Startup Recruiters: Here are 3 Questions You Should Never Ask a Candidate over 40

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Startups are not just for young people.

I recently interviewed for a role with a startup. The company reached out to me to inquire about my interest. I was flattered by the invitation but left the call flattened.

I’m in my mid-40’s. Apparently, old for today’s startup culture. I’m not trying to hide my age, but I got the sense that the recruiter discovered my age mid-interview.

We had a nice conversation, but at the end of the call, she added some filtering questions that left me feeling the very real effects of ageism.

Here is what she asked:

Are you comfortable working with young people?

I may be in my mid-40’s, but I don’t need you to judge whether or not I’m interested in working with younger people.

Asking how would you feel about working with people half your age, sends a message that you believe that I am incapable of relating.

I had to explain that my mind still functions just fine and that I enjoy learning from younger generations. Heck, I’ve been in the background of my kid’s Tik-Tok videos. I get the lingo.

I will also have you know that I have a daughter that is probably your age. I’m not above taking your phone away and putting it in time out.

Ok, that would be inappropriate, but since we are talking inappropriate, how about the second question.

Are you ok with a lower salary?

Here’s a suggestion. Just ask me what my salary requirements are.

If I’m out of your range, tell me your range and ask if I’m still interested.

If you are interested in the skills I have to offer, let me decide if I want to continue the conversation.

It’s entirely possible that I’m already a millionaire at my age and I’m just looking for some fun money to add to the kitty.

Our health benefits aren’t good. That ok?

This one made me chortle. That’s different than chuckle, in case you are wondering.

Fine, yes my body aches when I get out of bed, and Ibuprofin is my good friend, but I’m not visiting the doctor every week…yet.

Just because I’m old(er) doesn’t mean that the doc and I are pals. Healthcare is important, but again, please let me decide.

Here is the deal. I believe the recruiter was doing a good job of being transparent about the role. I 100% appreciate that. My advice to those other recruiters out there.

Be careful how you phrase your questions.

I’m not sure if what I experienced constitutes illegal age discrimination. But, recruiters, you should make sure your company is not deliberately or inadvertently filtering workers out of your picture.

Project leader. Product thinker. Write about human things. Find me at

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