job application wants me to list contact info for my friends, ads that target “recent college grads,” and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Are ads that target “recent college grads” age discrimination?

I am job-searching and keep seeing some really great jobs that I qualify for, posted by this same staffing company on job boards. ALL of the positions require a 4-year degree and most specify the applicant must be a recent college grad. I have actually seen this company go as far as to specify “must have had great grades in high school” or they sometimes ask for a specific college GPA. The ads will emphasize 2-3 times within the description that you must be a recent college grad. I actually applied for a position anyway, leaving off college dates on my resume and was contacted by a recruiter. She wrapped up the phone screen quickly when she learned that I had completed college 20 years ago. The fact I had strong experience in the industry for which she was recruiting seemed a moot point.

It’s is obvious to me they want 22-24-year-old applicants only. Isn’t this age discrimination? And if this is not age discrimination, can it really be considered a good hiring practice?

There’s nothing illegal about requiring a particular GPA since that doesn’t screen out people over a certain age, but a preference (or requirement) for recent college grads does violate federal laws against age discrimination.

In fact, the EEOC says clearly: “It is illegal for an employer to publish a job advertisement that shows a preference for or discourages someone from applying for a job because of his or her race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. For example, a help-wanted ad that seeks ‘females’ or ‘recent college graduates’ may discourage men and people over 40 from applying and may violate the law.” More here.

2. Job application wants me to list contact info for friends who can verify my activities

Currently I am searching for jobs in the air travel industry as a flight attendant. While in the process of filling out an application for one company, in the Employment Gap Explanation section while listing my job history, it asked that I explain any employment gaps of one month or more. That’s all fine and good. But the fine print went on that I must list the name, address and phone number of the person(s) that can verify my activities during those times of unemployment. The kicker is they can’t be relatives!

I can understand their reasoning for asking that, as they have to be concerned about terrorism, but I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s just plain ridiculous! How can I explain a 6 month period of unemployment after I graduated college and I lived at home with my family during that time, while friends were still in school or out of town? I also don’t feel comfortable offering such personal information about my friends and acquaintances to the company, either. Am I overreacting?

That’s weird as hell. If it’s a security requirement and you want the job, I suppose you have to comply, just as you’d be giving similar information about family and friends for a security clearance. But yes, it’s bizarre.

3. Can I ask my old company about the results of a project I did?

I just left the company where I was working without a job in my field because the work environment was not healthy. I currently have a part-time job that pays well, so I’m not worried about the bills for a couple months at least. Before leaving, a person from another department told me about a challenge that they were having in their day-to-day work. Before I left, I finished implementing the solution to that challenge. I was the owner of that project and my manager knows that I worked really hard on it. However, I was not able to witness firsthand the results that the solution generated.

I now want to send an email asking if the results were positive or negative to the person who initially had the challenge. Even though it would be better for me to have numbers to evaluate the possible success rate, I understand that this person as a current member of the organization might need to keep the numbers confidential and might only be able to give me a general sense of the success rate. Do you think that I should send this email? I am also not sure how my former manager might take this if the person forwards the email to my manager? Should I cc my former manager on the email?

I don’t see anything wrong with reaching out and saying that you’ve been thinking about the project you did and wondering how it turned out for them. It’s unlikely that they’re going to respond to a casual inquiry like that with hard numbers though, so if that’s what you really want (for resume purposes), I think you’ll need to ask directly if it’s something they’d be willing to share and explain why you’re asking. I’d do that in a second email, though, once you hear back about how it went generally. No need to put them on the spot with that question if the first answer is “it hasn’t made a difference yet,” “it’s too early to tell,” or “it caused our network server to catch fire.”

I don’t think there’s any need to cc your former manager on the email, unless she’s in a particular position to answer the question too.

4. Will a job offer come from HR or from the hiring manager?

Will the hiring manager set up a meeting to offer me the job or will HR make the offer? I’m asking because the hiring manager sent an email to set up a meeting later in the week to talk about the job interview… but I thought HR would call or email me?

It totally depends on the employer. There’s no one playbook that every employer uses for this stuff. That said, in most cases, job offers are made over the phone, not in face-to-face meetings. That doesn’t mean that absolutely no one sets up a face-to-face meeting for it, but that’s a fairly unusual approach.

As for who makes job offers, smart managers make their own, because they want the chance to sell the candidate on the job and to have a personal connection. But plenty of managers let HR do it for them.

5. What does it mean when an employer takes down a job posting and hasn’t called my references?

What does it mean when a prospective employer takes down a job posting?

A hiring manager asked for my references but my references never got a phone call. Is this bad news?

Taking down a job posting can mean all sorts of things: They filled the job, they’re no longer accepting new applications but are still interviewing, they’re about to make an offer, they’re confident that they’ll hire someone from the current pool of candidates, the job ad expired from the site and no one noticed, they wanted to make a change to the job posting so took down the old one and haven’t put the new one up yet, or loads of other possibilities. You can’t know from the outside, and it’s pointless to try to read into it.

On the references issue, it’s possible that the manager hasn’t called your references yet but still plans to, or that she’s one of those managers who asks for references because she knows she’s supposed to but doesn’t always call them, or that they plan to make an offer to someone else (but might call your references if that falls through). Again, no way to know, and your best bet is to just move on and focus on other jobs until/unless you hear something from this employer.

{ 166 comments… read them below }

  1. Dee*

    I read “recent college grad” as they want someone who won’t be expecting much in terms of pay – more as setting up what applicants can expect. I just finished university and there’s a fair number of people who go back in their later 20s and 30s – not every new grad is 22.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      Yup. #1, you most likely weren’t eliminated because of age. You were eliminated because of “strong industry experience”. Recent college grad is a euphemism for entry level, cheap, and moldable (i.e. doesn’t have previous habits or traits from another company that need to be altered). As Dan points out, you don’t need to be 22 to meet that criteria.

      1. Sarahnova*

        It appears from what Alison wrote that specifying “recent college grad” is nonetheless illegal, unless you are hiring for positions that are formally classed as “entertainment” or whatever other workarounds there are.

        1. GrumpyBoss*

          You’re right, and I didn’t mean to imply that the wording is OK. But the OP really should be considering why he’s applying to a job for a recent grad, when by his admission, he has strong experience.

          I think this is one of those cases where the unfortunate wording is preventing him from seeing that he wasn’t goinng to be a fit.

          1. LBK*

            Yes, I agree. Discriminatory wording aside, the real issue here is that the OP is applying for jobs he’s way overqualified for.

            1. LaurenV*

              No, I’m not. I applied for ONE job where 1-3 years experience was required. I have 4.5 years experience. I don’t feel that is being “way overqualified”.

              1. Judy*

                I believe we’ve been inferring that because the letter stated you had completed college 20 years earlier.

              2. Another Poster*

                Not that I disagree with the inappropriateness and illegalities of using the “recent grads” phrasing, but I do think that there is a difference between 1-3 years of experience and 4 1/2 years of experience. Job postings are wish lists for the employers so they are probably willing to hire someone with less than 1 year experience if they happen to be the right fit compared to other applicants. It means that someone with only 1 year of experience is qualified/capable of doing the job effectively. With 4 1/2 years of experience you could apply for jobs that specify a minimum of 5 years of experience and possibly even requests for 7 years in some cases. 1-3 years is certainly entry level. 4 1/2 years is more mid-level. So I think there is a difference.

                You are definitely overqualified for a job that requires 1-3 years of experience and not acknowledging that may in fact be part of the issue. The recruiter may be wondering why you are undervaluing yourself.

          2. LaurenV*

            Again, the job (singular) that I applied for stated 1-3 years experience. I have 4.5. I was comfortable with the salary range and met all other requirements, i.e. advanced MS skills, except I am not a recent college grad. I do not feel I was applying something I am overqualified for. My question was *not* to focus on the sole job that I applied for, and in hindsight, I wish I had left that tidbit out. My question had to do with this staffing agency posting ads, for several years now, where the great majority of the positions require applicants to be a recent college grad.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              For whatever it’s worth, age discrimination laws only kick in at age 40. If you’re younger than that, they can totally legally discriminate against you because of your age.

              That said, they’re still running afoul of the law by including that wording in their ad.

              1. Alex (Female)*

                I didn’t know that – that is really interesting! I came across a job posting for McD’s the other day and the position was simply titled “15 Year Olds”. I thought it was a risky move.

              2. bridget*

                As someone who defends companies from similar suits, I think there’s a strong argument that although it’s legally risky wording, it’s not illegal in the technical sense. The ADEA is the law; it simply says no discrimination against people over 40. Federal administrative agencies often interpret and flesh out statutes formally, in the code of federal regulations. Those rules have to pass notice and comment procedures. Federal courts defer to those rules as long as they are reasonable interpretations of the statute.

