Too old? Or too qualified?

by on June 7, 2010 · 20 Comments POSTED IN: HR Cafe
inexperienced-college-graduate-260x175.jpg

It’s clearly discriminatory to reject job applicants as “overqualified” if that’s code for being older than you’d like.

But what if a candidate really is overqualified for a job where you specifically want lesser qualifications — and just happens to be older?

Then, according to a recent legal case in Illinois, it’s OK to tell the person thanks but no thanks.

Inexperience wanted
The facts: A 56-year-old man answered an ad inviting recent or soon-to-be college graduates to apply for a training program leading to an entry-level sales job. This applicant told the company he’d graduated almost 30 years earlier, and stressed his two decades of sales and other relevant experience.

He wasn’t hired. He sued for age discrimination, but the court that heard his suit threw it out.

The court said the applicant failed to meet the employer’s job requirements, which included inexperience.

The older applicant insisted that the “recent graduate” language was simply code for “in your 20’s.” Besides, he argued, how could lack of experience be a legitimate job requirement?

But it turned out that the employer had a nondiscriminatory business reason: It had found it was hard to train experienced people in its own system. So it determined that in this case, inexperience would be a real asset: the new hires wouldn’t have to “unlearn” other ways of doing things.

Also helping the employer’s case: The nine people who were hired all fit the description. None had more than a few months of sales experience.

photo credit: Will Hale

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20 Comments on This Post

  1. Bill
    June 7, 2010 - 6:31 pm

    It would be interesting to know if the nine other new hires were in their 20's.

  2. Bill
    June 7, 2010 - 6:31 pm

    It would be interesting to know if the nine other new hires were in their 20's.

  3. Becky
    June 8, 2010 - 9:28 am

    I find it hard to believe that all inexperienced people are easier to teach than all experienced people. I train new hires for my company and I find that it all depends on the person regardless of whether he/she is experienced or not.

  4. Becky
    June 8, 2010 - 9:28 am

    I find it hard to believe that all inexperienced people are easier to teach than all experienced people. I train new hires for my company and I find that it all depends on the person regardless of whether he/she is experienced or not.

  5. Benjamin G. Lipman
    June 8, 2010 - 11:51 am

    I have practiced employment law on both sides – employer and employee – for more than 30 years in Philadelphia. I find the result of this case to be anomolous, I would expect it to be overtutrned on appeal, and I would caution any employer not to rely upon it.

    Hard for me to imagine that an employer would consider lack of experience to be a plus in a job applicant, but if that is what the employer genuinely believes, the employer should be able to affirmatively seek applicants with no experience. On the other hand, advertising for a “recent graduate” IS CODE FOR YOUTHFULNESS and almost every court will see it that way. I not only would be willing to take Plaintiff's case, I have previously handled such a matter.

  6. Benjamin G. Lipman
    June 8, 2010 - 11:51 am

    I have practiced employment law on both sides – employer and employee – for more than 30 years in Philadelphia. I find the result of this case to be anomolous, I would expect it to be overtutrned on appeal, and I would caution any employer not to rely upon it.

    Hard for me to imagine that an employer would consider lack of experience to be a plus in a job applicant, but if that is what the employer genuinely believes, the employer should be able to affirmatively seek applicants with no experience. On the other hand, advertising for a “recent graduate” IS CODE FOR YOUTHFULNESS and almost every court will see it that way. I not only would be willing to take Plaintiff's case, I have previously handled such a matter.

  7. John Singer, Ph.D.
    June 8, 2010 - 1:25 pm

    You know how STUPID it is to argue “It had found it was hard to train experienced people in its own system”? Gee, I wonder if anyone thought of discimination laws necessitating VALID and RELIABLE evidence that it's easier to train people with NO experience? Just stupid. It comes down to ANY executive who wants to cut costs, increase profit, and to hell with quality or error free EXPERIENCED workers. Customer impact? 3 guesses. Executive impact? More profit and bigger bonus incentives.

  8. John Singer, Ph.D.
    June 8, 2010 - 1:25 pm

    You know how STUPID it is to argue “It had found it was hard to train experienced people in its own system”? Gee, I wonder if anyone thought of discimination laws necessitating VALID and RELIABLE evidence that it's easier to train people with NO experience? Just stupid. It comes down to ANY executive who wants to cut costs, increase profit, and to hell with quality or error free EXPERIENCED workers. Customer impact? 3 guesses. Executive impact? More profit and bigger bonus incentives.

  9. Susan
    June 9, 2010 - 4:24 pm

    I understand the company’s point of view of this. We have a unique selling approach that experienced sales people sometimes struggle to learn (in part because they believe they know a better way). We don’t exclude experienced people from our search but it’s certainly a consideration.

  10. Susan
    June 9, 2010 - 4:24 pm

    I understand the company’s point of view of this. We have a unique selling approach that experienced sales people sometimes struggle to learn (in part because they believe they know a better way). We don’t exclude experienced people from our search but it’s certainly a consideration.

  11. Katherine
    June 9, 2010 - 5:06 pm

    A bit harsh John. While I’m sure this happens some of the time, my experience is that successful companies generally act in their own self-interest. Firing, or or refusing to hire, experienced employees is bad business. When it happens, there’s usually another reason, besides discrimination, to explain it.

  12. Susan
    June 9, 2010 - 12:24 pm

    I understand the company's point of view of this. We have a unique selling approach that experienced sales people sometimes struggle to learn (in part because they believe they know a better way). We don't exclude experienced people from our search but it's certainly a consideration.

  13. Susan
    June 9, 2010 - 12:24 pm

    I understand the company's point of view of this. We have a unique selling approach that experienced sales people sometimes struggle to learn (in part because they believe they know a better way). We don't exclude experienced people from our search but it's certainly a consideration.

  14. Katherine
    June 9, 2010 - 1:06 pm

    A bit harsh John. While I'm sure this happens some of the time, my experience is that successful companies generally act in their own self-interest. Firing, or or refusing to hire, experienced employees is bad business. When it happens, there's usually another reason, besides discrimination, to explain it.

  15. Katherine
    June 9, 2010 - 1:06 pm

    A bit harsh John. While I'm sure this happens some of the time, my experience is that successful companies generally act in their own self-interest. Firing, or or refusing to hire, experienced employees is bad business. When it happens, there's usually another reason, besides discrimination, to explain it.

  16. Oneaccord1
    August 27, 2010 - 12:29 pm

    I am in that situation as an attorney. The real deal is, with the current economy no one wants to hire older workers because of the cost of benefits. That is out right discrimination, but the courts will uphold the “inexperienced” code because, lets face it…the decisions are made on the golf course and in election contributions.

  17. Oneaccord1
    August 27, 2010 - 12:29 pm

    I am in that situation as an attorney. The real deal is, with the current economy no one wants to hire older workers because of the cost of benefits. That is out right discrimination, but the courts will uphold the “inexperienced” code because, lets face it…the decisions are made on the golf course and in election contributions.

  18. February 7, 2011 - 11:15 am

    Overqualified job candidates may not be so bad

  19. February 7, 2011 - 11:15 am

    Overqualified job candidates may not be so bad

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