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Would it be considered inappropriate/offensive to ask how old someone is before asking them to come in for an interview? And would it be legal/offensive to say someone is considered overqualified for a position due to their work experience?

It might be pertinent to note that all of our submissions are from Craigslist and may or may not be spam. Also, we are located in New Jersey, and have less than 10 employees.

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    This is actually illegal in the US, and I expect other jurisdictions. You will need to clarify your locale. – Telastyn Aug 2 '13 at 20:25
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    This is not only offensive, it is not in your best interests. Why would you want to exclude some of the best talent for something that has no bearing on their ability to do the work? Are you going to fire your current employees when they age out? Were you planning to stop working when you hit 30? This is so far beyond offensive I can't even describe how bad it it. – HLGEM Aug 2 '13 at 20:41
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    So you want unqualifed people instead? Or are you simply too cheap to pay for people who have the experience you want? Or do you want to exploit 20-somethings inability to say no to working 100 work weeks? – HLGEM Aug 2 '13 at 20:41
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    @Garan then you definitely dont need to care about age at all. If you put salary range and requested qualifications on a job board then the process will work itself out – Quinma Aug 2 '13 at 21:13
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    During the 1990s, I spent some time looking through the classified ads in the Philippines, particularly Manila. A fair number of the ads had age constraints, generally specific to 20s and 30s - they weren't interested in hiring anyone over age 40. Anyone asking this question should read some of those ads, and see if they like the overall sound of it. I attempted to read postings that are out there now, and what I found is one has to register and log in to look at them. Whether this is still common practice in that part of the world isn't clear. – Meredith Poor Aug 2 '13 at 21:15
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It depends on where your company is and how large it is. But age discrimination is not allowed in the US under some conditions. If you are in the US, check the EEOC guidelines before engaging in a potentially illegal hiring activity.

As for inappropriate/offensive -- if you have a job for a certain pay and someone is qualified, why eliminate them because of their age? So yes, older workers who may need the work and are certainly capable of doing the work will be offended by your asking. You may certainly ask if they will be willing to continue doing work at a lower level, if they are familiar with your requirements. You can set physical requirements, if appropriate.

If you don't want people who are overqualified, define why you don't want that. Do you not want someone who will quickly end up leaving or someone who will want to transition into a higher level job? Then speak to that in the interview. There are people who are looking for less stress in jobs, have changed careers, or for other reasons may be overqualified or older but are still interested in that particular job. Ideally, a person looking at that job who considers themselves overqualified will address that specifically in the cover letter. But it's certainly valid to ask them in the interview why they think they will be happy in a job that they appear to be overqualified for. Ignore age, try to find the best person for the job, read AskAManager.

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  • Could you elaborate on the "how large your comapany is" part? – PixelArtDragon Aug 2 '13 at 20:44
  • I didn't read all the EEOC rules, but some rules do not apply to companies under a certain number of employees. According to eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/age.cfm, I see something about companies with 20 or more employees. – thursdaysgeek Aug 2 '13 at 21:07
  • But, after reading the EEOC guidelines, I'd consult a lawyer if there were any questions. Or better yet, just stay away from this one. – thursdaysgeek Aug 2 '13 at 21:09
  • EU law is quite similar (Council Directive 2000/78/EC). Age discrimination may be allowed in specific circumstances, in particular in respect to training requirements and time left until retirement age. No exception for small employers. Churches do have an exception for religious discrimination, but like all other employers can't discriminate based on age. – MSalters Aug 5 '13 at 7:00
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Simple answer: Yes.

Why are you looking for people in their early 20's? It seems you should be looking for people that can do a particular job at a particular level of skill and quality. If they can do the job, what difference does age make? If they cannot do the job, what difference does age make? Hire based on their skills and abilities.

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  • Joe, you are correct. It can be illegal to discriminate against those over 40 (assuming certain other conditions are met). I am removing that statement from my answer. Thanks for pointing out the inaccuracy. – John Oglesby Aug 3 '13 at 18:39
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You decide how much you are willing to pay for that job, generally there will be a range even for the exact same position. Shift leads, and supervisors will make even more.

You also decide on the job qualifications: X years doing this, y years doing that, education of Z.

Then you filter the resumes and applications. Ones that don't have the minimum qualifications or are way overqualified never get interviewed. At some point you will discuss salary, that might eliminate some others that need to make more than you are willing to pay.

Notice age was never an issue. If you want the employee to have 2 years of help desk experience using system x, they could be 20 years old, or 70 years old. This could be the start of their career, or it could be their second or third career just to make extra money.

In the US asking about some things is a red flag. You must have a valid reason for knowing a persons age before the hiring decision is made. Requiring that a bartender be over 21 is good, if they are there is no need to even interview them. Discriminating by age is wrong; but establishing before advertising for the position what the requirements are is acceptable.

Some companies will redact candidates names, pictures, names of colleges, and graduation dates from submitted resumes to make sure the people reviewing them aren't biased.

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  • I agree with your points. Saying you must be over a certain age is entirely different then saying you must be under a certain age. There are laws to protect the rights of both the young workers ( under 18 ) and those older then 18. Unless there is a legal requirement for a worker to be a certain age then its likely illegal to ask for the candidates age. – Donald Aug 5 '13 at 12:44
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Other people commented on the situation in the US but it really depends on the culture and some additional remarks might be useful to other readers.

Based on my limited experience, it's pretty common in Asia (they will tell you bluntly it's the only reason they don't hire you because they want supervisors to be older than the people who report to them and expect people to reach a certain level by a certain age or leave). Also in some European countries (say Germany), you resume is expected to include a photograph (probably sounds shocking to folks from the US but it's really like that) and a birth date…

Regarding the “overqualified” part, why is that a concern for you? Are you afraid this person will be bored and leave soon? Have family obligations and not let him or herself be pressured like a fresh college graduate? Ask for too much money? Many people past a certain age find it difficult to find a new job and are very eager to work even if it means making sacrifices in terms of compensations or job contents. Don't rule them out!

In any case, I personally find all this a little unfair and counterproductive but of course that wasn't the question.

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