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The Role Of Age Within A Job Applicant’s Selection Process

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In recent years, the academic interest in organisational changes concerning our workforce ageing has increased tremendously, as indicated by recent publications (such as: Standifer, Lester, Schultz, & Windsor, 2013). Ahmed, Andersson, & Hammarstedt (2012) is one of the many findings that urge us to pay more attention to the problems that workers face in the current labour market due to their age. I am particularly interested in the implications age can have during the recruitment and selection processes. Although, there are sufficient other factors and characteristics that can easily play a role during the selection process, age seems to be “one of the three “primitive categories” by which people instantly categorise someone (race and gender are the other two) (Hamilton DL, Sherman JW, 1994)” (Nelson, T. D., 2019). While exploring the literary research on this matter, it is inevitable to come across the term of ageism. “Ageism is the stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against people on the basis of their age” (Burnes et al., 2019, p. 1). Specifically, the existence of ageism in the hiring process is of concern as “[t]he scope of ageism is expected to expand in the context of a growing ageing population around the world” (Burnes et al., 2019, p. 1). This issue is also subject of increasing empirical analysis for it is fundamental to the adaption of the evolving and ever-changing nature of work and organisations (Mohamed, Singh, Irani, & Darwish, 2013).

For this reason, my paper addresses the key related research question: has the age of the job applicant any bearing on the employee selection? More concretely, the content of this paper is not only directed at informing readers about the influence age exerts on selection processes, but also at addressing its consequential issues such as ageism, and endorse equal opportunities for both younger and older workers.

Given the increasing importance of our ageing population and its possible effects in the workplace, the issues of this paper should be mainly of interest to job applicants, recruiters, HRM managers, and firms. It is of interest to job applicants as it tackles the employment barriers one can be confronted by in the selection process. Crucially important, is for recruiters and managers to jointly progress towards more age-neutral hiring decisions that focus more on performance and less on age. Moreover, improving the employability of workers will also benefit the firm in the long-run as it is imperative that organisations use all of the available talent, skills, and knowledge our labour market has to offer.

This paper contributes to the literature on HR practices regarding the recruitment and selection, by illustrating how age affects the workers in the context of selection and providing recommendations for HRM managers via the empirical studies from which the data were drawn. In addition, it depicts existing knowledge on the literature stream that stresses the issue of ageism. This paper also strives to emphasise the lack of focus on younger workers, since research on the influence of age during recruitment has focused primarily on the older generation.

Regarding my search methods, I made use of the following databases: Business Source Complete, Web of Science, RU Quest, and Google Scholar. I also utilised the Snowball, Citation, and Growing search method. Eligible studies will be those that (1) examine the effect of age in the recruitment and selection field, (2) address the matter of ageism, (3) evaluate interventions and practices designed to reduce ageism, and (4) are published between the years 2000 up to 2019 (with a few exceptions, when necessary). The focal point of my search criteria is ‘age’.

I combined these terms using AND / OR / NOT Boolean operators. As well as used the truncation symbol* added at the end of the word ‘age’ to find other variations of the keyword. An example of a search string is: (“ageism” OR “ageist” OR “age” OR “age group”) AND (“unemployment” OR “jobless” OR “pension” OR “workless”) AND (“discriminat*” OR “diversity” OR “inequity”).

Performing a literature-based research helped identify gaps in the existing literature. It was also useful for illustrating the trends of the age stigma concerning younger and older workers. Besides, “the research evidence on the relationship between age and job performance is by no means conclusive” and therefore assisted the research process to focus on the phenomena of ageism rather than assessing work effectiveness based on age (C.K. Chiu, Chan, Snape, & Redman, 2001, p. 6).

Section 1 and 2 includes an analysis of the literature on the HR practices in relation to the worker’s age. Section 3 and 4 compares the stereotypical beliefs of younger and older workers, from the viewpoint of recruiters and/or employers, as a factor affecting the selection process. Section 5 explains the concept of ageism and under-lying causes of age discrimination. Section 6 ends the paper with recommendations and a conclusion of how age influences the selection outcomes in the workplace.


