Vern Six head and shoulders looking at camera
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Vern Six has Gone Viral After a Blatant Ageist Recruitment Experience

From Victim to Public Advocate for Change

Peter Lumsden
Peter Lumsden
An experienced Head of Marketing, master copywriter and bold career redefiner

Following a personally difficult series of events over a very short timescale, Vern Six, a Principal Software Engineer in his late 50's, with over 37 years’ experience, Public Speaker and Ex-US Army veteran from Texas found himself the subject of an extraordinary, but all too common example, of blatant ageism from a recruiter whilst job hunting.

Vern took to social media to tell the story and to say how genuinely stunned he was. 3.4 million views and 121,000 messages later, along with articles in such as Forbes Magazine and Business Insider, Life/Redefined took a few moments to catch up with Vern to look at this astonishing response, and what it really demonstrates in terms of the issues that the 55/Redefined generation face with the embedded and frankly outdated and outrageous stereotypical attitudes pervading the business world when it comes to the recruitment of the over-50’s.

What are Vern’s main takeaways, and what does he feel can be done to finally nail down the coffin of ageism in the workplace and conscious, or unconscious biases from hiring managers and recruiters? Vern has a simple answer, but simple isn’t always easy…

How Did This Extraordinary Story Unfold? It Sounds Rather Like a 'Perfect Storm' and Not in a Good Way?

“February 1st was supposedly to be an exciting day. I had been working with a client for about four years and thought everything was great. My wife and I decided to purchase an additional 34 acres adjacent to our ranch. February 1st was the closing date. Contracts had been signed and a cheque had been written. All seemed good, and then, just 80 minutes later I received a call from that client – an agency – to say that the client we were supporting had been the victim of a severe storm that had resulted in the collapse of their building. The result of that meant that a number of people were laid off and I was caught up in that. So, I had signed off on a land purchase worth over $200,000 and then lost my income…in 80 minutes!” A perfect storm, indeed.

With Your Knowledge and Experience, Surely Recruiters Must Have Been After You. How Did That Go?

“You can imagine the stress for both myself, and my wife. But let’s fast forward about 10 days or so. I got a phone call from a random recruiter, and it went well. It was like, hey, I've got a role I think you'd be a great fit for. He looked at my resume and said, what's your LinkedIn profile? He got that up and saw the grey hair, and I think his exact words were “Jesus, man. How old are you?”

He wanted to know why I wasn’t a Chief Technical Officer at my age. In fact, I had been, but I went back to pure coding out of choice. His follow up was to state that, “I can't present somebody your age to my clients. They don't want a grandpa.” It was just one of the most offensive conversations I've ever had. I think I said a few words that my mother would not be proud of, and I abruptly ended the call. Long story short, I posted about it on LinkedIn.”

Jesus, man, how old are you?! They don't want a Grandpa.

Sadly, That Appalling Experience, or That Kind of Attitude Is all Too Common Towards the Over-50’s as The Extraordinary Social Media Response Testifies. You Struck a Nerve There?

“It went kind of crazy. I was just astounded as to how it took off. Something like 3.4 million views. It's been shared across every social media platform that I can find. I know it had a Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, you name it - around fifteen thousand interactions that I could find in all the statistics I looked at on LinkedIn. I had Attorneys reach out to me to represent me to go after this company that this whippersnapper, as I referred to him as, works for. But it is not for me to dish out Karma.”

Vern added, “Calls to my mobile have been constant. They ebb and flow, but most of those are reaching out to me are wanting to know things such as what do I know about the law and what do I know about where they can go to get help because they think they've suffered from this ageist attitude as well.”

Vern Six's originally linkedIn post

How Did That Response Make You Feel About the State of the Recruitment Industry When it Comes to Ageism and Candidate Biases?

“It made me look at the bigger picture and it was clear that ageism, even at a subconscious level, is endemic. I can recall being in meetings where people have applied for jobs at companies that I've worked for - my clients, and people would say, let's get the old man in here and see what he thinks about this. And you know, they're referring to me to go in and screen somebody's skill set. So, on one hand, that's flattering that they're going to bring me in because of my known skill set. On the other, it's kind of damn insulting, isn't it?”.

The recruitment industry itself just perpetuates the problem of ageism when selecting candidates according to Vern, “Somebody who is basically so young and whippersnapper, wet behind the ears has so much power over what they can do for somebody with so much experience when they themselves, have absolutely none. I really, struggle with that. There's always been an ageist factor sitting in there, unconscious, but it's there. I'm not even sure it's unconscious, to be honest.”

