You’re Just Not Qualified (Part I)

Posted: June 15, 2011 in bias, Equal Employment Opportunity, hiring, Labor Department, long-term unemployed, Uncategorized, unemployables, unemployment, workforce

You’re part techno guru, part social butterfly. You’re outgoing. You have amazing energy. You love to talk about cool technology. Well, we have customers waiting to speak to you.

That’s what that the ad said.
This is a job selling cell phones.

Based purely on the description, I thought I could make the cut. However, one might suspect that the ad is filled with code for only 20- or 30- young somethings to fill the position and that anyone older than that need not apply. Why do I suspect that? The words we use have meanings. “Techno guru,” “social butterfly, “amazing energy” “cool technology.”  Be honest. These are not terms that would bring to mind for most people a 50-something year old. I’m thinking Paris Hilton and Justin Timberlake. Snookie or the Situation.

But companies can’t discriminate in hiring people over 40 based on age unless there is a bona fide reason to do so for the position. So they can’t be advertising for young people, can they? We’ve all heard the assumptions that if you are over 40 you can’t or won’t want to fulfill these types of job requirements.

The requirements, and I quote,

 The successful candidate will be able to perform the following with or without reasonable accommodation:

·         Ability to work flexible hours, including evenings, weekends and holidays

·         Ability to stand for long periods of time

·         Ability to complete all paperwork completely, accurately, in a timely manner

·         Ability to lift up to 25 pounds

·         Ability to operate a personal computer, wireless equipment, copier and fax

·         Ability to work in other locations as the needs of the business dictate may be required.

·         Complete all aspects of opening and closing the store in accordance with written procedures. Submit all transaction journals on a daily basis.

·         Assists with inventory maintenance

·         May be required to wear a uniform

Everyone assumes that those who have been in the workforce for years are not willing to take on such tasks. Let me tell you about flexibility.

I applied; I attached my resume and filled out their application.

I affirmatively agreed to do all of the above just for an entry-level job selling cell phones and I have not only a bachelor’s degree in Communications but a JD as well. I’m a licensed attorney and I said I’d be willing to wear a uniform to sell phones. How much more flexible can you be?

They say among the reasons “older” people remain unemployed longer than those under the age of let’s say 45 is that we are inflexible.

Turns out, I am “not qualified on testing” for the position for this full-time retail sales consultant position.

I was (and am) more than a little perplexed.

How could I not have qualified? I’m one of those people who always has to have the latest technology and I’m one of those people my friends and co-workers have always called on when they needed help with their computers or gadgets. As far as sales experience goes, I’ve sold everything from a package of chewing gum to diamond rings worth thousands of dollars. Surely, I can sell a cell phone.

You won’t find anyone more customer-service oriented than me; and I’ve always been an outstanding employee. This same company had given me outstanding reviews AND on my exit interview five years ago told me I was eligible to be rehired.

Now the required qualifications were:

If you enjoy… (All emphases are mine)

·         Using competitive spirit to meet and exceed assigned sales goals

·         Staying up-to-date on the latest data/entertainment technology and devices, such as Wi-Fi, data devices, TV entertainment tools

·         Understanding customers’ needs and helping them discover how our products meet those needs

·         Multi-tasking in a fast-paced team environment

·         Working a variety of hours including weekends, evenings and holidays involving occasional overtime

·         Educating and engaging customers through product demonstrations

·         Interacting with customers and providing prompt and courteous customer service to all customers in person, via phone or written note

·         Position may be commissioned and quota based

Tell me who is better able to determine what I enjoy, me or them? That is, how are they able to accurately test for these qualifications?

The test-taker is encouraged to answer the test questions quickly and honestly. I happen to love multi-tasking in a fast-paced team environment. I can’t stand jobs that are otherwise. Does their testing reflect this? I don’t know. If I answer honestly, on a scale of 1 to 5, I don’t “enjoy” working a variety of hours including weekends, evenings and holidays involving occasional overtime, but I would do it and I would do it gladly to get a job. But if I answer that question with a 3, because I’m honest, do I fail the test?

It is certainly legal to test as long as the test has a bona fide relationship to the job and it is not just a pretext to discriminate. In other words, a test has to be internally valid. The skills that are being tested have to be directly and provably related to the job.


I’m always suspicious of pre-employment testing anyway and I am not convinced this was a skills assessment test unless clairvoyance is a skill. I guess I knew I might be in trouble when it kept asking things like how your supervisor or your co-workers would rate you on the scale of 1 to 5. Well, I know how high I know they should rate me based on my performance but I don’t know how high they would rate me. So, I estimated conservatively. I assumed they were going to check. Did that cost me on the test? Once again, I don’t know.

I do know I wouldn’t leave a customer standing there just because it was break time and that I would say, “Someone will be with you shortly,” if I’m tied up with a customer and I see another one that needs to be helped.

Gatekeepers – and that’s what these testers are – serve a purpose and that purpose is to let only select people in. Experience has shown us that the gates, especially when they are imaginary tests, can keep some of the best people out. In this case, I suspect what is being kept out is some experienced people who are willing to swallow their pride and take a job for which they are overqualified.

I’m left wondering who does pass these tests, and I can’t help but wonder if I failed to pass it when I put in my application and resume that showed I had more than 30 years of experience,

I am convinced that this test could not have tested my “skills” in any area listed in the advertisement. None of my abilities were tested and, as I’ve said before, I’m the best judge of what I enjoy.

What could the company have been testing for that I could have failed? Of course they don’t show you your test results, but you’re welcome to retest in six months. And if you “fail to qualify” again you can take the test again in another year.

When you’re my age (in your 50s) and you’ve been looking for a job for more than three years six months is a life time. But, I’m told there are things I can do to bone up for the test the next time around, which we’ll look at in You’re Just Not Qualified (Part II)
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