                Informal agency interpretations of statutes (which is what the EEOC’s webpage is) have no formal procedures. Courts can look to them for persuasive information, but they do not defer to them.

                Further, the agency interpretation only states that wording like this *might* constitute discrimination if it has the effect of chilling older workers from applying. If I represented a company who had this wording and was sued over it, I would argue that the plaintiff would have to show that the wording actually resulted in only younger people applying, and that no appreciable number of non-traditional college grads applied. The defense would be that the job was entry level, and thus we were looking for someone without much workforce experience, but also that education was required, the combination of which is that we are looking for recent grads – which could include a 45 year old who attended college later in life.

                Who would win such a lawsuit would depend on the particular facts and circumstances of the case – but as someone who is also a fan of precision in language (especially legal language), the wording is not a per se legal violation.

    2. EngineerGirl*

      The correct non-age discrimination term is “entry level”.
      While some graduates are older, most are in the mid-20’s. So “recent college grad” is age relevant.

      1. Relosa*

        Not a big fan of “entry-level” because that can also mean part time low-wage jobs, sigh. Not a big fan of “recent college grads” either – just list the salary and stop hiding it! Because that’s the purpose.

        1. GrumpyBoss*

          Oh boy, how I wish salary was transparent for all jobs. It would stop the uncomfortable dance from every job search where candidate and prospective employer are playing the game of not naming their price first.

          1. Rose*

            I work in nonprofit, and for ever very carefully crafted 10 CLs I write, one job offers a salary I would ever consider. Why are you wasting my time???

        2. EngineerGirl*

          It can also mean beginning engineering jobs. Entry level is just that – entry into the industry.

        3. INTP*

          Entry level is also used as a label for a lot of jobs that require 2+ years, sometimes even 5 years, of experience. When I was a recent college graduate, I appreciated when job ads used the “recent college graduate” wording, because it showed that they were open to actual entry level employees and I wasn’t wasting my time on a job that was really only open to people with years of relevant experience. (Side note: I graduated mid-recession so there were plenty of experienced people taking entry-level salaries, that might be part of it.) However, what I usually saw was “Recent graduates are encouraged to apply” rather than “Must be a recent graduate” which I assume changes the legal situation.

    3. Cloudy*

      I was thinking the same thing, that they’re trying to manage applicants’ expectations on salary and level of job responsibility. I was 40 and already had years of experience in my field when I got my B.A. Had I been looking for work at the time, I don’t think I would have applied for jobs marketed to recent college grads. even though technically I would have qualified. It wouldn’t have been a good fit.

    4. Student*

      I read it as “we want to hire attractive women for customer-facing roles”. The worst part is that, if you push the legal aspects of it, you’ll find out the job is actually classified as an entertainment position through legal somersaults, to justify only hiring attractive young women.

      Alternatively, they’re an engineering company hiring only young white/Asian men. They get away with it by classifying the jobs as internships and making it a requirement that you’re still in college or just graduated. So far they’ve managed to avoid any serious enforcement, despite hordes of lawsuits, because they are rich companies that can afford the best lawyers / judicial bribes / settlements.

      1. Graciosa*

        If you actually have information about unethical behavior (“judicial bribes”) please report it immediately to the appropriate regulator – or even your local news channel. The professionalism and impartiality of the judiciary is the cornerstone of our legal system, and any actual misconduct by a judge would be a very serious matter.

        Imputing such misconduct without evidence would be offensive, however I am going to politely assume that you did not think through the implication of your language.

        If companies are actually paying settlements in these cases or changing their hiring practices, things are moving in the right direction (although not necessarily as quickly or completely as any of us would like). I also suspect that there may be a gap between what non-attorneys see in some of the literature Alison referenced and what a judge would see. There is a clear distinction between age discrimination which *is* prohibited and hiring practices and ads which *may* have a disparate impact and *may* be illegal. Proving the disparate impact may not be an easy task.

        Judges are charged with correctly applying the law as written, and are often unfairly blamed for doing so when the issue may be with the statute, the case law, or the availability of evidence. I am not opposed to working to change any of the these things – but a change is more likely to be successful if we correctly identify the problem instead of assuming evil intent on the part of the jurist.

        1. Elysian*

          Thanks for putting into polite words the face I made when I read that. It’s unfortunate that someone people have the perception that everyone in the legal system is “out to get you.” It’s certainly an imperfect system, but its the best one we’ve come up with, and it frequently works like its supposed to, despite occasional high profile examples that may be to the contrary.

        2. Student*

          If you want to pretend that employment laws related to discrimination are being applied and enforced to the Silicon Valley companies, go ahead and enjoy your fantasy realm. They discriminate on age, race, and gender. They aren’t particularly subtle about it. They’ve been proven to collude with each other to keep wages down, in court, and yet nothing changes. They’re smart enough and rich enough to get away with it, and something in our criminal enforcement system has failed.

          I don’t know that anyone’s been bribed. I don’t know if the weak point is with the prosecutors, or the judges, or someplace else – but I know it’s not a problem with the laws. I think you’re dreaming if you don’t believe bribery is exactly what’s happened, though, when rich people manage to get away for years with flagrant disregard for the law out in the open.

          If you’re not familiar with Silicon Valley hiring practices, I can understand why you might be shocked and not believe that could possibly happen in the US in 2014. But they are absolutely brazen about flouting the law, and they are untouchable. It’s not just hiring practices, too.

          1. Elysian*

            I’ve read about this extensively, and reasonable and smart people do in fact disagree with you. I’m not implying that you’re wrong, but it doesn’t seem appropriate to be so absolutist when there are reasonable differing views. Others aren’t living in a “fantasy realm” just because they disagree.

          2. JB*

            There are many reasons why rich people get away with things for years that have nothing to do with bribery. The legal system tends to favor the rich and the privileged, not because of any nefarious plans of a judge to make it so, but just because of its design. Many time all a judge has to do is apply to law based on the evidence it has before it, and the rich or privileged will prevail.

            The laws make proving harassment or discrimination very difficult, and the trial judges aren’t to blame for that. You can thank your legislators and the US Supreme Court for that.

      2. Just wondering*

        How is classifying these jobs as internships and making it a requirement that you’re still in college or just graduated, eliminating everyone but young white/Asian men? I’m not making the connection.

        1. Graciosa*

          Disparate impact ends up being a bit of a statistical argument.

          If there is a zip code that is overwhelmingly populated by a disadvantaged group and an ad specifies that no one from this zip code can apply for the job, this can effectively eliminate an entire group (like any African-American or Latino applicants) without ever using those terms.

          If the ad says that only people who live in a specific zip code (which has no non-Caucasians) are eligible for a job, you get the same result.

          The law tried to make sure that no one can work around the rules (“No Irish need apply”) by being indirect about it, so it examines the effect of the posted requirements and their relationship to the job to see if something not relevant to actual job performance is being used to discriminate because it has an effect (disparate impact) of doing so. Some of the “female only” job postings are for jobs that are classified as entertainers (think waitresses at Hooters or Tilted Kilt) which allows an employer to specify only candidates suitable for the “role” of serving hot wings.

          I’m not sure that these internships totally eliminate anyone other than young white/Asian men, but if they are drawing only from pools where these groups are overwhelmingly the majority, the resulting hires may be similarly non-diverse.

          1. Natalie*

            To clarify, it’s not the classification as “entertainer” that protects some job discrimination – it’s the claim that the characteristic is a “bona fide occupational qualifier”. Calling your retail workers models doesn’t actually work (see Abercrombie & Fitch).

            1. Graciosa*

              Good point, and I’m glad to hear about the A&F case – I didn’t know they tried to do that.

              I personally find some of the ones that have passed legal muster a little annoying, so it’s nice when the location of the bridge-too-far is identified.

          2. KerryOwl*

            I’m not sure that these internships totally eliminate anyone other than young white/Asian men, but if they are drawing only from pools where these groups are overwhelmingly the majority, the resulting hires may be similarly non-diverse.

            But the pool of potential engineers in itself is likely to be rife with white and Asian men. There’s no need to seek them right out of school. In fact I’d say that the younger you go, the more likely there are to be actual women in the hiring pool.

            1. Graciosa*

              That’s why this ends up being a very statistical exercise – and not the easy “This is obviously discrimination” decision that some people think it is.

              It is also why I am so careful about my word choices; if you read what I wrote carefully, I did not reach any conclusions – we just don’t have enough information to do so.

