How to avoid age discrimination when recruiting

Nov 30, 2020 | Business Principles

It’s unlawful to treat candidates for jobs less favourably because of their age, just as it is to do so for employees or workers in your business. You may have no intention of doing so but there are a number of pitfalls and some common mistakes made in recruitment which could leave you vulnerable.

Here’s how to avoid discriminating on the basis of age when recruiting in your business:

Defining your requirements

The various qualities, skills, qualifications and experience you require from candidates would usually be set out in a person specification, and this is a common area of vulnerability. Requiring a set number of years’ experience can be discriminatory against younger workers who are less likely to have attained the requisite amount. Instead, consider why you think that level of experience is necessary. What skills do you think a worker with 10 years’ experience will have that someone with fewer years’ experience won’t have?  Instead of stating a set number of years’ experience, be more specific about exactly what experience you are looking for. If you think about it, ruling out candidates with 8 years’ experience who have been doing fantastically well and therefore were promoted quickly in favour of candidates who have sat doing an adequate job for longer doesn’t make a lot of sense!

And what about qualifications? Some managers are tempted to put lots of qualification requirements as a way of reducing the number of candidates. ‘Degree-educated’ is still very commonly found on person specifications, but younger candidates are far more likely to have a degree than older ones, so unless the degree is genuinely required, you may be discriminating. So consider whether the role actually requires a degree.

The skills or knowledge you think a degree will provide might well have been gained in another way, so ask for the skills and knowledge required, rather than closing the door to experienced candidates who may have learned on the job or through other training or courses. If you are sure a particular academic qualification is necessary, be prepared to be able to justify it as a genuine requirement.

Language in a job ad

It’s not just about specifically asking for younger/older workers; there is a raft of common recruitment terminology that has age-related implications and should therefore be avoided. Terms like ‘mature’, ‘energetic’ or ‘dynamic’ could all be potentially risky as they do imply candidates of older or younger age groups are desired. You may think a role is more likely to be filled by a candidate of a certain age group, but you need to avoid conveying those expectations in an ad. Even job titles can imply possible age bias, so if you use terms like ‘junior’ you may want to rethink.

Application and shortlisting

In order to ensure candidates are shortlisted and judged only on relevant job-related factors, keep personal information like date of birth away from the rest of the application details provided to shortlisting managers. If you use application forms, this information should only be required as part of equality monitoring and should be kept in a section to be separated off before the shortlisting process begins.


Ensure managers don’t ask age-related questions during the interview, or reveal any preconceptions relating to age. You wouldn’t (hopefully!) ask a female candidate whether she would be happy managing a team of men, and in the same way, you shouldn’t ask a young candidate for a managerial post about the implications of leading a team of older workers.


If you’d like more guidance on recruiting safely or would like some training for managers on avoiding bias in recruitment, do get in touch.