by Meridith Levinson

Age Discrimination in IT: What Would You Do?

Mar 23, 2011

If you possess more experience than necessary for a job, should you scale back your experience to avoid automatic rejection?

Recently, Computerworld published an article about an IT worker who is suing Indian outsourcer Infosys for age discrimination. According to Computerworld, job applications that the plaintiff, Ralph DeVito, submitted electronically to Infosys “were immediately and automatically rejected” because DeVito’s experience exceeded the maximum levels Infosys had set for the two positions for which he had applied. (One job had a maximum experience level of 15 years and the other was set at 25 years.) DeVito, who was 58 when he applied for these jobs in 2009, had over 25 years of IT experience at the time. 

I commend DeVito for bringing this lawsuit against Infosys and for fighting for his—and the legions of other older IT workers’—equal rights. I look forward to the court’s decision, as it will no doubt provide the answers to two thorny questions that DeVito’s case raises.

The first question: When an employer rejects a job seeker for being overqualified (or for having too much experience), does that constitute age discrimination? According to DeVito’s attorney, it does: “Simply doing the math, 25 years’ experience boxes out anyone who is over 40,” he told Computerworld. The EEOC also agrees that Infosys’s recruiting practices were discriminatory.

The second question: What should older, experienced IT workers do when faced with a situation similar to DeVito’s? If they’re asked to quantify their years of experience on a job application and their experience exceeds the requirements established in the job ad, should they find a way to truthfully scale back their experience in order to avoid automatic rejection?

I think older IT workers whose years of experience exceed the levels set out in a job ad and who are otherwise qualified for the job should in fact fudge their applications a little. Why? Because older IT workers have been hit particularly hard by the recession and they need any advantage they can get in a job market where IT unemployment remains high. As long as they’re not inflating their experience and are qualified for the job, playing with the numbers on their resume a bit isn’t a grave sin. (Note that I don’t condone the opposite behavior: job seekers padding their resumes to get through gate-keeping software and land interviews.)

Here’s how DeVito might have fudged one of his applications:

One of the job ads required between 12 and 15 years of experience in systems management, operations, database management OR [my emphasis] network management, according to Computerworld.

Even if DeVito had more than 25 total years of experience in IT—across jobs and functions—he might not have had more than 25 years of experience in each of the specific skills mentioned in the ad. For example, he might have had 15 years in systems management, 10 years in operations management, five years in database management and none in network management. Thus, he could have truthfully said that he had the requisite 12 to 15 years of experience to meet the job ad’s requirements, and his experience would have reflected one of the specific skills outlined in the ad.

What do you think of the two questions DeVito’s case raises? Would you manipulate your resume or job application in this manner? And if a company automatically rejects a candidate for having too much experience, does that rejection amount to age discrimination?