              It’s possible that one employer who posts an ad – but also sends recruiters to certain specific schools (read zip codes from my previous example) and hires a much higher number of males than are included in the overall pool would be found to violate the law, but another employer with the same ad but a different recruiting strategy and no evidence of a disparate impact would not be doing anything illegal.

              And obviously there are a lot of arguments about how to fairly define the “pool” of potential employees and what job qualifications are bona fide and what are pretexts to avoid hiring someone of a protected class. I don’t practice in this area, but I do know it is rarely easy and simple.

              That said, I am still amazed by the number of people who provide lovely (damning) evidence in emails and chat. Seriously amazed that people in the tech world don’t realize that these things are recoverable and can be used against you in a court of law. :-)

              1. Stephanie*

                Ha, yeah. I used to work for a consulting company for attorneys and they never wanted ANYTHING in email aside from the most basic things.

                1. Elysian*

                  Truth. Don’t even write it in your diary if you don’t want it to come out. People tell me all the time “But that’s my personal email address
                  (as opposed to work-related or whatever), the Court can’t read that!” They can read anything. Use the phone!

            2. Rose*

              Exactly. Most engineering jobs you need a BS in engineering to be considered. If you assume that engineering students are mostly white and Asian men, then why would you need to make a job an internship to search out white and Asian men? You could just as easily just say “BS in Electrical Engineering required.”

              For what you said to make sense there would have to be plenty of qualified women/POC engineers but very few that were in college or recently earned degrees.

              1. EngineerGirl*

                Since the number of women going into engineering is dropping, that could indeed be the case. We have also talked about disparate impact of internships. Only those with independent support can afford unpaid internships. That would disadvantage certain groups. Asian males are much more likely to be supported in school by their parents (Asians in general, as well as whites) so they could afford the internship. That sais, more Asian males go into engineering so it is hard to tease out the truth.
                That’s why these things need a statistical analysis to see if they are out of line.

                1. Judy*

                  I’ve not heard of engineering internships that were unpaid. In fact most of the interns I know make about 60-85% of a new hire engineer.

                2. Dan*


                  Engineering internships? No. They pay quite well.

                  But plenty of liberal arts majors do unpaid ones, I just assumed EngineerGirl was talking about those without making it clear.

      3. Rose*

        Where are you getting any of this from? OP doesn’t mention the industry, and the only thing we know about the job is that they care a lot about GPA and want recent grads.

        It seems far more likely that they’re looking for candidates with little experience who won’t jump ship when something better comes along (because nothing better will come along for quite a while). Potentially that they want to treat people who don’t know very much about work place norms like crap, because they won’t know enough to protest, or just that they want mold-able minds.

        It’s possible that they want young, hot girls, but there’s really no evidence to support that idea in the letter.

    5. HR Manager*

      That was my thought – that it’s an awkward way to say this is more of an entry-level or junior level position. I see this get used a lot in talking to hiring managers, but I would never post this exactly because of the implications the language.. The hands of who posted this should be slapped, because it’s not a far leap for someone to take this as an ‘age limit’ (you’re way more likely to find a recent grad of 22-24 than a grad of 30-32).

      I had a manager who needed someone with fluency in English and Spanish, and kept positioning this as being a ‘native speaker of xxx’. I had to tell them I will not post this as such, because the manager needs fluency — ethnicity or country of origin.

    6. Bea W*

      True, but that is still the exception rather than the rule. The majority of recent grads are young. Requiring “great grades in high school” on top of the other language may not explicitly state “recent high school grads”, but there’s an implicit message there since people 20+ years out of high school are going to find it hard to provide verification of a high school GPA if asked, nevermind that high school is a distant memory at that point.

      I think if the goal was just to recruit cheap, the ad can be worded in any number of other ways like “entry level” and “little or no experience / less than x years experience”.

    7. Denise*

      I see ads for “recent graduates” all the time. While it certainly does implicate age, I don’t think the purpose is to eliminate people over a certain age so much as it is to make it clear that they are looking for candidates with a degree and little to no experience.

  2. Stephanie*

    #1 – Actually, this is really common in engineering, especially at large companies (and a big reason I’m applying to school for next year since the new grad restriction is so common). However, it’s usually not phrased as “recent college grad”, but as “must have received highest degree within the last 6/12/18 months.” I suppose that particular wording helps to avoid age discrimination.

    That being said, I wonder if a “new college grad” role would be right for you, OP. I’d imagine the pay would be lower than what you’re looking for and there’d be a lot of hand-holding (or not much independent work). If they weren’t strict on the college grad requirement, I’d see that as an indication that it was a very junior, low-paying (for the industry) role that someone experienced like yourself would dislike.

    #2 – I had to account for periods of unemployment/breaks between school (with references!) when I had a government background check. And that wasn’t even for a security clearance.

    It’s a little weird for an application, but I’ve also had to account for 7-10 years of job history, including school and unemployment (again with references) on job applications. I think it was one of the railroad companies that wanted all this information upfront. I suppose HR was using the same application for blue- and white-collar workers and wanted all the background info upfront.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think that wording probably doesn’t get them around the law, and if someone wanted to press the issue legally, they could. But I totally agree that, the law aside, when an employer wants to hire someone new to the workforce, it’s usually not the right fit for someone more experienced.

      1. Monodon monoceros*

        What if it is something like my comment below, where it is a grant requirement? I always assumed that was OK, but now I’m wondering.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s a great question, and I don’t know the answer. The EEOC fact sheet I linked to in the post seems pretty clear, but it’s certainly possible that there are exceptions. You can legally require that a job go to a current student, but once they’re out of school? I’d be interested to know if there are exceptions that allow that.

          1. Monodon monoceros*

            I am curious as well. I am, of course, against age discrimination, but I most often see these positions advertised as helping “early career scientists” – which I don’t have a problem with because it can be hard to get started out in this field. I like the idea of some grant money being set aside for those of us whose CVs don’t include pages and pages of publications. So that kind of leaves my thinking stuck in the middle.

          2. attornaut*

            The EEOC themselves run a program where they only hire recent grads (either hired in their last year of school or within 2 years and 7 months of graduation). Or at least, they used to, when they had the budget for hiring.

        2. BRR*

          There are a lot of things that are donor or grant funded that are restricted by legally protected classes. Scholarships for gender, race, religion (thinking of ones that come from a church for high school students) as one example. Now my cogs are turning….

          1. Elysian*

            I think the gist would be that in order to be legally discriminated against, you need (1) a protected class and (2) a protected activity or right. I’m curious about grants that fund jobs, since working broadly is a ‘protected activity,’ but I can see how grants generally wouldn’t be. It’s a gift of money, and it’s the grant-giver’s private choice of who to gift money to. After all, no one has a right to sue me if I decide to only give white homeless people money but not never black homeless people (as morally reprehensible as that may be, no one could sue for discrimination). I don’t have any expertise in this area, but I would bet that would be the distinction.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Yes, “we can get around this law with clever wording” actually does not have as great a success rate as a lot of people expect it does.

        1. fposte*

          And when this companies do succeed, they don’t realize that it’s not because of the clever wording, it’s because it never was submitted for scrutiny anywhere, same as a lot of illegal behavior.

      3. TBoT*

        I’m really glad you pointed this out. At my employer, we had a position we were recently trying to fill that really was entry-level, and in spite of our listing clearly saying it was entry-level and required 1 year of experience in a specific skill, the overwhelming majority of our applicants had 10+ years of experience in that skill and just were not a fit for the role because of it. Some of them even had advanced degrees and management experience. I wound up adding “recent college graduate” to the wording out of desperation to try to find more candidates who were, you know, entry-level rather than experienced/manager. The potential age discrimination connotations didn’t even occur to me.

        1. LaurenV*

          OP here. This particular agency has been using the wording “recent college grads” in their job descriptions for at least 10 years, that I am aware of. It is not a one-time thing or just something recent.

          1. TBoT*

            I wasn’t trying to imply that it was … just that I’m glad Alison answered the question, because it affects my work as a hiring manager.

            1. LaurenV*

              I was just clarifying things for anyone reading this. I perhaps should not have hit reply on your message when I did so.

        2. Bea W*

          I suspect the same people who ignored the “entry level” type wording would also ignore “recent college grad”

          1. LaurenV*

            Hi. OP here. The job that I applied for did *not* contain the words “entry-level”. In fact, that particular position did require experience. Not all the positions advertised by this firm are advertised as being “entry-level”. The point of my question to Alison was not to focus on one particular job posting, but rather to find out if is legal or even a good idea, for a staffing company (or any company) to continually specify only recent college grads should apply, irregardless if the position is entry-level or not.