The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the area of research whether people are discriminated against in the hiring process based on their age.

Recruitment and selection

According to Mohamed, Singh, Irani, & Darwish (2013), recruitment and selection is described as a major HRM practice that aids in finding the right employees for jobs. Mohamed et al. (2013) recognises the importance of employing the right people in an organisation as it can accelerate the organisation’s growth and help gain competitive advantage, ultimately ensuring a better agreement between the organisation’s needs and the employee’s skills. Specifically, the way in which recruiters select employees is a key factor to organisational success. This paper endorses selection to be based on “merit by focusing on application form information about skills and abilities and on performance at interview” and not on age (Rupp, Vodanovich, & Credé, 2005, p. 21).


Age can be one of the main barriers to employment for workers, as it long-time knowledge that age is a significant determinant of job involvement (Dailey & Morgan, 1978). “Discrimination based on age is a rather unrecognised form of prejudice, but ageism occurring in the labour market should be seen as serious problem” (Ahmed, Andersson, & Hammarstedt, 2012, p. 4). To illustrate the affect age has on one’s employability chances, we need to consider both sides of the spectrum, meaning the positive and the negative effects. For this, we draw upon ethnographic data of the recruitment practices collected by C.K. Chiu, Chan, Snape, & Redman, (2001).

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One can argue that discriminative attitudes are encouraged through fixed ideas and images we hold someone accountable by – bringing us to the theme of stereotypes. Stereotypes can be defined as subjective generalisations that reveal how you perceive certain categories or individuals affiliated with a category, while often holding a negative attitude (Maykovich, 1972). Whilst addressing the subject of age regarding workers’ selectivity, it is fruitful to understand how age is interpreted amongst recruiters, managers, and employers. Stereotypical beliefs may directly correlate with the selection, because such beliefs held by recruiters and employers could ultimately influence hiring decisions.

Below, I will encapsulate the general stereotypical beliefs following one’s age. This segment will be divided into two – differing between younger and older workers. Before proceeding, I would like to address the concern for this segment to be highlighting only the stereotypical beliefs rather than reflecting actual job performance. The age stereotypes mentioned may of course be inaccurate or not always applicable, nonetheless we can not underestimate its power in fostering the treatment of prospective employees.

Stereotypical beliefs about older workers

“Organisational-level HRM is, for the most part, still characterised by discrimination of older employees in recruitment…(Wood et al., 2008; Walker and Maltby, 2012)” (Schröder, Muller-Camen, & Flynn, 2014, p. 2). We usually consider an ‘older worker’ to be “someone over 50” (C.K. Chiu, Chan, Snape, & Redman, 2001, p. 9). However, contradicting results emphasised “that a high degree of discrimination was found for people as young as 46, indicating that ageism is present at relatively early ages” (Ahmed et al., 2012, p. 4). The study of C.K. Chiu, Chan, Snape, & Redman (2001) confirmed the stance of stereotypical beliefs to negatively affect the older worker’s prospects in the workplace. It is no novelty for older workers to encounter age discrimination from employers, resulting in “less favourable treatment in recruitment, promotion, and training” (C.K. Chiu, Chan, Snape, & Redman, 2001, p. 2). These results show the extent to which the attitudes towards older workers has a significant impact. A “possible reason for this discrimination is that older workers may be perceived as having certain undesirable characteristics, including poor health, an inflexible attitude, resistance to change and low trainability” (C.K. Chiu, Chan, Snape, & Redman, 2001, p. 2). These employer attitudes towards older workers clearly reflect on the negative stereotypes that are being held.

On the other hand, there were a handful of positive beliefs about older workers, too. For example, “older workers as more effective at work” (C.K. Chiu, Chan, Snape, & Redman, 2001, p. 1).


In this section, we will address ageism with particular emphasis devoted to understanding age bias. Stereotypes establish institutional norms that can lead to discrimination and age-related discrimination (Burnes et al., 2019). Research has indicated how age discrimination is a long-neglected issue and is quite prevalent in today’s society (Palmore, 2001) (Rupp, Vodanovich, & Credé, 2005, p. 336). Especially, the recruitment of workers is a process where one can evidently see which identities and characteristics are encouraged and which are retracted (Barratt, 2003; Bergstrom & Knights, 2006) (Riach, 2007).

