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Over 40? You won’t fit with our ‘Company Culture’

Is my company displaying Ageism?

I am concerned that my direct manager, and the HR Director of my company, are displaying ageism when it comes to the companies hiring policies.

We are currently hiring for a Senior Manager position within our team, and have received some great resumes from highly experienced people, but they dismiss outright anyone over the age of 40 by alleging that they would not be ‘a fit with our company culture’ and that they are ‘too experienced’ for the role.

Is it generally fear of being shown up by someone perhaps more experienced than my boss?

Perhaps some of the candidate’s high level of experience would mean that they are over qualified for the role but my feeling on it is that if the tasks of the role are explained clearly to the candidate at the outset, then isn’t it up to them to decide if it would be of interest?

How can I address this without calling it out as blatant ageism? Is it generally fear of being shown up by someone perhaps more experienced than my boss?


Dear Reader,

Thank you very much for your question. First of all, I think from an ethical point of view we all agree that ageism should have no room in the work place and amongst professionals.

As I have only limited information from your letter, I cannot fully establish, if your manager and the HR director are actually displaying ageism or if they may have indeed other valid reasons to rule out the candidates you refer to.

Before you go any further, this is something you should double check for yourself. Questions that may help you with this could be: What exactly is the ‘company culture’ like? What are the salary expectations of the candidates that have been ruled out compared to what is on offer for the role? The candidates that were not ruled out, did they have other qualifications that made them more suitable for the role (apart from being under 40) and so on.

Now let us assume, that you have come to the conclusion that the candidate’s age really is the only reason these candidates have been ruled out and you want to address this without accusing your manager and the HR director of ageism openly. In order to answer this question for yourself, make sure you know where you stand – what is your role in the setup (formal and informal – what is at stake for you, what is your personal motive to address the issue, how much reliable information do you have, how much influence do you have, what hierarchic level are you on, are there others that share your opinion, etc.).

As you do not want to address the topic openly I would assume you would like to avoid direct conflict and confrontation. This approach could also be helpful as it can avoid a defensive reaction from the hiring managers. If you are in a position to communicate with the managers on eye level and openly, a good way of bringing the topic up, is asking them in more detail what exactly would make a candidate too experienced / over qualified. Also ask them what you are asking in your letter here: why not invite the candidate for interview and discuss with them if they are happy with the tasks and responsibilities of the role – rather than assuming they are not?

There is a possibility still, that by asking the right questions, you might enable insight on the management side and they might actually give it a try with an older candidate or at least stop ruling them out from beginning onwards. Whether the reason is, that they feel uncomfortable being asked questions or that they really have started to think about it, both can bring the desired result – change.

If your questions are brushed off and you do not receive satisfying answers, you will have to ask yourself more difficult questions, which could be:

Do you have enough influence to address the topic openly with a chance of success to change things?

Do you want to address this openly? What could be the consequence and are you willing to take the risks?

Is avoiding the topic an option, how important is it to you personally? How much does this conflict with your values? Could you be happy in this organization, despite this ageism or may looking elsewhere be an option?

I hope this helps and wish you the best of luck and success with whatever approach you chose. It remains a personal choice that should be inline with your values and suit your personal situation.


About Ines Kretschmer:

Ines Kretschmer is a Personal, Leadership and Executive Coach, based in Dublin.

Tel: 087 4149489


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