            1. Bea W*

              I was replying to TBot’s experience where the wording was changed because not using “recent college grad” was getting them resumes from people who were overqualified. I suspect the same people would still submit applications no matter what – either because they weren’t paying attention or just applying for whatever jobs they could find or applying because they wanted a job at that level and thought they weren’t overqualified.

  3. Monodon monoceros*

    #1 Not sure if this is applicable to your field, but in my field (biology) it is normal to have grant funded positions that are for “recent grads.” The grant usually stipulates how long the person can be out of school.

    1. Kelly*

      Same with fellowships, either post Master’s or post Doctorate. My sister got her Master’s in Public Health this spring and is applying to both fellowships and Epidemiologist I or equivalent positions. She’s found that she’s had more communication from the fellowship applications and just had a phone interview this week for one that’s a federal position. Those positions seem to be aimed at recent graduates who have the education but not enough experience to compete with people who have been in the workplace longer.

      I also wonder if it’s a rephrasing of entry level, which a lot of people with more experience ignore when applying to these type of jobs. They are wasting hiring managers’ time as much as people who apply for jobs that they either lack the educational background or the required experience in the job description. They are also wasting their own time preparing applications for positions that they are overqualified for in the first place.

      Recent graduates don’t necessarily mean people in the early to mid 20s. There are also other adults who go back to school to get a bachelor’s or advanced degree after some time in the workforce. I have one cousin who is a couple years older than me but due to life circumstances had to take one or two classes at a time to get her bachelor’s degree. She’s now working on her master’s degree, which is necessary for job advancement at the hospital she works at, by taking one class per semester. That allows her to work and be a parent, while completing her degree at the same time.

    2. Anx*


      In in a weird limbo zone in that I have a bachelor’s but am in undergraduate work. I’m getting an A.S. in a technical field to improve my lab skills and prove to myself that my academic skills are vastly improved from school.

      I really, really hope there are opportunities specifically for recent grads like me. I’m near 30, many in my program are in their 40s, some in their fifties. But we’ll all be early career science technicians or scientists when we graduate.

      I’ve been looking into fellowships and research opportunities and don’t qualify because I’ve had my B.S. for several years. I guess it would make sense for me to not take these opportunities, except that I never did get that entry level job way back when I graduated.

  4. Mike B.*

    #2 – An organization that’s serious about terrorism should have some better way of vetting its job candidates–this requirement would barely slow a real terrorist down. Why aren’t they doing comprehensive background checks, which are widely accepted and more likely to be effective? Lack of money, or lack of common sense? I’d look elsewhere for employment in either case.

    1. OP #2*

      That’s exactly what I was thinking, after talking it over with a friend of mine who’s a flight attendant. He said that it would be super easy to find friends who can vouch for your whereabouts, and they’re just as likely to lie as family. I’m guessing the company does background checks later in the process, but this just seems like a combo of lack of common sense, lack of money and laziness.

    2. Noah*

      There are also fingerprints and a full CHRC involved later for those that pass an initial round of interviews. Trust me, airline employees, especially pilots and flight attendants, have their background investigated fully. Lots of government regulations in this industry.

    3. Student*

      This is the thorough version. What were you expecting? Do you have any idea how many people need to be investigated for jobs at this (and higher) levels? Do you realize that some of the people who can access the highest levels of security information in the entire country are elected politicians who do not have to pass any real level of security investigation whatsoever and have very minimal job requirements?

      We’re only as secure as the weakest leak in the chain, and the weakest link is your local duly-elected representative or senator in Congress.

      1. Aunt Vixen*

        Do you realize that some of the people who can access the highest levels of security information in the entire country are elected politicians who do not have to pass any real level of security investigation whatsoever

        I’m not sure why you think this is the case. I’ll grant you the relatively minimal job requirements, but not that elected officials are not subject to scrutiny.

      2. Graciosa*

        This is used in a Tom Clancy novel, where the elected official is sharing information with a trusted aide who turns out to be a spy. I wish I could remember which book this was, but the aide was using a regular taxi pickup to pass on the information, and the CIA officials use the discovery of the aide’s spying to force the elected official out of office.

        Sorry if that rambled a bit or got off topic, but it made me wonder about the security requirements for the key committee postings and whether the elected officials (or their aides!) are required to go through any type of clearance process.

        I do agree with Aunt Vixen that the elected officials are definitely subject to scrutiny (probably more thorough and more public than some security clearances!) but I would also add that we, the voters, are responsible for these choices ourselves. Electing someone who can’t be trusted with sensitive information or decisions that impact the security of our nation would obviously be a problem – but I kind of think it would be one we created ourselves and I don’t think we get to blame someone else for doing it. This is just one of the risks of a democratic system.

        If any of our regular posters with experience in DC can shed additional light on some of the security clearance questions, I would love to get more information.

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          We’re not really supposed to talk in much detail about the security clearance questions.

          I did, at one of my polys, ask what kind of investigation is undertaken for (say) the president’s family. Because I assume the folks who are elected–and, downstream, those who are appointed–go through briefing upon briefing and nine thousand signatures on forms blah blah blah, much like those even further downstream who are merely hired. And the background investigation for those of us at the getting-hired level includes some interest in your most intimate friends and relations–I think they generally assume your loyalty is going to be with your loved ones first, if the chips are ever all the way down, so they want to be sure that isn’t a 180-degree conflict with your loyalty to the country/its policies/whatever NDA you just signed. But our friends and family don’t have access to sensitive information just because of us, or they’re not supposed to. Presumably the president’s family, because (a) he’s the president and (b) they live there, have more exposure to more alarming stuff on a day-to-day basis than the spouses and children of people who go home from work every evening.

          Anyway, I was sort of musing about what kind of investigations were conducted into the president’s family and what kind of access they have, and the examiner looked uncomfortable and said he wasn’t really allowed to talk about that. I’ve never known if that was because that topic itself was highly sensitive, or because he didn’t actually know the answers, or–which is an equally valid possibility–both.

    4. corporate attorney*

      I’ve been through a security clearance check, and this is part of (not a substitute for) the background check. Typically, they use those provided references to get names of other people to call…so it’s not like they just call your roommate and stop there. The name you list is just their first stop. The standard commercial background check doesn’t get them what they’re looking for (which is activity that doesn’t turn up on a police report).

    5. Case of the Mondays*

      Agree. Totally normal background check behavior. My husband had to provide a non-family reference that could vouch for a mere four week period when one job ended (camp position that had a definitive end date at the end of the summer) and when his next job started (school based position that started in fall). My husband held that job at 23. His background check was at 33. Security clearances are intense.

      Funny story. They also went and interviewed his old neighbors about him. One set of our old neighbors hang out w/ a rough crowd known for their drug use. My neighbor was a great guy but in the bar/music business where such acquaintances were just an occupational hazard. He wasn’t home the first few times the fed investigators tried to interview him, unannounced. He was freaking out that they had left their business cards looking to speak to him. Then it dawned on him that his old neighbor was a fed that might be getting a higher clearance. He called us to find out if that was the case. It was and we had no idea they were out and about interviewing our old neighbors!

    6. Mephyle*

      I just applied to renew my passport (Canadian abroad) and I had to provide two non-family references. What does the U.S. passport application require in that respect?

      1. Pennalynn Lott*

        I just filled out my application for a US passport, and I don’t remember any questions about non-family references. I assume the Feds have access to everything they need to know about me already (I’m looking at you, NSA). :-)

  5. JCC*

    #1: It might be a company with less than 20 employees — the The Age Discrimination in Employment Act only applies to companies with 20 employees or more. While some states have age discrimination laws that cover the gap, others do not — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi have no law, while Arizona, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah simply lower it to 15 employees or more.

    1. Anna*

      It’s a staffing agency, so even if the agency itself has less than 20 employees, I’m pretty sure they can’t use that to bypass the law for their clients.

  6. Noah*

    #2 – I work in the airline industry. Unfortunately, this is a government requirement mandated by TSA. Not much use for you or the airline to fight it. Most airlines require the information upfront because they receive a huge number of applicants for flight attendant positions. No sense in bringing in people to interview who cannot provide this required information. We tried just asking on the application if they can provide a full history, listing out all the requirements and people lied or just clicked yes.

    1. OP #2*

      That does make a lot of sense. Flight attendant positions are very popular and it’s relevant to my life goals. I really want to go through with the application, but considering my circumstances for the requirements (where I’m estranged from my family/friends of family due to a toxic and abusive environment and my former roommates burned the bridge between us when I moved out), it makes it a bit difficult to go forward. Do you have any advice on how to handle something like that, as you work in the industry?

      But thank you very much for the insight. I’ll have to see if the oversight is worth the job.

