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Questioning whether age discrimination affects pharma recruitment

Questioning whether age discrimination affects pharma recruitment


Its hard gaining entry into the pharmaceutical industry, but is it harder if you are thirty? I’m a graduate, so I can get in like a graduate, can’t I?
Last Updated: 27-Aug-2010

The possibility of age discrimination within the pharmaceutical industry (clinical trials at least), first occurred through application and interview feedback, such as ‘What year did you graduate?’ and ‘You’ve been out of the industry for too long’. The fact I had been in it at all should have been an advantage over a graduate who hadn’t, particularly as I am applying for graduate entry jobs. There I was thinking removing dates from my CV would be enough to avoid age discrimination, but it just meant any feedback showing age concerns is more polite. What is it that makes age a factor in recruitment, particularly at entry level and what is a good or bad age?
As a careers adviser once confirmed, most people don’t know what they want to do job wise and a lot of people go through a career change at thirty, after the dust of falling out of uni and into their first job settles. Real work experience grows and so does hindsight. Little did they know that the dust would turn to concrete, setting them into that industry for life, because that is all they have experience in and apparently graduate jobs are only for fresh faced graduates. Ignore the prospect of redundancy or career change and age discrimination won’t affect you.
Recruitment is about matching skills or experience with the needs of the job. I have a Human Biology degree that included a year’s experience as a CRA, (albeit this was a while ago, but I have recently done a ICH GCP course to update the experience), proven strong MS Office skills as well as promotions, spot awards and headhunted twice to certify I am a great employee. Yet after months of trying to get into any entry level job in the pharmaceutical industry through recruitment agencies, jobsites, company websites, temping agencies and speculative applications, I have had one interview for an archiving job that was predetermined for an internal temp anyway. The other interviewee from the same recruitment agency was a brand new graduate and taken on as CPA, for which I didn’t even get an interview for.
So, I can’t get in as a graduate with life or even relevant experience, may be I could try as a temp. After all, an old colleague was saying how her daughter, who didn’t go to university or have any desire to work in clinical trials, fell into working for a renown pharmaceutical as a temp and is now a Project Manager of Clinical trials. May be she was the right age. However, it seems I have too much experience and ‘signs of ambition’ to temp as an administrator or to apply for a CTA role. I would be interviewed with suspicions of being a non-committer, not serious about my career in administration, or lunacy when offering to take a significant pay cut because it is the opportunity I value.
I wonder when I passed the right age to get into clinical trials, what the right age is. As opinions will vary depending upon how old the person making the judgement call is and their experiences, perhaps we could group opinions into categories, like adverse events. A guide of who to send applications to, depending upon the preconception of your age. Or give half-lives to work experiences so we could have a warning as to the date the knowledge is considered too long ago and will have no doubt been removed from our brains. Lucky for me I was methodical and kept hand written diaries of work experiences.
Perhaps it is not the numerical of age, but what I have been doing with my time that is why I am not being asked to interviews for entry-level jobs (yes, my CV layout has been checked). May be it would be more favourable for a Clinical Trials Coordinator or Administrator position if I was thirty one and just emerging from a cocoon of research into the world of employment. Unfortunately, through the lack of a crystal ball and having a weak stomach for debt, I spent my post university years working in another industry. Could we not see that as years of researching transferable skills, like a PhD in life experience? After all, strong organisation skills from working as a Project Manager, communication skills from working with multidisciplinary teams and being a client liaison are directly applicable to doing any role in clinical trials. As are working to SOPs, document management, using QA methodologies and leaving paper trails for audits, archiving and filling. Just because they were learnt in a different industry, does not mean I cannot use them in the pharmaceutical industry and surely it would be quicker to broaden my experiences than it would to give new ones to a graduate?
If it is not the lack of the right skills or more experienced candidates applying for entry-level jobs, what is it that companies are afraid of? That at the age of thirty-one I can’t learn anymore or be flexible to their way of working? That my achievements undermine the confidence of other managers and I might ask too many questions? That a change in career shows an unstable mind? Or that I might ruin the cool, trendy, youth culture of their upbeat department? Age should be seen for its advantages. Such as proven PC skills which save on training. Proven achievements and company loyalty, supporting a wise employee investment. Or the fact they have life experience and to be willing to take on a career change and a significant pay cut, they must be sure, enthusiastic and motivated to make it work.
Until that day, when it is confirmed by the EMEA thirty is the shelf life for enthusiasm and capabilities or an EU Directive is issued saying its too late at thirty to be an outstanding employee in clinical trials, I will continue my search for a company that not only says it is an equal opportunities employer, but who has the audit trail to prove it. Because they are not afraid of numbers and can see the advantages of having people who already have proven transferable skills and can apply themselves successfully.
CV available upon request.

Toni Gardner