Too young, too old, just right – The goldilocks recruitment method

Posted by | November 2, 2021 | Employers, Recruiting tips, Retention

The goldilocks recruitment blog header

By Carolyn Brown

In New Zealand (and most other countries), it is illegal to discriminate based on age when employing someone, yet, like others, I have witnessed age discrimination as employers seek to hire the “perfect person” for a role.

Usually, that perfect person falls between the ages of 25 and 45 as employers adopt a goldilocks’ attitude, wanting someone experienced enough so they can hit the ground running, but not so experienced that they might find it challenging to adapt to new technologies or retire in a couple of years. But given that the age you can legally be employed full time is 16 and there is no legal age to retire*, these fairy tale employers may just be making the recruitment process more difficult for themselves in narrowing the margins. Perhaps, even, there wouldn’t be the often talked about shortage in labour, if employers weren’t limiting their search by insisting on only hiring the cream of the crop? Maybe they could make the cream if they also churned the milk themselves, i.e. offered internships, apprenticeships and mentorships.


Avoiding age discrimination when hiring 

There are very few job descriptions with an age requirement listed in the core competencies, e.g. a bartender or a croupier at a gambling table which requires someone to be over the age of eighteen. Instead, they generally list the skills and attributes required to fulfil the role. So, to be fair, the job ad should also only include the core skills and attributes needed. Instead, however,  personal descriptors like energetic, bubbly, digital native, dynamic, youthful team, mature, millennials are added – all code words for the age an employer wants.

If you require someone experienced in the role or an entry-level position, avoid terms like senior or junior. Word choice does matter, and it is easy for unconscious bias to rear its ugly head when these are used. Instead, consider terms such as principal, assistant or entry-level. When looking for experience, be open to interviewing someone who might not have years under their belt but is still qualified and have the aptitude and ability to learn quickly. There should also be no barrier to an experienced person from applying for an entry-level job, so avoid terms like new to the workforce or school-leaver. They are more than likely to have valid reasons for starting from the ground up again, e.g. have taken time out to raise children, had a medical condition that required them to retrain, wanted to change careers or needed to (thanks to Covid turning their career on its head – i.e the flight and tourism industry).

During the job interview, be sure to ask the same skill and attribute-based questions of everyone. All applicants should be treated equally regardless of age, gender and ethnicity; otherwise, you may be open to a discrimination claim under the Human Rights Act. 


Avoiding age discrimination when promoting

I once worked for a Government organisation that promoted people on length of service rather than the ability to do the role. This created resentment amongst staff because incompetent people received a promotion just because “they had done the time”, and there was no incentive to do well when all you had to do was sit and wait for your turn.  It could be considered discriminatory to deny someone the opportunity for promotion, further training or mentorship because they have not been there long enough. Providing a work environment where employees can develop their skills and further their careers has long been proven to create a happy and productive workplace. 


Avoiding age discrimination in the workplace

Vibrant, creative and productive workplaces exist when there is diversity in age, ethnicity and gender. Successful business strategies focus on creating an alignment in work culture, but culture in this instance refers to attitudes, such as teamwork and shared goals for the company, not ensuring employees all look the same. There is much to be gained from offering internships to provide the experience you will be looking for when it comes time to replace staff in principal positions. After all, many successful CEOs and business leaders began their careers in entry-level jobs in the company. Offering seasoned employees the opportunity to mentor can also be good for business, including ensuring a succession plan for company knowledge and in-house expertise.   

I was 16 when I landed my first full-time job and 48 when I started my own business. What I lacked in practical experience on both occasions I made up for with an abundance of aptitude and a can-do attitude. My challenge to all employers is to interview at least one person based on the potential you see in a CV rather than experience and age. They might just turn out to be the best employee you ever had.  

* The New Zealand Government website lists very few occasions where age is a factor in retiring. At the time of writing, the only legal age of retirement in NZ is for judges and coroners.



About Carolyn Brown

Carolyn enjoys writing stuff that engages readers, makes them feel like they are in a conversation with the screen, and doesn’t require a dictionary on standby to make sense of what she has written.

When she is not creating content, she likes to keep busy volunteering for various not for profits; throwing sticks to her step-dog as they walk along North Beach in Christchurch, and enjoying the company of friends. If you would like to know more, head on over to her website or email her at [email protected]

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