As we learn more about what hiring teams should or shouldn’t include in job posts, it’s natural to question every requirement. Even ones we take for granted deserve scrutiny. Asking whether years of experience in a job post is ageism, therefore, is hardly a bad question.
Although years of experience has been a standard requirement in job postings for a long time, some organizations are beginning to question whether they should include it. It’s worth exploring briefly why it’s neither ageist nor illegal in most situations.
It depends on how you’re using it, but it’s not ageist in most cases. If it’s just about establishing the minimum amount of experience someone should have to apply for a position, then it’s perfectly fine and actually beneficial to job seekers. As long as you’re listing the bare minimum years of experience required, not a range.
Age shouldn’t be a factor in hiring because it really doesn’t matter how old or young a job seeker is if they’re qualified and can perform the duties of the role.
Years of experience isn’t inherently ageist or illegal
We’re not attorneys, and you should always talk to your in-house counsel about employment law issues. But our view after analyzing 40 million jobs is that using years of experience on a job post in a good-faith way is not problematic or illegal. In fact, our research shows that including years of experience can be beneficial for job seekers when used correctly. It helps them understand just how junior or senior a role is and whether they qualify and should apply. It also provides clarity for job seekers, which is always the goal with job posts.
It’s only an issue if a hiring team is inadvertently using it as a way of whittling down or skewing the candidate pool. (Inadvertent because it doesn’t require consciousness for unconscious bias against older or younger workers to be an issue.)
In that case, putting a cap on years of experience would tilt the candidate pool away from older workers (i.e., don’t include a range of years). And inflating years of experience for a job could tilt the candidate pool away from younger workers.
Using the requirement to weed out workers from the candidate pool based on age is definitely problematic. And there’s a chance it could also be illegal, depending on the employment laws governing your organization. In most cases, age discrimination harms older workers, and the laws on the books primarily address ageism against older workers. But discrimination against younger workers does happen, and laws are starting to address that as well.
In the United States, for example, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination or harassment against employees over the age of 40 on the federal level. It doesn’t apply to younger workers who may feel the impact of a years of experience requirement. However, some states and local jurisdictions have laws on the books that do apply to younger workers. So it’s best to stay abreast of all the employment laws (local, state, and federal) that apply to your organization.
Use it wisely
Bottom line, if someone is using years of experience as a way to skew their candidate pool towards older or younger job seekers, that’s a problem. If it’s just to establish the minimum experience a potential candidate needs and there’s no upper limit, it’s perfectly fine.
In fact, research shows that including years of experience can be beneficial for job seekers when used correctly. It helps them understand just how junior or senior a role is and whether they qualify and should apply. It provides clarity for job seekers, which is always the goal with job posts.