Tag Archives: Age Discrimination

The Role of the Recruiter

In theory, the recruiter is supposed to do objective assessments of job applicants. However, since we were three years old, we have been assessing others many times a day, and the assessments have been totally out of personal interest, everything but objective. The way we assess others has been programmed deep into our brains. We usually don’t understand what we do and why we do as we do. Can we reprogram our brains to do objective assessments of others? In this article I will address some problems in the role of the recruiter. 

Modifying the Image of Others to Suit Ourselves

Maybe you remember the argument “My father is better than your father” from when you were three years old and played in a sandbox.

Most of us constantly compare ourselves to others. We want to feel that we are as good as the person we meet, or better. If someone is perceived as better in some way than we are, we want to do something about it. This might be called equity theory in the psychology book, or it is something similar. You can recognize this in nearly every transaction with others.

One thing we can do is to think of some way the other person is inferior to us. If we don’t find any, we can simply make one up – A woman sees a woman much more beautiful than she is and imagines her as a whore. The effect of this in the recruitment situation would be that the interviewer thinks of the applicant as a whore, and  that she will not be given the job.

Another thing we can do is to find up some compensating sacrifice. A woman sees a woman much more beautiful than she is and imagines that she had to work hard to get this beautiful. She could be this beautiful herself if she wanted, she just prefer to do other things then spending her time on her looks. The effect of this could be that the interviewer thinks of the applicant as spending a lot of time on her looks and maybe as less motivated to work hard.

Another thing we could  do is to choose to not recognize this good feature. This is called selective perception in the psychology book. Someone says she had better grades than we had and we just chose to forget it. She can tell her life story and we just remember the things that we wanted to hear. The effect of this is that after the job interview the interviewer might not at all have recognized important qualifications the applicant told about. This would diminish the applicants chances to get the job.

Aggression

We compete with people we meet for scarce resources. The means of competition, the weapons, is not usually muscle or real weapons, it is things like how much we know, how clever we are, how beautiful we are, how much power we have and how socially competent we are, things we assess during the job interview.

The scientific base of this is ethology. I read research made by Konrad Lorentz. He wrote a lot of books, mainly about birds. I read some and scanned the rest for comments about humans. I used the information to understand human interaction, but at the time I did not find relevant science about humans. There is a field called Human Ethology which will probably describe this. So, this is not science, it is mostly my own interpretation of everyday experience described in terms from ethology.

When someone uses their weapons, we get excited. If excitement gets high, two things can happen, if the other person is a possible mating partner we can get horny, if not, we get angry.

What can happen during the job interview is that the more good things the applicant tells about herself, the angrier the interviewer gets. Since the interviewer has the power this might end with serious derogation of the applicant, which will then not get the job.

This can easily get out of hand. The applicant tells something good about herself, the interviewer derogates the applicant, which then with excited voice tells things in which she really excels, on which follows even more serious derogation.

Note that this behavior is basically instinct. We are all born with this behavior. We can not change it however much we want, but if we understand what happens we might be able to control the situation and control ourselves. We might be able to not let the feelings affect our assessment.

The difference between the interview situation and other meetings is that the procedure forces the applicant to say good things about herself and that the interviewer has the formal power to always win by not giving the applicant the job.

During the interview the applicant is forced to tell good things about herself, but if she does, she is attacked and will not get the job. Someone who is not talented enough to make the interviewer feel threatened will probably get the job.

In theory, the cause of the difficulty of people over 40 to get a job could be that they are not seen as suitable mating partners and that all interviewers then get angry during the interview.

We have an instinct to help and protect children. This might cause us not to get angry at people who are perceived as young, and increase their chances to get the job.

For an interviewer skilled in derogating applicants these situations can be very rewarding. The more powerful applicants she derogates, the more powerful and important she feels.

On the other hand giving a job to someone who will get higher wages and higher status than the interviewer would be extremely unpleasant. I think the innate instinct is to hinder anyone to pass you on the social ladder.

The result of this might be that the recruiter hinders the talents and recommends the non-talents, that young people are preferred and people over 40 are avoided.

Just World Fallacy

The just world fallacy is a belief that the world treats everyone fairly. If something bad happens to a person he must be bad or have done something wrong. The believer thinks that since he himself is good and skilled, he is protected. Nothing bad can ever happen to him.

The science behind this is research by  Melvin J. Lerner.

Since the believer ties his personal safety to this belief, it is virtually impossible to get him to change it.

An example of the just world fallacy is the belief that an unemployed person either is not able to do a job or don’t want to do a job. In either case he could not be employed.

The result would be that the recruiter does not even try to make an objective assessment of unemployed applicants. Their applications are immediately sorted out.

The just world fallacy can cause the applicants to be totally reevaluated. When someone gets unemployed, in the recruiters view his knowledge, skills and abilities suddenly have no value. When the same person a year later charges lots of money as a consultant, in the recruiters view the knowledge, skills and abilities have a lot of value again.

