Join our young, dynamic team!

When I see an ad that encourages me to come join a young team, it negatively influences my view of that company.

Best case: the person writing the ad is using “young” as a synonym for energy, enthusiasm and drive without thinking a lot about it.

Usual case: the team being hired for is currently composed of younger people and has a lot of fun together, so the natural impulse is to look for a hire who will fit in.

Worst case: the company really is looking for young workers, especially without a lot of work experience, because young workers don’t yet know professional norms and are easy to exploit.

Extreme worst case: the person hiring is looking for not only young, but young and attractive, either due to an internal bias or because some managers see work as an extended dating pool.

So, worst cases first. If you’re using this terminology to specifically target people who won’t understand that this is a red flag, I can’t help you: please go rethink your entire life choices.

For everyone else who may be tempted to advertise for a young team, here’s what you can do instead: Take some time and consider what you assumed the benefits of a young person joining the team would be. Perhaps you’ll write down, “Doesn’t have preconceived ideas about our industry,” or “Flexible thinker,” or “Fast learner”. Great! Now use that for your job ad instead of the catch-all lazy word “young”.

We’re going to have some problems if you’ve written down, “Won’t laugh at our jokes,” or “Will join our Nerf gun wars,” or “Great to join our Friday night happy hour”. These all mean, “An older person won’t fit into our team culture”. Perhaps you should take a hard look at your team culture, but let me point out: There are also plenty of young people who want a more serious atmosphere at work or don’t want to spend their private time drinking with their coworkers. If a culture of socializing with the team in this sort of fashion is non-negotiable, you should be screening for that up-front and you’re doing everyone a favor if you make it very clear – just leave age out of it.

Maybe you’ve thought of serious concerns about the applicant’s possible performance. “Won’t be up to date on technology,” “Won’t make work their top priority because of family responsibilities.” Again, the way to confront these biases (and yes, they are biases – today’s seniors were at the forefront of the rise of the personal computer, and young people can also have family responsibilities) is to explicitly lay out what qualities and skills you are looking for in a job applicant without taking a shortcut based on what you assume about an applicant’s age.

Modern Western culture has been obsessed with youth for centuries, so it’s understandable that these biases exist, but it’s worth asking yourself why you’re using a loaded, discriminatory word when you could be clearly describing what you’re seeking. More bluntly: you’re participating in perpetuating the bias against people who are not young – and that’s counterproductive, because I hope you will end up in that age group yourself.

Age discrimination is real, and unless you die young, you will someday be in the age group affected by it. Take a stand for your future self and end age discrimination now!

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