IT pro's age puts him at unfair disadvantage in job hunt

By Aileen Crowley, PC Week Online
November 16, 1998 9:00 AM ET

Gene Nelson has a set routine on Sunday mornings: scour the help-wanted section of a few papers, surf his favorite Web recruiting sites and then, if he finds a job opening he hasn't already applied for, send a résumé.

The only problem is, this routine is getting very old--he has been doing this for the past few years and still has not found a job that takes full advantage of all the experience, training and education he has to offer. Nelson is on the wrong side of 40, and, he said, this makes him one of the losers in the H-1B visa debate. "Age discrimination is a factor at work here," said Nelson, a 46-year-old IT professional with a doctorate in biophysics and experience working in a variety of languages, including FORTRAN, C, Pascal and HTML.

Nelson, who has been told on several occasions he is overqualified for the types of jobs he applies for, believes the reports of a labor shortage often cited as reasons for upping the number of H-1B visas granted are not true. "I go to [technical] job fairs, and I see stacks and stacks of résumés just sitting there. If these résumés were so valuable and so hard to find, they would not be just pushed into a corner," he said.

Nelson believes employers simply find it easier to hire young staff members who are willing to work long hours without adequate compensation or to use contract employees with H1-B visas, rather than to train or retrain older workers.

He offers Microsoft Corp. as a prime example of a company looking to hire only young staff members with very specific skill sets. Nelson interviewed on two separate occasions for a Texas-based phone support position at Microsoft.

He believes he should have been a very strong candidate since he is well-versed in Microsoft's various products and is doing the same type of product support for HighwayMaster Communications Inc., a maker of mobile communications products in Dallas. After both interviews, he said, he was not called back for a second interview.

"It can't be a pay issue, and I have the skills they are looking for. So why wouldn't I get the job?" asked Nelson, who is making $33,000 a year at HighwayMaster.

Microsoft officials said the company provides equal opportunities to all applicants regardless of age.

Along with showing proficiency in a variety of Microsoft products, Nelson's résumé also includes real-world experience in many of today's supposed hot skills and technologies, such as project and LAN management, as well as extensive customer support. He has also earned proficiency certificates from several vendors, including IBM and 3Com Corp.

After having been told by more than one potential employer that he is overqualified, Nelson has begun to edit some of the experience and education from his résumé. By appearing less qualified, he is hoping to get first interviews.

Even with this new strategy, however, Nelson is lucky to get one response for every five or six résumés he sends out each month.

"It is like a black hole," he said.

Nelson recognizes he may be fighting a losing battle. With the increased number of H-1B visas being granted, he has no plans to change his Sunday routine soon.

Gene Nelson

Formal education: Harvey Mudd College, B.S., 1973; State University of New York, Ph.D., biophysics, 1984

Professional experience: Worked at a variety of companies in LAN, software and hardware product troubleshooting, program development, project management, and systems management.highlights include HighwayMasterCommunications Inc.: telephone technical support (1997-present); CompUSA Inc.: consultant (1995-present), telephone support technician (1996-1997); Information Retrieval Methods: pen-based computer specialist (1993-1995); CIBA Corning Diagnostics: project engineer (1986-1990)