      1. Student*

        These kinds of background checks don’t require someone who can vouch for your every move. They’re looking for a person who saw you living at the place you claim to have lived at, basically. Or in the job/volunteer position/ whatever that you claim to have had.

        You lived with your family, unemployed, for 6 months. Surely you came into contact with some non-relative during that period? You’ve said none of your friends came around. Did your parents have any of their friends over? Did your siblings have friends over (keep to people over 18, though)? Did you see or interact with neighbors, maybe a landlord? Did any of your friends visit at least once? You just need to find one person who can say you were living there.

        If you only had contact with family members, pick the one least-closely-related to you to list on the paperwork, and explain the circumstances. They’ll allow it, they can make exceptions.

        1. Ashley*

          This exactly. A friend of mine was seeking security clearence for a government job and I was one of his references – an agent came by my office one day, asked me when my friend lived at place x, y, and z, what jobs he had, if we were romantically involved at all (ha!), and if he was addicted to drugs/alcohol/gambling. Easy-peasy.

        2. Aunt Vixen*

          Yes. I needed someone to verify that I had been a graduate student at $University for a year and a half and where I lived during that time. I barely knew anyone else when I was at that university and had certainly not kept in touch with them in the intervening years–but I expect when they finally tracked people down based on the names they gave them and the contact information I did have, they got answers like “Vixen? Yeah, I remember that name. She was in a couple of my classes, sure. … No, I have no idea where she lived. Somewhere on the opposite side of town from me, but I don’t know specifically. … Yes, that address is on the opposite side of town from where I lived.” And that these answers were much more valuable than more-precise answers from people I knew well would have been, because the very fact that I never expected to need to speak to any of these folks ever again meant I was highly unlikely to have fed them information or that they would give a single rat’s ass about whether their answers would benefit me or not.

        3. Mephyle*

          Yes, they don’t have to be good friends; they can be your acquaintances, or your parents’ or siblings’ friends.
          Not for OP, but for the older generation who have adult kids at home or nearby, also your kids’ friends that have visited your house and met you.

      2. Student*

        Forgot to mention – even if you have lousy relationships with the people who could vouch for you, list them anyway rather than nothing. You won’t be contacting them yourself, the TSA will, and it’s fairly rare for someone to maliciously lie to an authority about something mundane like that. If they do lie but everything else checks out fine, you will probably be given an opportunity to tell your side of the story and explain that you are estranged, and present any other evidence ou might have that you lived where you claimed. You may even get an opportunity to say something in advance of them speaking to your contacts.

        I’m estranged from my parents. I had a security check like this for a different kind of job, wherein I had to explain to the person doing the security check that during a period of time he was investigating, I had lived with my parents for a week, gotten kicked out by them, and then been homeless for about a month until I got back on my feet. I had to explain the whys and wherefores, but the security investigator was extremely sympathetic and seemed to understand my parents were loony. The investigator never bothered talking to my parents, and I got the job despite the weird living arrangement and homeless stint.

      3. Case of the Mondays*

        They aren’t trying to see if you surround yourself with good people. They are just looking to verify some basic facts. There may be some hiccups in certain jobs (DEA for example) if you have an immediate blood relative with substantial drug problems but many of those things can be overcome. I applied for one law enforcement position that required disclosing certain medical information about certain relatives (a blood relative who had a psych hospitalization) and she refused to provide me the info but given that we didn’t regularly associate it was a non-issue. I think they were concerned w/ me keeping my service weapon safe from suicidal relatives.

        Sometimes they want to verify that the reason you are estranged from family is because your family is the problem as opposed to you are a thieving, lying alcoholic dumped by your family.

        I know one person in law enforcement that has an awful vindictive family that HAS tried to lie to get her and her husband fired/not hired from their jobs. The investigators saw right through it and she (and her husband) still have their jobs.

      4. EG*

        Would you be able to list your electric or water company? Not ideal, I know, but they might be able to provide a letter showing that you were at that address for a certain period of time.

        1. Judy*

          They can provide a letter saying that someone paid bills with your name for an account at an address. But usually, they’re looking for a bit more.

          My husband has had two employees who went on to federal jobs. In their clearance interviews, each time he was asked to look at a photo and verify that’s who showed up at work for those two years, along with the other questions.

      5. Noah*

        What they are looking for is someone, anyone really, who can verify your wearabouts. You can list landlords, family friends, priests, neighbors, basically anyone that would’ve seen you and say you lived where you say you lived. A six month gap is a pretty long time, so later on they will likely ask you for a signed letter saying “I lived at ____ from date to date”. Like many other’s have mentioned all of these things are just starting points for an investigation. The investigators are used to dealing with estranged family and looking into alternatives. I wouldn’t worry too much.

        Not that you asked, but here is some more general advice about a flight attendant interview. They are usually a group format, at least at the beginning. Do not talk over others, but make sure you speak. Pay attention when others are talking. Smile a lot, and avoid the “bitchy resting face”. They will often have some team oriented task. What they are looking for is that you engage as part of the team and work well with others. You want to stand out but not appear overly bossy. Finally, if you are given free airfare on the airline to fly to an interview, be on your best behavior the entire time. Ticket agents, gate agents, flight attendants, and shuttle drivers along the way may be asked for input on your attitude and behavior.

    2. jag*

      So more security theater from the TSA. Yeah, that’ll stop terrorists. They probably can’t find anyone to vouch for an employment gap, so I feel safer already.

      1. LBK*

        I’m assuming that’s not the entire process…it sounds like it’s just an early screening method so they don’t have to spend time and money running more intensive background checks on candidates who can’t even verify the most basic employment info.

    3. Mike C.*

      Reminds me of how when you buy a commercial airliner – before the customer can fly it home they all need to be screened by the TSA. I guess it makes some sense if the plane is immediately going into service, but still.

    4. Dan*

      Interesting. I do white collar work in the biz, and the applications are just as ornerous. Pisses me off, because my stuff isn’t really a cattle call type. I really don’t want to send 10 years worth of background info to four different airlines who may have interest in hiring me at all.

  7. Zillah*

    Re: 1 – Hmm. I’m curious about this now.

    How does requiring a recent college grad differ (in a legal sense) from requiring someone who’s entry level, or only has 1-3 years of experience? Wouldn’t the latter also lean heavily toward people who are younger?

    1. Felicia*

      Thats what i wondered…i mean there are people who are changing careers I guess, but I imagine they are just as common as recent grads who are like 40. So people with 1-3 years experience in something are just as likely to be a certain age as recent grads.

      I’m also wondering how Canadian laws treat this – part of my job includes approving job ads from our members and a lot of them say “recent grads welcome” though none are only for recent grads – they’re just basically trying to say it’s ok if you don’t have experience. Though so many of the job ads i have to reject say “female only” which i wwas surprised about at first – some of the bigger career sites actually allow the job ads from this field that say female only (it’s a common request in this field, but illegal), which is also surprising.

    2. Helka*

      Well, any person can work an entry-level job, that has nothing to do with age. Even setting aside the current “take any job” climate, entry level can apply to people who are re-entering the workforce after an extended absence, people who are transitioning to a new career path, or who are looking to step back from a higher-level position.

      Experience, ditto. Since that usually means relevant experience, that’s also not tied to age.

        1. LBK*

          But the circumstances that would lead you to be entry level at an older age are more likely than going to school at an older age, I would think. Going back to college is a considerable time and money commitment – deciding you want to start over in a new industry isn’t quite as intensive in order to qualify.

          So while both “entry level” and “recent college grad” could technically apply to anyone at any age, I think “entry level” is probably going to eliminate far fewer older candidates than “recent college grad” would.

        2. Karowen*

          But the phrase “entry-level” actually describes the work. It’s like how you can’t say that you won’t hire a convict, but you can say that applicants must be able to meet certain conditions that a convict wouldn’t be able to. The goal in job ads is to state the requirements and tie them back in to the work.