A Social Media Platform for Change is a Powerful Tool. How Has That Influenced How Prospective Employers Have Viewed You?

“About two weeks after THAT interview, I interviewed with a UK recruiter for a company here in the US. After the interview, the client had told me that they were going to talk to the recruiter about giving me an offer. About three days, I contacted that recruiter for an update. They came back and said that they were too scared of my new found audience because I had gone viral and would have the ability to bring a lot of pressure and heat in their direction, should a situation arise, and that I was just too much of a hot potato for them to touch. And I'm like, well, and that was offensive. That was really offensive. I mean, that speaks to my character more than anything else.”

“That was really offensive. I mean, that speaks to my character more than anything else, right?”

Vern Six head shot

Given Everything That You Have Been Through, What Instantly Comes to Mind When You Think of the Guidance You Would Offer Organisations to Improve their Recruitment Candidate Experiences?

“One is a mindset change, and I think one of the biggest mindset changes is that for whatever reason recruiters view folks like me who have, five to seven years before retirement, as not going to be there long term. Well in my world, statistically, people stay in the job one year, six months, to one year 10 months regardless of whether you're a full time employee or a contractor or aged 25 or 55. And so, I think that that's a fallacy, and I think that that has to be addressed.”

Given That Bias is a Fact of Life Within Recruitment, Where Else do the Recruiters Just Not Get it, When it Comes to Making Those Final Job Offers?

“They’ll say that they can hire three people who are fresh out of college and have the same technical skills as I have, and they aren’t going to have to pay them a third of what I pay Vern. Well, they are missing so much - not every hour is considered the same. What they pay and what they get in that hour from me is just not the same, and that isn’t me being arrogant. Three smart guys out of college doesn’t equate to one with 37 years of experience of the real world and from an age group that is proven to be more loyal, adaptable, flexible and simply more in tune with the requirements and nuances of customer relations, for example.”

How, From Your Perspective Would You Like to See 55/Redefined Help Affect Change Within Organisations in Terms of Both Internal and External Recruitment Processes, to Understand the Benefits of Multigenerational Teams and Consign Ageism to the Trash Can, Where it Belongs?

“It is effectively very simple. It is all about education. You can’t beat getting in front of these organisations and helping them understand things they haven’t thought about! Remember, they don’t know, what they don’t know. Have they understood the turnover rate of our generation for example when compared to Gen Y or Z? It is a fraction for that of other generations. Just one example. They need to want to understand, and they have to be presented with the information that enables that mindset change. It is a call to educate” As Vern says – It’s simple, but simple isn’t always easy!

It’s simple, but simple isn’t always easy!

Why it's Not all Doom & Gloom for Over-50s Job Seekers When You Know Where to Look

We know that there are more and more companies that want to bring back over-50s professionals to plug the skills gaps but they are not easy to identify on the mainstream job sites, and they can't often be found in recruitment agencies.

We know that today, banks are looking to hire back retired stockbrokers because the current cohort have never operated in a period of high interest rates before and they're not the only industry. Engineering, media, insurance and more are all looking to the over-50s.

Why do Companies 'Have' to Look to Employ the Over-50s Now?

It's not because they are consciously age-friendly - its unfortunately borne out of necessity.

The skills gap is widening and there's a talent shortage. With just 16% of over-50s active on LinkedIn, and a very low number of over-50s on mainstream jobs boards, it's no wonder that recruiters are scratching their heads as to why they can't find experienced candidates. through their usual approaches.

So Where are These Jobs for the Over-50s?

On the exclusive Jobs/Redefined website.

Our jobs board is the missing link between age-inclusive companies and the experienced older workforce. The companies listed must do more than a box-ticking exercise to become age-inclusive employers.

There's no recruitment agencies, no fake jobs, no bias on our platform. This is not LinkedIn. Listings only feature roles with age-inclusive employers, which means you are applying directly to the age-accredited company. You won't be asked to click 'easy apply' and feel like you're shouting into the void, before being ghosted.

What are the Jobs and Who are the Companies?

There's pension specialists, insurance claims consultants, nuclear engineers, media roles, fraud specialists, ad agencies, legal, telecoms and consulting companies advertising open roles for over-50s .. and everything in between. Scan through the list and if a company you would like to work for is there, why not reach out with your credentials, even if the perfect job isn't there?

It's definitely more productive than hitting easy apply on LinkedIn or, like Vern, dealing with outdated, biased recruitment practices.

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We are big believers that you should be able to design a life you love and not stick to a linear path, especially when it comes to your career choices. In fact, we'd go as far to say that the concept of retirement in its current form needs to be retired. Yes, that's right, there's no rulebook here!