I have heard many unemployed workers who are in protected classes under discrimination law (e.g. workers with disabilities, workers over 40 years old) express frustration that employers will not hire them for jobs they are qualified for, and the workers feel this is for discriminatory reasons based on their protected class (e.g. hiring employer does not want to hire workers who have disabilities, who are over 40).
There are times when these workers’ beliefs are in fact supported by evidence, such as discriminatory statements made by the employer during a job interview, the employer having hired a far less-qualified worker who was not in the protected class, etc. So I will acknowledge, as Kurt Cobain once said, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” And hey, my job is representing workers who – in my view of the evidence- the employer was “after.”
However, job applicants should know there are many times when hiring employers are not “after” you. There are many, many non-discriminatory reasons (fair and unfair) that an employer may have for not hiring someone. There may be 100 more qualified applicants that you don’t know about. The employer’s owner may have wanted to hire his incompetent nephew for the job, which is unfair, but is not unlawful under WI law.
There are many times when job applicants” beliefs of discrimination are not borne of hard evidence, but instead stem from the frustration in not getting a job. This frustration is completely understandable, as is wondering about discrimination, as discrimination does exist and is not uncommon.
However, just because discrimination is “out there” doesn’t mean it is everywhere.
Further, even if discrimination is in play for a given job opportunity, it does you no good to adopt defeatist beliefs like “They won’t hire me because of my age- heck, most employers won’t hire me because of my age.” Even if it were true that most employers exercise age-discrimination in hiring (which is not true in my view), it doesn’t do a worker any good to stew about that, or lose motivation because of that. Again, most of the time, discrimination is not at issue in hiring decisions.
For those occasions where there is evidence that discrimination is an issue, that is not something to defeat you, but rather an obstacle to work around.
In my view, the most common areas of discrimination in job-hiring context, which are supported by the most evidence, is discrimination based on the applicant’s disability, age, or criminal record (criminal record is basis for a protected class under Wisconsin law, although this is not the case under federal law or many other states’ laws). Within these protected classes, people who fall on the end of the spectrum- people with the most severe disabilities and medical needs, people of increasingly advanced age, people convicted of types of crimes that are strongly shunned by the public- probably are wise to keep potential discrimination in mind as they apply for jobs.
However, such at-risk workers should not dwell on discrimination, or stew about how bad it is (even though it is). Rather, discrimination should be thought of as something to adjust to. If your reality is that you are dealing with a hiring employer with discriminatory beliefs (e.g. they believe that a person over 70 cannot perform the job at issue), then your task is to politely deal with that belief and try to change it (e.g. point out the rich experiences and resume that a 70-year old has that a 30-year does not). Anticipate discriminatory concerns (e.g. that an older worker will want to retire abruptly), and affirmatively and politely address them (e.g. explain what your own goals are, and how your work life with the employer would not live out the employer’s fears).
I don’t want to get too motivational-speaker-like here, and I acknowledge that there are a whole lot of people, including many clients I’ve had, who can tell me a lot more than I can tell them about job-hunting tips. But when it comes to concerns of discrimination, real or perceived, I can tell you firsthand that it is counterproductive to deal with those concerns by stewing about them or viewing them too negatively. Again, discrimination is something you can deal with and you can overcome, if and when it presents itself.