How to Prevent Age Discrimination During the Recruitment Process

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
October 20, 2020
min read

3 Cost-Free Ways to Improve Diversity Now

What is age discrimination?

Age discrimination - also known as ageism - is the act of discriminating against or stereotyping individuals based on their age.

When did age discrimination become illegal in the UK?

Age is listed as a protected characteristic under The Equality Act 2010. This means that it is unlawful to treat someone differently because of their age.

This law came into force on 1st October 2012.

Ageism in the workplace

Ageism in the workplace most commonly affects older employees.

Employers may neglect to hire or pass someone up for promotion because of their age.

Here are a few of the common stereotypes that exist around older workers: 

  • Less capable of problem-solving
  • More expensive
  • Poor memory
  • Slow to learn
  • Technophobic


All of which have been proven to be myths.

Age discrimination during the recruitment process

Ageism in hiring often takes the form of candidates being rejected due to being ‘overqualified’

Have you ever deemed someone as being overqualified?

Well, that’s age discrimination!

By dismissing someone just because they have more experience than is required, you’re making a lot of assumptions…

And we all know what assumptions are the mother of!

A more experienced candidate could be applying for the job for any number of reasons - and age alone shouldn’t be a reason not to hire someone.

If anything, this surplus of experience should be seen as a bonus, not a cause for concern.

Ageism doesn’t just happen towards the end of the process, even the words you use in your job description can have an impact on the diversity of the candidates who apply.

Without even being conscious of it, you could be signalling that you’re looking for a specific type of candidate - and so older talent will qualify themselves out.

Pricewaterhouse Coopers’ 2015 survey found that only 8% of organisations addressed or planned to address age as a dimension of diversity and inclusion in their talent strategies.

Here’s how to make sure you’re in that 8% by fighting ageism in hiring.

7 Ways to prevent age discrimination during the recruitment process 

1. Use a ‘blind’ process

Perhaps the simplest way to prevent ageism in hiring is to remove all bias from the process.

Full disclosure: that’s what we do here at Applied. We built a blind hiring platform that removes all identifying information from applications and replaces CVs with a predictive, anonymous assessment. 

Instead of a pile of CVs, hirers score answers to ‘work samples’ - job-specific questions designed to test how candidates would think and work in the role.

You don’t have to use a platform like ours, we gave away our entire screening process here.

2. Write inclusive job descriptions

Certain words and phrases can give the impression that you’re looking to hire someone who ‘fits a bill’.

So, avoid using any terms that may suggest a younger candidate.

A good place to start would be to give any terms like ‘ninja’ or ‘rock star’ the chop.

Needless to say, you should also ditch any explicit references to age/ experience - like ‘young’ or ‘recent graduates.’

We wrote this guide on inclusive job descriptions. 

3. Don’t put a cap on experience

Believe it or not, years of experience isn’t nearly as important as you think.

According to this metastudy, education and experience aren’t actually predictive of ability. 

Ditching experience requirements altogether may seem like a daunting prospect, which is completely understandable. 

However, if you want to combat ageism in hiring, you should at least make sure there is no maximum number of years - as this suggests that anyone with more experience than that would fall into the dreaded ‘overqualified’ category.

4. Track age as a diversity metric 

You can’t change what you don’t measure - and the same applies to hiring for diversity.

If you want to take a real stand against age discrimination, then you should be collecting diversity data.

If you can see where the drop-off points are for certain demographics, you can hone in on those points and see if there’s any questions or tasks that are disadvantaging a particular group.

It goes without saying that if you want to ultimately prevent ageism, you’ll need to make sure this is one of the things you ask candidates.

Make sure you let candidates know why this data is collected, and that it’ll only ever be used at an aggregate level.

5. Make use of referrals

For the most part, employee referrals are something to be wary of when it comes to diversity and discrimination.

This is because referred candidates tend to be of a similar demographic to the referrer.

However, you can use this to your advantage.

Try asking any older employees or associates you already know to refer people from their networks to improve the age diversity of your initial candidate pool.

6. Focus on skills, not specific technology

It’s pretty common for job descriptions to list a bunch of software that candidates should be familiar with.

Whilst some technology might be essential for the role, chances are most of them are just ‘nice-to-haves.’

If the software can be easily learned, then does it really need mentioning?

Instead, focus on the core skills that someone in the role would require.

Most software can be learned, but core skills can take years to develop.

7. Rethink culture fit 

Culture fit is essentially a test of how well someone ‘fits in.’

The problem with this is that any culture fit assessment becomes a simple test of how like everyone else someone is - which harms diversity.

Look for what someone can add to the culture, rather than their conformity to it.

An older candidate is unlikely to pass a standard ‘culture fit’ test in a younger company, but they may bring something unique and valuable to the team because of this difference.

Here at Applied, we’re passionate about improving diversity. We designed the Applied platform to remove bias from hiring, so that the best person get’s the job, regardless of background. 

You can gen up on how we re-built the hiring process via our resources or see for yourself and request a demo of our recruitment platform.