Articles – Questions about age get real old, real fast

The following column, authored by Lindsey Novak, originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on April 7, 1996, and is reprinted with their permission:

Questions about age get real old, real fast.

The president of a company to which I’d applied for a job called me and said that since my resume went back to 1972, I must be his age – 40. I was shocked and did not respond. Two weeks later, he asked me to come in for an interview.

Among the things he asked me were, “Do you plan on working until you retire? How many years before you retire? Does your husband work? Do you have children living at home?” To that question I responded that I have a son in school, and he asked, “High school?”

I was just 50, but did not tell him. He told me that he had other candidates to interview and that either he would call or that I should call him. He didn’t call, and I didn’t call him. Can anything be done about this?

A – Though there are questions that interviewers should not ask, the fact is that they can skirt direct questions to get the answers they want. A 50 year-old is not going to pass for a 30-year-old, regardless of what you’re asked or what you answer.

Eugene Hollander, who specializes in labor and employment law at the Chicago law firm of Marks, Marks and Kaplan, Ltd., says the most difficult hurdle is to prove that age was a determining factor in not hiring you.

“Smoking gun” statements, such as your being too old for the job or their wanting to hire younger employees are seldom made. Even if they were, you would not only have to prove they were, but also that applicants younger than 40 were offered jobs.

When faced with questions that are blatantly illegal, Hollander advises applicants not to answer. You can also file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Put your energy into more positive pursuits, such as looking for an employer who will value your years of experience.