          Plus, as stated in the EEOC excerpt Alison published, the phrase “recent college graduates” would make more older people feel uncomfortable about applying. The point is to make your language as inclusive as possible, and for whatever reason “recent college graduate” heavily implies “young” whereas “entry-level” only mostly implies “young”

    3. illini02*

      This may come off sounding a bit worse than I intend it, but I couldn’t think of a better way to word it. To me “entry level” and “recent college graduate” aren’t the same thing. An 18 year old who dropped out of school could be entry level right? Whereas a college graduate has that degree. Now, there are definitely some jobs that don’t require a college degree, but I see nothing wrong with wanting someone who has one. So in that sense, I think there is a big difference between asking for entry level candidates and recent college grads. To be clear, I have plenty of friends who are very successful and didn’t go to college, and could get a better job than me right now. However, wanting someone with a degree is fine and I think there should be some way to differentiate between that and “entry level”

      1. EngineerGirl*

        Entry level is for the industry. So an entry level engineer would have to have a minimum of a BS degree, an entry level Neurosurgeon would need a doctorate plus specialized training.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        Also, if you wanted certain education you would state that – “minimum BS in science plus 2 years experience”

  8. AMD*

    I am hiring for the pharmacy right now, and just had to reject an gentleman in his late fifties (I think?) because he didn’t seem to have either the computer or communication skills we need, and I spent a while afterward examining my biases to make sure I wasn’t rejecting him because of his age. I admit that my mental image of an ideal candidate is someone in their early twenties, but I hope that I would accept any candidate who demonstrated adaptability and ability to learn the computer system.

    My dad, in his late fifties, has worked in the tech field all his life, so I know that computer skills definitely aren’t an age thing, but it is so hard to root out that internal stereotype. :(

    1. LBK*

      As long as you’re screening for those computer skills the same way for all ages I think you’re fine – in other words, make sure that in addition to not assuming someone older doesn’t have technology skills, make sure you’re also not assuming that someone who’s young is good with technology. The most technologically uneducated people I’ve worked with were in their 20s and our IT/BI guys are all 40+.

    2. Anx*

      And computer skills vary wildly.

      My aunt, 60s, was a computer systems analyst in the 80s and is trying to break into web design now. But things like keyboard shortcuts totally elude her.

  9. Natalie*

    The logic of #2 is just baffling. We’re assuming terrorists are above lying? That’s the line they won’t cross?

    1. Tenley*

      ?? A background check of work history is to verify that work history (and maybe aspects of your personality, reliability, etc.). Interviews with non-family members are typically conducted and have been for decades to confirm you are who you say you are and anything in your background that might raise issues. Confirming where you were during gaps in your employment already would have been part of a background check that full, but might be highlighted for the applicant now for who knows what reasons — maybe as simple as having an easy reason to reject you if you can’t produce anyone unrelated to confirm you were unemployed rather than taking a class to learn to fly planes into buildings or whatever. Anyone can lie. That’s why there is a separate investigation and interviews of people you don’t even list.

      1. Will G*

        As stated above, this is a TSA requirement and pretty much mirrors the information you have to provide for a background investigation for federal governement employment. While they’re not granting you a security clearance, being a flight attendant does give you more access to areas of aiports and airplanes.

    2. MK*

      You are thinking of a different kind of terrorist. Not all terrorist cells are disciplined international organizations with plenty of resources and long-term plans. There also semi-amaturish “fringe” groups of untrained, disorganised malcontents; though largely ineffectual, these groups can nevertheless cause a great deal of harm in the right (or wrong) place and they are very likely to attract people who wouldn’t be able to account for their movements. This is likely not the whole extent if the background check, just a first step to discourage the more obvious suspects. I agree it’s probably ineffective (most people could con an aquaintance into being their “reference” with a sob story), but it’s also possible that they are evaluating these “references” too (in a “is this a respected member of the community” kind of way).

    3. CD*

      They’re probably going to have someone look into all of her information. They aren’t just going to take it at face value.

  10. HeyNonnyNonny*

    For #4, I did once get a job offer like that– the manager called me in for a meeting, and then gave me the offer (which was much lower than what I wanted). I will say that once you get into post-interview meetings, if you think there might be an offer coming, be prepared. I always felt like the face to face meeting was an attempt to pressure me into accepting a bad offer, whereas over the phone or through email you have time to collect your thoughts and negotiate better.

    1. some1*

      This happened to me, as well. I got called in for a second interview at at 1:00 and got an offer on the very low end of compensation I required and no benefits for 90 days. They wanted an answer by beginning of business the next day. I had a handful of interviews to hear back from and had a few scheduled.

  11. Allison*

    I’m curious . . . when someone like OP #1, with tons of professional experience, applies to a job that’s clearly entry-level, are they applying knowing it’s not gonna pay much or involve a high level of responsibility? Are they applying because they want to break into a new industry or learn new skills, and they figure the pay cut is worth it? Are they expecting to start at that role, but advance quickly? Or do they apply figuring that the employer will get really excited over the prospect of bringing on someone more experienced to do the job, and jack up the salary and level of responsibility accordingly?

    This is what recruiters and hiring managers wonder when someone with way more experience than required applies for the role, and they wonder what will happen if they do opt for the more senior candidate over the junior one.

    1. LBK*

      I think this is why cover letters are a powerful tool, both for the candidate to write a good one and for the hiring manager to spend time actually reading it.

    2. LaurenV*

      Allison: As OP #1, let me answer that. The particular position I applied for did *not* state it was entry-level and in fact stated they were looking for someone with 1-3 years experience (I have 4.5 years, so I did not consider that having “way more experience”) and advanced Microsoft Office abilities. The stated pay range was agreeable to me and the job, as described, was something that I would have very much enjoyed doing. So no, I was not thinking I would “advance quickly from entry-level”. This agency was fine with my resume and level of experience, as they selected me for a phone screen. It was only when they realized I was not a recent grad that it seemed they lost interest and that is what lead to my question for Alison.

      For clarification purposes, the jobs listed by this agency range from entry-level all the way up, but the vast majority require a “recent college grad”. As a side-note, I have been aware of this agency and their “recent college grad” requirement for several years now, as I have had a couple others comment about it, in job-related conversations. It was not until I applied for one of their positions that I really took notice of it and it made me wonder if it was really legal.

      1. Poohbear McGriddles*

        To me, having 1.5 years more experience than the 1-3 they called for isn’t that big of a deal. People progress at different rates. It would be different if the applicant had 15-20 years of experience and was applying for such a position.
        However, legally age is not a protected class until you’re over 40. So someone who is 25 or 26 and gets passed over for a 22 year old doesn’t have a case.

  12. Graciosa*

    Regarding #3, I’m a big fan of just asking. Not being allowed to talk about your work achievements is a huge potential handicap, but people usually understand that and will be accommodating where possible.

    This was especially hard for me at the end of a previous long term job. Attorneys have ethical obligations to keep client information confidential – which would mean that I can put down literally nothing other than title and dates of employment without permission.

    Fortunately, we all understand what that does to us, so when I submitted my resume for clearance I was able to get it. I think it helped that I identified the reasons I chose the specific items listed (usually because an executive in the business had talked about the projects in an interview or issued a press release about them).

    The other factor that helped was how the achievements were worded. The company may not want it made public that the increase added 120 basis points to the margin of their marquee product, but be willing to let you say that you increased profit by more than $X. Sometimes percentages are better choices than dollar figures, and sometimes it is the reverse. Phrases like “more than” “at least” and “in excess of” can also help. I have one item where the actual figures involved are well over 2X the already impressive number listed – but I only have permission to disclose X, which is what we made public, and it has worked perfectly well for me.

    I would be candid about what you’re looking for and let the business decide what can comfortably be shared. They will probably work with you if you ask in a way that shows you want to respect any legitimate business concerns about protecting truly confidential information.

    Good luck.

  13. soitgoes*

    When a job targets “recent grads” I assume 1) they’re not going to pay very much, 2) they might want internship experience (something that isn’t so common among older adults), and 3) they want people who have experience/education in the newest software or technologies. Basically, they don’t want to train or pay you.

    #2 reminds me of having to fill out a background check form for a part-time job with a government contractor while I was still in college. My life has not been particularly difficult or tumultuous, but I had a very hard time making a list of people that I’d known for 10+ years. It’s even hard, in your 20s, to come up with a decent reference list when you’re just starting to insert yourself into the working world. I ended up just listing friends of mine who’d been employed for more than a year. Yep, all 4 of them.

    Actually, maybe Allison can provide some input here. What’s a good workaround for listing non-family references when your educational/work history doesn’t automatically provide them for you and a move or two means that you don’t have a lot of local friends who you’ve known for a while? Do you list friends of your parents?

    1. Graciosa*

      I have listed friends of my parents and parents of my friends (who could vouch that yes, I was in my hometown in high school and not in a secret terrorist training camp). Other options may include people who knew you through a religious organization, a club, a hobby, a sport, or through volunteer work.

      What I most remember was one application that required three references for every address in the last ten years – but you couldn’t use the same reference for more than one address. That one required some creative juggling of names to get all the spots covered.

      1. soitgoes*

        I’m kind of wondering, though, if these types of background checks are a generation or two away from being considered old-fashioned or out-dated. Childhood and teenage bullying has gotten so much publicity recently that I can imagine it being relevant to background checks. “I was bullied in high school and didn’t have a lot of friends” or, “Normal school was rough for me so I graduated early/transferred to an alternative school after sophomore year.” I guess friends of your parents or your favorite professor is your best bet for a reference?