Additionally, an age similarity preference (ASP) held by employers can increase workplace difficulties (Standifer, Lester, Schultz, & Windsor, 2013). The term age similarity preference (ASP) describes whether a person prefers to work with others of their own age or not” (Standifer, Lester, Schultz, & Windsor, 2013). This concept suggest that managers rate applicants in light of their similarity to themselves, meaning older employers favour older workers and younger employers favour younger workers, in a way maintain a positive social identity as a member of their age group.

Recommendations in tackling barriers on the side of job applicants

“Wage setting procedures should be adjusted, with more focus on performance and less on tenure and seniority” (OECD, 2014, p. 12).

“Age-neutral personnel treatment should be included as a target in the… employment selection” (OECD, 2014, p. 12).

“Better targeting of measures to … increase employability and promote recruitment of older workers” (OECD, 2014, p. 12).

“New practices in the Sustainable Employability programme should progressively become national standards” (OECD, 2014, p. 12). A” programme called “Sustainable Employability” was implemented in April 2012 in an agreement between the government and the social partners. Its goals include prevention of unemployment and illness, as well as improved productivity levels among the entire working population regardless of age” (OECD, 2014, p. 12).

“More stringent recruitment and selection policies” (Mohamed et al., 2013, p. 19)


The purpose of this paper was to summarise the differences in the recruitment and selection practices of job applicants of different ages. Since this paper is limited to one particular kind of practice, that is, the selection process, more research is needed. Also, it is highly suggested for researches to pay more attention to the problems that younger workers face because in the labour market.


  1. Ahmed, A. M., Andersson, L., & Hammarstedt, M. (2012). Does age matter for employability? A field experiment on ageism in the Swedish labour market. Applied Economics Letters, 19(4), 403–406.
  2. Burnes, D., Sheppard, C., Henderson, C. R., Wassel, M., Cope, R., Barber, C., & Pillemer, K. (2019). Interventions to Reduce Ageism Against Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Public Health, 109(8), e1–e9.
  3. C.K. Chiu, W., Chan, A. W., Snape, E., & Redman, T. (2001). Age Stereotypes and Discriminatory Attitudes towards Older Workers: An East-West Comparison. Human Relations, 54(5), 629–661.
  4. Dailey, R. C., & Morgan, C. P. (1978). Personal Characteristics and Job Involvement as Antecedents of Boundary Spanning Behavior: A Path Analysis. Journal of Management Studies, 15(3), 330–339.
  5. Maykovich, M. K. (1972). Stereotypes and Racial Images -White, Black and Yellow. Human Relations, 25(2), 101–120.
  6. Mohamed, A. F., Singh, S., Irani, Z., & Darwish, T. K. (2013). An analysis of recruitment, training and retention practices in domestic and multinational enterprises in the country of Brunei Darussalam. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 24(10), 2054–2081.
  7. Nelson, T. D. (2019). Reducing Ageism: Which Interventions Work? American Journal of Public Health, 109(8), 1066–1067.
  8. OECD (2014), Ageing and Employment Policies: Netherlands 2014: Working Better with Age, OECD Publishing.
  9. Riach, K. (2009). Managing ‘difference’: understanding age diversity in practice. Human Resource Management Journal, 19(3), 319–335.
  10. Rupp, D. E., Vodanovich, S. J., & Credé, M. (2005). The Multidimensional Nature of Ageism: Construct Validity and Group Differences. The Journal of Social Psychology, 145(3), 335–362.
  11. Schröder, H., Muller-Camen, M., & Flynn, M. (2014). The management of an ageing workforce: organisational policies in Germany and Britain. Human Resource Management Journal, 24(4), 394–409.
  12. Standifer, R. L., Lester, S. W., Schultz, N. J., & Windsor, J. M. (2013). How age similarity preference, uncertainty, and workplace challenges affect conflict. Human Relations, 66(12), 1597–1618.

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