Projecting Responsibility for Other Peoples Thoughts, Feelings and Actions on the Applicant

This is also Just World Fallacy. The thought here is that if anything bad happened the applicant, he must have done something wrong. When the recruiter gets information about bad things that happened to the applicant in his life he creates a bag of imagined faults on the personality of the applicant which is necessary in the recruiters world model as explanation of these bad things that happened.

If someone raped you, fired you, bullied you or run you over by a car it must have been all your fault, and the bag of personality faults which you carry with you explains why these things happen to you. This is what the recruiter thinks. He thinks that if your personality was good, nothing bad could ever happen to you.

The result of this is that a person with serious imagined personality faults is not hired.

The Jante Psychological Game

The Jante psychological game is an extreme strategy to magnify yourself and belittle others. The person in the Jante role, Jante, avoids giving others any recognition whatsoever. They are not even worth a look.

I don’t know of any scientific description of this. There is a book  of Aksel Sandemose, A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, which describes at least something similar. There are books like Games People Play by Eric Berne about psychological games. This is my own interpretation based on everyday personal experience.

When Jante evaluates an applicant he would carefully find arguments of why each one of the qualifications of the applicant is not worth anything at all. It would be nearly impossible to make him change his mind on even one of the qualifications.

Jante could tell you about each of your qualifications, why they are all completely without value or relevance, but he could also be quiet, just lacking in all kinds of emotion and recognition related to your qualifications.

The result if the recruiter plays this role is that the applicant in the other role, which I call Clever, will not get the job, since all his qualifications are found to be without value. There might be applicants against whom the recruiter in the Jante role does not play this game. Maybe younger, less educated, less experienced and/or less intelligent persons who are not able to threaten the recruiter in any way whatsoever. Someone of them might be selected for the job.

Other Cognitive Biases and Fallacies

Heavy books in social cognition are filled with biases we have and faults we do when we assess others. Many of these cognitive faults are done also by recruiters. Maybe some people are able to see other people as they are without doing these cognitive faults. Others who wants to do objective assessments have to read these heavy books, learn and learn to really understand the contents. Then we have learn to use the understanding in our lives when we assess others.

 

The Uncorrupt Bureaucracy

The uncorrupt bureaucracy is a hierarchical organisation structure  where the managers work for the organisation, not for themselves.

One of my theories about how to create this organisation form is that managers should be like the other employees, in a role where they are supposed to reach agreements with the members of their group about the work. If they are not able to reach an agreement there is a conflict resolution mechanism to assure that the decision taken is in the best interest of the organisation as a whole. The conflict could be solved in a group with labor union and principal representatives, for example. The manager could be allowed to take temporary decisions, valid until the conflict is resolved.

According to my experience, in the corrupt bureaucracy, the persons recruited are nearly always less powerful than the recruiting manager – younger, less experienced, less educated and/or less intelligent. Most often the person recruited is also less powerful than everyone in the group or at least less powerful than all involved in the recruitment process.

In the uncorrupt bureacracy we should instead recruit the best person for the job. We should try to assure that the recruiters and the persons involved in the recruitment are not able to, through politics, manipulate the process so that the person recruited is less powerful than they are.

My best idea of how to do this is to use carefully selected recruiters and senior, very intelligent experts in the field to take the hiring decision.

It is important that the recruiter is able to see people as they are, without manipulating the picture to suit his own personality. I think the recruiter must also be an experienced and very intelligent person with a good education. I think his skills as recruiter should be approved by experts.

 

The Currupt Bureaucracy

We are all overwhelmed with information. It is not possible to remember all, to use all this information to change our world view, our values and our behavior. To retain stability I think we all basically assume that everything we know is correct, that we know everything we need to know, that we do everything in the best possible way and that no one can hurt us because we know everything we need to know about our surroundings. We think we are omniscient, infallible and invulnerable. We are only able to change at a certain extent. We change if we want to or if we are forced.

In normal relations with others we can search information and use it to change ourselves or we can be forced by others to change ourselves.

If one person in a relationship is much more powerful than the other, the more powerful person often uses this power to resist change. He can then not be forced to change. He can also use his power to force others to change even if they are not wrong, don’t do anything wrong or do not act in a way that is dangerous. In my experience this is what managers often do. They force their world view on others. I see this as a kind of corruption on a personal relationship level. The manager is supposed to have normal relations with his subordinates in which both are prepared to change if they are wrong, but instead he misuses his power and forces his subordinates to treat him as if he was omniscient, infallible and invulnerable.

I use the term Corrupt Bureaucracies to describe organisations in which managers behave this way.

In a natural group, like a group of friends, the leader is usually leader because he has the support of powerful members of the group.

In a natural group challenges against the leader is common. If he loses the support of the group he is not a leader any more. If he is wrong, he has to change.

