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Are Pre-Interview Screenings Really Discrimination In Disguise?

Written by David Gee

“Why do some staffing agency recruiters insist on pre-interviewing you before even starting to look for a job for you? I suspect this could be a wonderful way to discriminate. They discover things like age, height, race, and whether or not a person may have physical limitations. I’m currently looking for a new position, and contacted a large staffing agency. When they mentioned  a pre-interview screening, I said that might be deemed discriminatory. I never heard anything more from this company.”Are Pre Interview Screenings Really Discrimination In Disguise?

When I typed the word “staffing” into the search window of a business forum I occasionally check in on, I came across a number of people who were posting about this subject of “pre-interview screening,” all under the broader heading of age discrimination.

These are some of the comments I read from job candidates, all using this national staffing agency.

“I had an interview scheduled for a permanent position. When I arrived, I was instead sent to a ‘pre-interview’ conducted by a Temp-Contract rep, and was asked to fill out papers only for temp/contract positions. I told them I was supposed to be interviewing for a permanent position. After some goofy looks, I finally met with a permanent rep, who spent the entire interview telling me how unemployable I was. I have 28 years in my field and am 53. You figure it out. To date (after 10 months) I have not heard back from them.”

“Age discrimination is absolutely practiced at this company. It’s couched in other terms; i.e., you are ‘not a good fit,’ but it does play a part in the job search. This is truly disturbing and illegal.”

“Age discrimination is absolutely practiced at this company. It’s couched in other terms; i.e., you are ‘not a good fit,’ but it does play a part in the job search. This is truly disturbing and illegal.”

“After reading the above comments, I now know that I am not alone. It is so disheartening to know that you have the qualifications, skills, experience, etc. to do the job but you are not given the chance because of your age. I have over 20 years in the business, look nowhere near my age, am healthy and yet I cannot even get a nod for a secretarial or typist position. I wish that I had found this blog earlier — then I would not have wasted my time with an agency that has absolutely no intentions of using me as a valued employee.”

“Your age really works against you. If you are even over 40, good luck, you will need it. I’ve been told, face to face by a recruiter, that the client they were hiring for was a ‘very young group’ – code for I am too old.”

“I’ve been told, face to face by a recruiter, that the client they were hiring for was a ‘very young group’ – code for I am too old.”

“Everything that everyone says about age discrimination is true. I have over 20 years of experience at only 2 jobs. I interviewed several times with this staffing company, took the tests (scoring in the 98% range) only to be told in an e-mail that I did not have the skills their clients were looking for — translation ‘you are too old (at 61) for us to bother with.’”

One former employee says this company does indeed practice age discrimination with a secret coding system. “They passed out a sheet in our training seminar saying to grade someone who was a ‘mature worker’ lower.”

Of course you can type in the name of nearly every company in America and find the comments of some disgruntled employees, former employees or would-be employees. So I do look at these sites with some reservation and prejudice.

But in this specific case of age discrimination, there did seem to be some common threads and systematic similarities, so I wondered if it is simply an accepted way of doing business.

I don’t discriminate on age but I sure as hell won’t call you if you have a crappy attitude problem or act like the world is all against you.

I’ll close with the comments of someone who labeled themselves as a “recruiter,” and comes to the defense of those who find jobs for others for a living, while criticizing some of the unhappy commenters.

“I want to present the flip side to all you folks. I think that a lot of the folks posting to this forum are having a tough time finding work, which is unfortunate. I also think some of you are blaming all of your troubles on recruiters and staffing agencies which is ridiculous. Let me simplify things for you. We have to provide clients with what they ask for. That is the way business is done. A lot of clients know exactly what they want to see on a resume, and if they don’t see it, they aren’t interested. Period. Nine times out of 10, we don’t get to sell candidates based on their great personality or potential or ability to learn quickly. That’s just the market these days. Keep in mind we are not miracle workers. We can’t make sow’s ears into silk purses. I don’t discriminate on age but I sure as hell won’t call you if you have a crappy attitude problem or act like the world is all against you. Finally, we aren’t the only path to jobs. If you all are such a catch, why are you still out of work? Maybe we aren’t the only ones who aren’t impressed by you? Hmmm.”

