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Report: Getting Hired Tougher for Older Entry-Level and Midcareer Workers

A woman wearing a face mask sitting in a waiting room.

​People age 45 and older are finding it increasingly difficult to get an entry- or intermediate-level job, despite employers' complaints that they cannot find qualified workers, according to a recent report, Meeting the World's Midcareer Moment.

And for individuals from underrepresented communities, getting a job offer is more difficult than it is for their peers, the report said. On average, job seekers from minority groups have to work harder to get a job offer, attending 53 percent more interviews than their peers.

People age 45 and older who are midcareer make up a consistently high percentage of those experiencing long-term unemployment over the past six years in some countries.

In Spain, people in this population group are unemployed an average of 25 weeks. In Canada and the U.S., it's an average of 27 weeks—almost seven months. Older job seekers also are more likely to be unemployed for longer than a year (63 percent versus 36 percent of those ages 18 to 34).

The findings are from a survey of 3,800 employed and unemployed individuals and 1,404 hiring managers conducted for Generation, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that provides job training and placement. Respondents were from Brazil, India, Italy, Singapore, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. They included job seekers, job switchers and hiring managers:

  • Seekers were people, including young adults, who were unemployed, employed less than 30 hours per week or caregivers looking for full-time work.
  • Switchers were midcareer individuals employed in entry- or intermediate-level jobs who had successfully changed professions in the last three years.
  • Hiring managers were those who recruited entry- or intermediate-level candidates at least three times in the last year and had hired a midcareer switcher in the last three years.

Job Requirements 

One might think older workers would have more work experience, but only 18 percent of the hiring managers surveyed agreed. A majority, 58 percent, rated candidates ages 35 to 44 as having more experience. Hiring managers see job seekers in this age range as having the "relevant education, salient prior work and the right technical skills for the job"; strong behavioral skills; and "a persona that suits the dynamics of the team, the culture of the workplace and the industry in general," the report found.

Candidates in this age group were "much more often seen as the most application-ready group," according to the report, with well-prepared documents and portfolios, good referrals, and strong interview skills.

Twenty-four percent of hiring managers rated candidates ages 18 to 34 as more experienced than the other two age groups.

Hiring managers think older candidates have poor skills and are less adaptable, the research found. However, employers' perceptions change when asked to rate, by age range, the overall job performance of people they have hired: 87 percent said the older workers are as good as or better than younger employees.

One reason for the disconnect between perception of older workers and how they perform on the job may be because "like often connects with like," researchers suggested in the report. Among the hiring managers surveyed, a higher percentage were in the 35 to 44 age group, "which could make them inclined to regard peers their own age in general as more suitable and competent colleagues."

Formal Education and Experience 

A stumbling block to employment is employers' requirement for job seekers to have a college education: 44 percent of large employers require a bachelor's degree for entry-level roles, and 65 percent expect that for people applying for intermediate positions.

Among small companies, 33 percent require an undergraduate degree and 41 percent require prior experience for entry-level jobs.

India and the U.S. are the most demanding among countries surveyed, Generation found. Employers in these countries prefer applicants with previous experience and education for many positions they want to fill.

Requiring a college degree hinders Black workers' earnings and career advancement, SHRM Online reported in 2020. Former President Donald Trump signed an executive order in July 2020 directing the federal government to assess an applicant's job skills and remove the emphasis on possessing a college degree. 

"It's critical to have conversations about the recognition of experiential learning," said Jill Buban, Ph.D., vice president and general manager of EdAssist Solutions at Bright Horizons, an education management provider based in Newton, Mass.

"While a 45- to 60-year-old employee may not have a degree, oftentimes the knowledge they've gained on the job and through life experiences equates to academic learning," Buban explained. "Institutions like Western Governor's University, SUNY [State University of New York] Empire State College, University of Maryland Global Campus and others have been assessing this type of learner for decades. There are a lot of great institutions and organizations that are influencing this work, and I suspect we'll see more and more flexibility around the college degree being a necessity for entry-level jobs."

Some employers also are now requiring work experience for entry-level positions and putting candidates through more screenings—including skills and personality tests—than they did one to two years ago. This is especially true for tech roles, the report noted.

"Experience is a funny thing," Buban observed. "There are biases against younger employees with a lot of relevant experience where the thought is they shouldn't get paid as much because of their age. The opposite is also true, … thinking [older workers] may want more money due to their age but perhaps not [have the] relevant experience; this may be most true in STEM-related careers."

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Skills Gap & Workforce Readiness

Some organizations are switching to a skills-based or competency requirement rather than an education requirement, in some cases starting with positions that are most difficult to fill, SHRM Online has reported. And companies such as BlackRock, Gap, and Wayfair are participating in LinkedIn's Skills Path program. The program identifies core skills for open roles and then matches qualified candidates based on candidates' proficiencies. 


Training is the key to making a midcareer job switch, job seekers said, with three-fourths of individuals ages 45 to 60 crediting professional development with their ability to land a new entry-level job. Overall, in-person or vocational training was the most popular way these individuals developed new skills, closely followed by informal learning. Online courses, whether they led to certifications or not, and employer-provided training were less popular.

But job seekers said they made many compromises in order to make a career switch:

  • 30 percent took a job in an industry different from one they wanted to work in.
  • 29 percent lowered their salary expectations.
  • 24 percent accepted a lower-level starting position.
  • 18 percent accepted a temporary job.
Switchers with higher incomes, the survey found, tend to pursue training that results in a degree or certification, which employers often view as a substitute for job experience, and those candidates are almost twice as likely to get job offers than peers who don't get training beyond a high school education.

Older job seekers who most need training are the most hesitant to pursue it, Generation found. And for someone struggling to meet basic needs, "training could be seen as a luxury, … [which] makes it hard to justify spending time and effort on something that offers only a potential return on investment," according to the report.

Many employers are offering direct tuition payments—rather than reimbursement—on behalf of their employees because they recognize that affordability is a major barrier to pursuing education, Buban said.

Starting a degree program can seem daunting to some employees, though, she noted. She suggested employers offer coaching and mentoring that allow for one-on-one connections, and opportunities to allow workers to earn micro-credentials toward certification. This "can help the employee envision their future career path" and give them the confidence to pursue other training.

It's also important, Buban said, for employers to show employees how advancing their education can benefit their career within the company. 

[Want to learn more? Join us at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2021, taking place Sept. 9-12 in Las Vegas and virtually.]


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