In the corrupt bureaucracy if you question the leaders omniscience, infallibility or invulnerability the leader uses his power to resist change.

Leaders in corrupt bureaucracies are afraid of losing their power, so when they recruit, they do not select the person who is best at doing the job, they select someone considerably less powerful than themselves. Someone who is younger, less intelligent, less experienced and/or less educated.

The result of this hiring strategy is that at the bottom of the hierarchy the employees have to be very much younger, less intelligent, less experienced and/or less educated than the chief executive officer. According to my experience, if the hierarchy is high, the recruits are seldom able to  even do the job. The incompetence requirements are also reflected in the wages. For the wages paid it is often not possible to get anyone able to do the job. To get the job done, a contractor has to be used.

The contractor is less of a threat to the manager than an employee, because, at least in Sweden, employees are hard to fire but contracts can normally be terminated on short notice.

Contractors are also supposed to have a narrow view on their specific task. They are not supposed to build relations and have opinions about things unrelated to this task. If they stay in their role they are not a threat to the manager.

When the subordinates are not allowed to voice any criticism of their manager it also means that the manager has a high degree of freedom. We often get real corruption.

Sourcing is done from the sources and at the prices which give the highest kickbacks into the managers private economy.

The manager recruits sons and daughters of his neighbors and friends. The subordinates have to spend considerable amounts of their time to teach them the job.

Sometimes even consultants are related to the manager and some of them have little experience too. Subordinates even have to spend time on teaching consultants the job.

 

You turned 40. You can’t get a job any more. What can you do?

I met a lot of people who had an excellent career, after turning 35 or 40 for some arbitrary reason lost their job and to their utter surprise found it very difficult to get a new one. This is about how they solved the problem. 

For very many, the solution was to work as a contractor. In Sweden it is difficult to fire an employee, but it is normally easy to terminate a contract. This means that the power of a contractor is less of a threat to a hiring manager. Contractors also have a code of conduct. They are supposed to only do their own work, not build alliances or have opinions about things unrelated to this work.

It is fascinating that people can go unemployed for a long time. They are unable to get an employment, yet if they look for contracts, they can get very good contracts. One of them got a contract as production manager of a big share exchange. I guess he could charge at least the double compared to normal senior level contracts.

One got a contract in the Norwegian oil industry as a chemical risk engineer. Last time I saw him he had been on contract for 10 years and was charging 3 million SEK a year. Pretty good for someone who couldn’t find employment.

Another one had been an employee of Ericsson, but was fired. He is now back in Ericsson, working as a senior level consultant. Last time I saw him he had been on contract there constantly for three years. Himself , he would very much prefer to be employed with a normal engineers salary, at maybe a third of the cost for Ericsson, yet Ericsson prefers to hire him as a contractor. He is an expert in his field. Ericsson has to hire him.

A person I know worked for free as a contractor for several months. He was paid for a week of work but got good references. After this he got new contracts as technical project manager.

Another common solution was to become a teacher. Many found a new career as a teacher, some of them after additional education. My theory is that age discrimination is low in education and hospitals, and that the reason is that they are what Henry Mintzberg would call Professional Bureaucracies, which have very low hierarchies. According to my theory this means people at the bottom of the hierarchy are allowed to be more competent. In practice the teacher is his own manager. It is difficult for teachers to threaten the position of the headmaster.

One person I met, with a M Sc degree in electrical engineering and many years of successful career started on a new 7 year education to physician at the age of 45.

People within sales often had great difficulties. The problem generally is that products on which you can earn significant income often have long sales cycles. Many experienced salesmen are reluctant to restart their career as salesmen of simple products.

One person started working as a contractor with sales.

I think selling consultants or working with recruitment is sometimes a solution, because the sales cycles are short and the income still significant.

Some people started companies. One helped housing associations buy heat exchange facilities.

A person I know has been trying to start a new business with construction and sales of floating chemical factories for 10 years. When I last met him they still had not made any sale and he was running out of funds.

A group of people I know tried to start a business with low volume design and production of circuit cards. They did not manage, but when the designers started designing, salesmen started to sell and project managers started to lead projects at least one designer and the project manager found other work as contractors. I think if you update your knowledge and start working in your line of work it is easier to get a contract.

Several others tried to start companies but did not manage.

Well, some people actually got an employment after considerable time. The most prominent example is a 62 year old production manager in the food industry got a new good job as a production manager. He told me he had managed 157 projects during his long career.

Another person found work through contacts in his ice hockey club, but with wages about a half of his previous wages. He wanted to be employed. I think he would have easily got contracts at senior level. His income would have been at least tripled.

One person had been a product manager at Ericsson. An excellent engineer with 10 years as a product manager. He had a sales job in a small startup company last time I saw him. Unsecure, low wages and hard work, from what I think. What I think is interesting is that this guy found new friends and is working in what I would call the “new economy” of small companies and contractors. I guess in the long run he will be doing great.