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }
  1. Lynn

    This is a good article for for me the very last paragraph is the most important. My agency does pre-employment interviews and they are no different than any interview that you might go on for an actual job. We ask past work history questions and try to find a job that fits the candidate — that’s what we’re being hired to do! We do not discriminate by age, height, weight or any other criteria that you want to claim.
    Finally, we aren’t the only path to jobs. If you all are such a catch, why are you still out of work? Maybe we aren’t the only ones who aren’t impressed by you? Hmmm.”
    THIS is the main theme that candidates need to remember. You’re coming to a staffing agency in an attempt to help you find work because you obviously aren’t finding it on your own. Maybe a good look in the mirror or a good self-analysis of your work habits (or lack of them) would be a good place to start. If your phone isn’t ringing for work there’s obviously a problem and its time the candidate addresses it instead of blaming the staffing agency for why they can’t find a job.

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    • gregg dourgarian

      Lynn
      The tone of this doesn’t ring helpful to me. I personally know a lot of highly talented people who use staffing agencies (usually one agency) as their agent.

      It’s a huge convenience for them, they get their pick at a wide range of engagements, they are more than happy with the rate they are getting, and they don’t have to do the marketing themselves.

      It’s presumptuous nay demeaning to assume that they “obviously aren’t finding [jobs] on their own”.

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  2. Lynn

    Gregg,
    Staffing agency’s are indeed a great resource for a lot of people that are looking for a job and truly want to work and earn a living. However; there are unfortunately many that simply aren’t very hirable because of their own undoing. They’ve been released because of constant tardiness or absences, cause issues at work or have “incidents” in their past that make them a tough sell. Then they come into the agency and complain because we can’t find them work when in all honesty they have been their own worst enemy.
    This article does a good job in the last and final paragraph of reminding candidates that they have to assume responsibility for their own issues and not always be looking for “excuses” as to why they aren’t being put to work and THAT is what I was commenting on.
    Not everyone is out to “get” them and staffing agencies don’t have a hidden agenda nor are we discriminating against people — at least not at my agency. Sometimes the candidates have to take a good look in the mirror to see why they aren’t being given a chance and own up to their poor worth ethic/habits and make themselves more employable.

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  3. Erny

    You know I’ve seen it; discrimination. I don’t like it but it goes on because we let it continue. We demand so much proof to be believed; to be listened to. These are facts. Weather or not we want to own up to it. It does go on, as to how much depends on things that are subjectable to each and everyone who practise this regreable action. I believe and agree with having a good work ethic, doing your job, always being on time, doing the right thing, but when you say “look in the mirror” you are pointing to a fact that people sometimes judge on looks. So when you actually see the face in the mirror you’re seeing what they see. Ask yourself what do you see? If you live long enough will you see the loosing end of being worth anything?

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  4. Charles Kreps

    Very paranoid/defensive attitude!
    Most candidates don’t understand how recruiters work. It is not the recruiters job to find candidates a job. It is the recruiters job to solve a hiring problem for the clients (clients are the ones who pay for a search firms service). The client tells the recruiter what it is that they are looking for in terms of background, experience level, education, etc…..
    The recruiter then goes out and tries to find just 2-4 candidates that meet those criteria/requirements.
    By meeting with a candidate the recruiter has a much better idea as to what will be a good match (for both candidate and hiring co.).

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  5. Suzie

    Unfortunately, “discrimination” does happen in the employment industry. However, what employers ask for runs the gamut- some want a cute and thin girl for a receptionist position while just as many request a mature individual because the other members of her would-be team are of that same demographic. At the end of the day, whether you are working with recruiters or finding your own face-to-face interviews with employers- whoever is doing the hiring is only going to hire the very best fit- and that “fit” consists of personality and experience. You don’t buy pants that fit in the waist but are a foot too long, do you? No, you keep looking until you find that perfect fit- the pair that fits great everywhere. My advice for everyone everywhere is to be constantly working on your marketability and skills throughout your entire career. Luck is, after all, when opportunity meets preparation.

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