeed how they talk. It’s entire conceivable that younger colleagues talk on messenger at lunch rather than going to the kitchen.

Or maybe they don’t talk at all, and just let off steam with a video game, or stream something. Figure out what younger people do in their lunch time and adapt to that!

Meanwhile the second recruiter said be ‘cool’ and take control.

Ask the company 'what particular competencies was I lacking?'

'How would you describe the culture?... and get them to describe it back to you.’

Do you see where this is going? You’ve got to take ownership of the situation.

Call the company and the recruiter out on their decision making. Why have they made the decision they have made? You need to know what you can work on.

Another piece of advice recruiters have given me is to be outspoken with regard to your skills – especially technological skills.

It’s my understanding that companies see older workers and think, ‘he/she is going to expect to have a PA or executive assistant to help with this role.’ The reality of course is that many senior positions that once had PA’s attached to them now do not, and instead senior managers need to be across the software themselves.

Also, re-train!

I hear this over and over again. There are a thousand and one industries so it’s impossible to know who needs what training, but before you apply for a job, work out exactly what skills you need for that job and acquire them.

Indeed work out if there are any extra skills you could bring.

Coming back to being a good “cultural fit”… here’s one practical example one recruiter gave to maybe help someone fit in a bit better:

“Pick a footy team”, the recruiter told me.

“What that means”, he said, is that “if you're going to work in an environment where you've got a lot of people who are interested in AFL, if you've moved to Melbourne, you've got to pick up team.”

And let’s be real, there’s also nothing like a sense of humour to get you across the line. Jokes can come across quite badly but if the mood’s right it can help you kick some goals (excuse the punt… I mean pun).

Let’s face it, anyone’s a good cultural fit if they can make others laugh… right?


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