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I've been asked in a couple of interviews what year I graduated from college. Of course, I think an offer should be made contingent on showing proof of degree with transcripts that will indicate graduation date.

One of the jobs I landed, so it wasn't a big deal. That was several years ago. I didn't get the most recent one. Personally, it was a sign the person didn't know what they were doing and probably did me a favor. There were several indicators that I would not like the job.

Is this a form of age discrimination I need to look out for in the future?

EDIT: Just had another one like this. I usually list relavent experience going back ~12 yrs to keep the resume length shorter and was asked if this was my first job (refering to the oldest position listed). To top it off, the person refered to me as "... a young man like you." It was a phone interview.

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It is not appropriate for them to ask you that, but proving age discrimination can be incredibly difficult. I feel your pain, not so much on age discrimination but companies that engage in legally questionable activities. Sometimes it really doesn't directly affect you but when you see illegal things going on around you it really crushes morale. –  maple_shaft Jul 15 '12 at 19:58
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2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Many resources that discuss permissible questions state that asking when a candidate graduated from high school is not a permissible question. Typically, a person is about 18 when they graduate high school, so knowing a high school graduation year can be used to get pretty close to someone's actual age. However, I didn't see any examples or cases where someone was asked their year of college graduation, but I would suspect that it's harder to obtain someone's age with it - there are different length programs, people graduate at different rates due to any number of circumstances, people who hold multiple degrees, and so on. The general rule of thumb from an interviewing perspective is to not ask any questions that can be perceived as being used to determine someone's age.

To me, questions about marital status, age, religion, citizenship or national origin tend to be red flags. The hiring process is a first interaction with a company, so if they are careless with the law in this regard, that could be indicative of other problems in the organization. However, if you suspect some form of illegal things happening, it's more appropriate to consult a lawyer who specializes in the nuances of this aspect of the law.

It should be noted that the US federal law that prohibits age discrimination, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, only protects individuals of at least 40 years of age and only in companies with 20 or more employees. Individual states might extend protections to a wider portion of the population.

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There is more variation in age at college graduation, but the graduation year still sets a lower bound on age that's pretty reliable, child prodigies aside. If the candidate graduated in 1980 it's safe to assume he's over 40, which (in the US) is the threshold for age discrimination. –  Monica Cellio Jul 16 '12 at 15:26
    
I don't know if they were trying to determine if I was 22 or 30, but it was obvious I'm over 40. –  JeffO Sep 13 '12 at 12:45
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I feel the pain - and I can see how there's a definite typical flow that lines up to the general rule of thumb that most folks are under 25 when they finish their undergrad (and even their grad work if they have a conjoined degree or streamlined system).

However, I have to say there are also valid reasons for asking this - at least in the computer industry - but perhaps in many engineering or science related areas - there's a big difference in the type of education you received in various decades. If the technical worker hasn't kept up with with these innovations, it's valid to say he isn't qualified to work in an workplace that relies upon the latest and greatest technologoies.

That's not to say that a degree in 1980 isn't a valid credential - especially if follow up education (course work, bootcamps, seminars, self-study, on-the-job education) supports the fact that this person has kept up with the trends and best practices. But the interviewer is well within their rights to verify that their is qualifying experience here.

And I'd think that any battle over ageism would take this into account. I don't think you can reasonably dodge the question without raising red flags about being defensive.

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I was so put off the second time, I said "Why don't you just ask me how old I am?" The person couldn't have missed the experience and recent certification. At this point in my career, my degree isn't very important since it's not even in CS. –  JeffO Sep 13 '12 at 12:48
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