Facebook and Ageism

I applied for a Marketing Copywriter position at Facebook about a year ago, 20 years after my first Creative Director position out of college. Facebook rejected me. Bewildered, as I had every qualification, through experience, creating and implementing hundreds of successful campaigns, I asked the HR woman why I was rejected.

“We are looking for someone less qualified.” Her response.

Hmm...Less qualified. Why would that be? We'd discussed no salary expectations. In fact, FB's job app didn't ask me for any. Someone at FB had looked extensively at my online portfolio, as I had a huge spike in page views, from one source, in Menlo Park, according to Google Analytics. The HR woman began her personal rejection email with “Your portfolio is amazing! However...”

What she meant was, “We're looking for someone younger.”

It probably shouldn't have hurt as much as it did, since I wasn't actively job hunting when I answered the FB ad. That particular day, I'd had an argument with my DH about finances. He didn't want me to quit writing fiction for a full time job. I didn't want to quit fine writing either, but selling fiction isn't likely to get our kids through college, especially our daughter, who plans to become a cancer researcher, which requires a doctorate.

What stung so much, was their acknowledgment that it wasn't my skill set they were rejection, but my age. Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, who is now over 30 years old, which, according to his own words, makes him stupid, addled, and a bad employment investment.

Hmm...why would anyone with half a brain say such things? Oh, I know, at 22, he only had half a brain to work with. OK. I'll give him ¾. No. . His parents were wealthy before Mark, and provided him with every opportunity for success. (Hardship generally stimulates faster brain maturity, requiring creative survival - thrive solutions.)

The problem with 20-something brains— their neural connections aren't fully established yet. Until our 30s, decision making skills, complex reasoning that only comes with life experience, as well as regulating impulse control are just a few of the skills young people generally lack. Additionally, different areas of our brain peak (and degrade) throughout our lives. Even by Zuckerburg's simplistic view that youth is smarter, thinks faster (his level of cognitive complexity in accordance with his age), at 22, he'd already passed his prime. His brain's raw speed data processor peaked at 19. And he was still 20-30 years away from the ability to evaluate other people's emotional statepsychology being the cornerstone of marketing.

Well, our omniscient Zuckerberg built a global company, his converts proclaim. And that he did. He started FB in 2004, at Harvard, copying the site Hot or Not, which put up pics of students, female students at the time, next to each other for other students to vote which was hot, and not. As a woman, and mother to a daughter, WTF, Mark! But as a purveyor of human behavior, I get that, like teens, young adults are often still motivate by appearance, not substance. (The debate over the intrinsic value of Facebook is ongoing. It's contribution to humanity seems rather nominal, and it's social platform a proven productivity sinkhole in business.)

Mark was verging on 30* when FB became profitable through PPC advertising revenue. And Zuckerberg didn't make that happen alone. Almost 40 yr old, Peter Thiel, invested half a mill in 2005, and helped The Facebook 20-something founders get $13 million in Accel Partners financing a year later. And you can bet, Accel didn't leave it solely up to Mark and his young crew to make them billions.

Mark doesn't proselytize this truth. He's now old/smart enough to know that if you stroke the ego of the young, which is still fragile and forming, you'll get them to work 24/7 (though studies show working long hours does not improve productivity, and hurts a companies bottom line), for a 5th of the salary he'd have to pay experienced pros. Young people aren't particularly gifted, talented, or brilliant, for the most part, as Zuckerberg professes, even today. They're cheap to employ.

Facebook is among the top 100 H1B visa filing employers of foreign workers. Not because Chinese and Indians know more, as tech is an emerging market we are all learning dynamically, but, again, because they are cheap labor, a 10th of a U.S. Worker's salary and benefits. (Specific H1B visa numbers are extremely hard to obtain, as corporations are legally allowed to withhold this information from public scrutiny.)

Mark is growing up, though like most boys, his mindset seems stuck somewhere between his teens and 20s, his arrogance no doubt compounded by his early success. Limiting FB hires to young (and immigrant) workers is immature at best. Study after study show older employee's productivity, creativity and reliability is equal to or higher than that of their younger colleagues.

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*Reid Hoffman was in his late 30s when he started LinkedIn in 2003. Even with 4.7 mill in Series A funding, it wasn't until Hoffman was in his early-40s that LinkedIn became profitable.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It appears the Sillycon Valley has a whole ecosystem that rejects employees over 40.

Several years ago, I worked for a company where a manager told me he targeted workers that aren't that bright. He told me that he needed people he can control, will do what they are told, and were not creative.