        1. Graciosa*

          I don’t know if the basics of information requested for the check will change, but I hope that as a society we improve our understanding of what might be reasonable behaviors or explanations of an “imperfect” background check. Student posted something about an experience which sounds like it was horrible to go through, however the positive point was that the security screener understood of the situation.

          My own understanding is that for government security clearances, you can have a less than flawless application in some areas and still receive the clearance if you have reasonable and truthful explanations – but any lie, perceived lie, or misstatement is the kiss of death.

          I don’t know if all private background checks will work the same way, but I would still use that approach and explain anything that needed an explanation as honestly and completely as possible.

        2. KerryOwl*

          Bullying may be talked about a lot more these days, but I don’t think it’s actually increased in frequency. Kids have ALWAYS been bullied in school. I doubt background checkers are just going to give up because a bunch of kids didn’t have friends in school.

        3. MK*

          Actually, I think references from people a generation removed from you are perceived to have more weight and substance. A recommendation from Mr.X, the for-many-decades-much-respected highschool principle of the district is bound to appeal to an employer more than one from your pal X, with whom you hang around in highschool.

    2. MaryMary*

      One of my best friends was hired as a government contractor right out of college, and she put me down for her background check since I was on the short list of non-relatives she’d known for over ten years. On the questionaire I filled out, it asked me how often I saw my friend. Well, when we were in school together, I saw her practically every day. We went to different colleges, so then I saw her every couple of months. After graduation, we moved to different cities and started full time jobs, and only saw each other once or twice a year. I decided the time averaged out to being able to check the “monthly” box. I get why they asked the question, but if we’re going off of ten or more years, the answer isn’t going to fit into a neat box.

  14. nyxalinth*

    It kind of felt to me that OP #1 might really be asking “Is this a sneaky way to try to get around age discrimination laws?” One could interpret it that way–and I have no doubt that some companies might use it for that–but I’m goin to give employers the benefit of the doubt and assume that what others have said about it being a desire for people with little experience and being more moldable to be the case.

    1. soitgoes*

      I agree. Or maybe the workplace culture is more conducive to younger people? It’s still technically illegal, but I don’t see a whole lot of sinister thought behind the phrasing (though I think the company probably is sketchy anyway).

      This reminds me of a guy in my college who pitched a fit over housemate notices. “It’s illegal for girls to state that they’re only looking for female roommates!” Um, technically, but are we going to argue with a woman’s reasons for not wanting to live with a man she doesn’t know? And a guy who protests that isn’t making himself look like the best housemate candidate anyway.

      My point is, pick your battles. If you argue too much for why, as an over-qualified person, you’re the best candidate for a job that requires no experience and pays very little, you risk making yourself look worse.

      1. KerryOwl*

        I disagree that it’s illegal to discriminate with regard to potential housemates. That’s not a hiring situation.

        1. Elysian*

          Agreed – not illegal. You’re allowed to be as discriminatory as you like in your private life – who you live with, who you’re friends with, who your date or marry, etc. It doesn’t start being illegal until you start impinging on someone else’s protected rights, like hiring or public accommodations, or if you’re acting under the auspices of the government. Otherwise everyone who is not bisexual could be sued for their discriminatory dating practices! Won’t date me just because I’m a woman? Gosh. That would be hysterical, but isn’t how stuff is set up.

          1. Poohbear McGriddles*

            Actually, I’d imagine everyone discriminates when it comes to dating – just maybe not always with respect to legally protected classes. Some folks prefer to date within their same ethnic, religious, political or other identity – and that’s okay. It’s also why there are so many niche dating sites out there (e.g. Christian Mingle). Imagine if people could sue for dating discrimination. All those out of work law school grads could clog up the courts for millenia!

        2. soitgoes*

          It actually was illegal to have been advertised the way it was. It was obviously a dumb situation all around (the girl looking for housemates would have simply declined to give men a callback) but apparently, in whatever the circumstances were, you can’t put “no men allowed” on a flier.

          1. Relosa*

            This. Especially if you’re posting on CL, they tell you point-blank not to list gender preferences, etc. I think the only places that can get away with it are non-profit sobriety houses.

            I flag every single one, male or female preferred, or anything that violates equal housing standards. You can choose who it is you do or do not want to live with, for whatever reason, but by no means do you get to advertise it that way.

                1. Sasha LeTour*

                  Exactly. It is a rule for advertising real estate rentals on Craigslist, but it’s not federal law.

            1. Fabulously Anonymous*

              In the US, it is legal to specify sex for shared dwellings:

              “In Fair Hous. Council v, LLC, the Ninth Circuit held that roommate listings can’t violate the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) or the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), because the listings aren’t even subject to those Acts.
              The court reached that conclusion by examining the FHA’s definition of a “dwelling” and determining that, because roommates aren’t living in their own “dwelling,” the FHA doesn’t apply.”


  15. CD*

    #2 – It really isn’t that weird. I had to do the same thing (and much more) to get a security clearance to work for a federal contractor. Working for an airline, they need to have a certain level of security so they need to make sure you’re not lying and can vouch for all of your whereabouts.

  16. BadPlanning*

    On OP#5, the company could have enacted a hiring freezes (especially at big companies) — even after a department has interviewed people, if hiring is shut down, it’s shut down.

  17. Anx*

    I’m still very confused about #1. I thought that jobs could set education and experience requirements.

    I feel very uncomfortable applying to entry level jobs that require 1-2 years of full-time, paid experience I don’t have because of my age and other factors, but that’s perfectly legal.

    ‘Recent college grad’ makes me uncomfortable because I have a similar level of experience that I did at graduation, but it’s been a while since I graduated (6 years). But I think that discomfort makes sense.

    It’s discouraging not to be able to find anything for underemployed people looking to start their careers, but I don’t think it’s unusual or wrong.

    If anything ‘must be a recent graduate’ seems more inclusive than setting an upper limit for experience, since it’s more friendly to career changers.

    1. HR Manager*

      And to your point, they made changes in the UK that expressly forbids the years of experience in a job posting because it could be construed as discriminatory. So your job description could read experienced in accounts reconciliation and US GAAAP standards, but you could not write 1-3 years of accounting using US GAAAP (UK equivalents of course).

      I agree with you that they’re really both sides of the same coin, as in either scenario the pool of your candidates are likely heavily skewed to one subset of age. You could argue that the college pool may be even more limited (just based on the demographics of people who go to college) and so is more restrictive when phrased like the OP #1’s question, and so listing experience implies a broader reach of age groups, but I’m not sure in reality you get that different in your pool of applicants.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        I actually like this because it is skills based. What, exactly, is 2 years experience? Better to say that we need proficiency in X and Y, with familiarity with Z.

  18. MaryMary*

    At OldJob, we had a strong preference for hiring 20-something recent college graduates into our entry level roles. We worked in a fairly specialized subject area and most of our software was internally developed and proprietary. There was a huge learning curve for anyone coming into the company from a technology perspective, and even if someone had prior experience in the subject area, they still needed to learn the OldJob Way. Our environment was also fast paced and pretty demanding, long hours were the norm.

    It’s not that an individual not in their 20s couldn’t thrive in the position, it’s just that I never saw one who did. Between the hours, the pace, having to learn 90% of the responsibilities of the role from scratch, and being surrounded by a pack of 22 in their first real job (and reporting to a 25 year old manager) most of the older individuals we hired left after less than a year or were marginal performers at best. We had a problems trying to hire middle management from outside as well, since our processes were so insular, but that’s another story.

    In the world traveller post, we talked about hiring preferences based on being burned in the past (like hiring someone who just completed a year long trip, only to have the person get the traveling bug again six months later and quit). So what do you do when experience tells you concentrating on the candidates best suited for the role means you’re discriminating against a protected class? I’d be livid if someone said experience had shown them that women don’t do well in a certain job, but I’m basically making the same argument here.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      You ask further questions that would be relevant to everyone. Can you commit to 80 hour weeks on a continuing basis? Give me an example where you quickly had to learn software? Tell me of a time where you had to teach yourself a subject and become the expert at it. What are your perceptions of a 25 year old manager (younger workers may think they can get away with more, older workers may struggle with respect, so the question is relevant no matter the age).

      1. MaryMary*

        Well, that’s assuming you interview all the candidates. If you have a large pool of candidates, and in your experience recent grads are the best fit, why wouldn’t you only interview recent grads? Or, at least, put them at the top of your list? It’s like preferring local candidates (except that it’s illegal).

        1. EngineerGirl*

          Because it is a) discriminatory b) based on stereotypes c) weeds out potential stellar employees d) just plain lazy
          I’ve never seen the lazy solution be the best solution. Ever. If you need good workers you spread your net wide. A company that discriminates on age deserves to die. Talent lies across all groups. If you discriminate against some then you’re not going to get the best.

          1. MaryMary*

            Well, and I’m really playing devil’s advocate here. Hiring a diverse employee population (age, gender, race/ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, etc) is a good business practice for many, many reasons, the least of which is so you don’t get sued.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      I’m torn. As an old geek, I’ve always expected that I’ll have to learn a ton of stuff in any new job: at least some of the technology, the business, and how the business uses the technology. I’ve never had a problem learning and adjusting, and getting older hasn’t changed that.

      On the other hand, I also have enough experience to know that some technology jobs are essentially sweat shops (such as many gaming companies). They hire young, work them hard, burn them out, and throw them away. There are always more young (inexperienced) workers who think working for a cool company is more important than having a life.

      So, your experienced workers could probably handle the pace and having to learn 90% of the processes from scratch, but now have families and recognize that there is more to life than work. Could it be that OldJob didn’t want so much a younger worker as an inexperienced in what really matters in life worker?

      Part of the answer to that could be clarified with the following question: What happened to the 20 somethings you did hire, once they had learned all the technology and business and were no longer 20 somthings? Did they stay and thrive? Or did they leave and you had to replace them with new workers?

      1. Joline*

        Yep. We see that a lot in public practice accounting as well. Crazy hours. At one point people often switch to an industry with less of a commitment.

        I would argue, though, that it’s not necessarily that they’re “inexperienced in what really matters in life” but that different things matter at different times. In your 20s when you want to get that name on your resume and your closest friends are your co-workers who you work and socialize with you might have a different attitude towards work than when you’re already established and have other commitments (ie. community involvement, family, friends) outside of work. I was the former and now I’m the latter. But just because my priorities changed doesn’t mean they were ever wrong.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          That’s a valid point. Priorities do change. But there are also software sweatshops that take advantage of the inexperienced worker who doesn’t recognize it as a sweatshop.

      2. MaryMary*

        OldJob had a culture where most of senior management and nearly all of middle management had started with the company as a entry level hire. So yes, a lot of those 20 somethings decided in the first year or two that it wasn’t for them, there were usually a couple waves of attriton between 5-10 years where people gained enough experience to go to a competitor or move into a similar role in another industry (we also had a decent number who quit to do something totally unrelated – teach! become a chef! – only to come back again). But there were a ton of people who had been there 15, 20, 30 years. There was a midset where it was encouraged/typical/expected to give your all, regardless of whether you were entry level or management.

        I didn’t work at a big or accounting firm, but it was similar to where not all first year associates will become partners, but the majority of partners and senior associates had once been first years at the firm (the “golden handcuffs” idea was the same, too).

    3. Dan*

      To me, in the world traveler post, that person came across ONE person who didn’t work out. That’s not a large enough sample to draw from.

      But what do you *do* in your situation? What you’ve previously done, and hope you don’t get caught. And if you do get caught, have a good lawyer on speed dial.

  19. C Average*

    The whole “recent college grad” thing is interesting.

    Like a couple of other commenters, I’ve always thought that phrase (which I’ve definitely seen) meant “college grads with no experience actually have a shot at this job,” not “we’ll only consider recent college grads.” But I can definitely see how in some instances “only college grads” is what it actually means.

    Culturally, I’m familiar with a few places that only hire recent college or grad school grads, even though it’s generally not spelled out in the job listings.

    My husband works for a large tech company that only hires recent graduates. This is because (I’m gonna be honest here) they work new employees absolutely to death, and they want new hires to be both malleable and free of families and other encumberments. I’m sure their HR office would never tell you this, but it’s common knowledge in the workforce there and in the local community and beyond.

    I work for a large company that has a good-sized dedicated social media team, and we hire almost exclusively new grads to that team. It’s an entry-level position that we use as an incubator for other functions; in some respects, it functions almost like an internship program. It’s also a demanding job with lots of nights and weekends, and the team atmosphere tends to be raucous and high-energy and full of young people–I think most older people would go crazy in that environment, and I know the hiring managers are reluctant to hire older people because history has shown us that most older hires don’t thrive in an open-plan office surrounded by boisterous twentysomethings. I wouldn’t say it’s systemic discrimination–there are currently two older hires in that group who have bucked the trend and seem to be doing well–but it’s definitely a thing.

    1. Fabulously Anonymous*

      “hey work new employees absolutely to death, and they want new hires to be both malleable and free of families and other encumberments. I’m sure their HR office would never tell you this”

      Serious question, why don’t you just tell candidates that and let them decide? Not the exact words you wrote, but why not state the number of hours per week and that you are looking for someone extremely flexible? And then give examples: you may find out at 5 pm you need to work until midnight. You may find out at 10 pm and you need to fly across the country tomorrow morning.

      1. C Average*

        Because I don’t work for the company and have mainly an outsider’s perspective (with a little insider knowledge based on what my spouse has shared with me), I can’t say for sure why, but I can speculate.

        I think they don’t spell it out because they don’t have to. The company is by far the biggest player in a well-defined market, and they mainly hire engineers. Because they recruit from top engineering schools, and because engineering students generally want to work for this company, there is a lot of kind of unspoken tribal knowledge about this employer in the engineering student community. They get plenty of the type of applicant they want, so there isn’t any real need to be explicit about what they’re looking for. It’s only a problem for applicants who don’t fit the typical mold and don’t do the informal research to know about the hiring culture at this company. I’m sure applying there is a frustrating and confusing experience for anyone who takes the job listings at face value, but it’s pretty straightforward for those who have learned a bit about the way the company hires.

      2. MaryMary*

        At my OldJob, we did try to set expectations around work load and time commitment (at least the hiring managers did, I suspect the recruiters told a different story). But sometimes candidates hear what they want to hear, or underestimate what that kind of work schedule will mean. You can say “long hours,” and some people thinks that means until 6pm. You can say “80 hour weeks” or “25% travel” and it’s not until someone has worked every Saturday for six months, or realized 25% might mean a solid month on the road, or missed their wife’s/mother’s/daughter’s birthday that they realize they can’t keep this kind of work schedule.

  20. EmilyG*

    I once applied for a job that required a US government security clearance (didn’t go all the way through with it for reasons that are boring and irrelevant). Asking for non-relatives that can verify employment gaps is *exactly* how that security clearance application worked. It’s kind of weird that some company is asking for it, but I bet that was their inspiration, rather than them making it up out of the blue.

  21. Guesty McGuesterson*

    While almost certainly not illegal, listing a minimum GPA can effect candidates disparately based on their age. I had an outstanding college GPA, but I also went to school in the age of massive grade inflation; I’m not sure I want to know what my average would have been back in the 80’s.

    1. Anx*

      It also discriminates against people with disabilities who could not access accommodations for financial reasons.

  22. Cate*

    The “recent graduate” discussion really intrigued me, especially because I work on the career side in higher ed, so I see it all the time. A quick check through the Ontario Human Rights Code (our governing body) gives a total thumbs up to AAM’s assessment that in regular posts, this amounts to age discrimination. The exception is if the position is tied to a special program, which is something that many of the larger organizations that recruit students do to encourage better performance and retention.

  23. Jolie*

    Anecdata for OP #4: With my last job, after two interviews the boss called me in for a third time and made me an offer in person. With my new job, the hiring manager (who also happens to handle our HR, but based on office culture I suspect hiring managers always make offers here) made the offer over email.

    In my case this really speaks to the differences between my managers as well as the different cultures of the two companies. My last job was at a small company where the boss was a bit of a traditionalist. He also valued his professional relationships over almost anything else. I now work at a larger, faster-paced company with a manager who values efficiency and progress over almost anything else. So sometimes the way you get your job offer can give you valuable information about that workplace and manager, and whether they might be a good fit for you.

  24. Various Assumed Names*

    #2 – I actually don’t think it sounds weird to list someone who can verify your time off, like an unemployment reference. That said, I personally have never considered the 5-month period I had between graduation and starting my first job to be an employment gap; I’ve never mentioned it in the employment gap section and have never had a problem. If it’s a security concern, you’d think they’d want you to verify how you spent every summer vacation before that as well.

    1. Noah*

      I don’t know about everywhere, but we require a full 10 year employment/education history. That includes summers and any period longer than 30 days. So if you didn’t have a summer job you would have to list someone to verify your whereabouts during that time.

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