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VOL. 43 | NO. 22 | Friday, May 31, 2019

Seeking digital natives. Really?

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I’ve noticed on job postings lately that companies are seeking “digital natives.”

“Digital native” is used on digital marketing jobs and is often used on job postings for anything from a search engine optimization manager to a vice president of digital marketing.

This term makes sense at first. But, the definition of a digital native, according to Dictionary.com, is “a person born or brought up during the age of digital technology and therefore familiar with computers and the internet from an early age.”

Those who are turning 40 this year probably started to use the internet around 1995 when they were sophomores in high school – if they were lucky. That was in the time of the dial-up modem and America Online.

Their parents were ahead of the game if they had a home computer. In all likelihood, they really began to use computers when they went to college.

It should be noted that I’m omitting early Macs and things like Atari for the purposes of this column. I’m talking about the real internet.

Digital natives had the internet in elementary school or middle school. Wikipedia says digital natives “are often used to describe the digital gap in terms of the ability of technological use among people born from 1980 onward and those born before.”

By this definition, a digital native would be 38 years old or younger. Let that soak in. A job description that specifically requests that someone is 38 years old or younger.

Why does this happen? I’d like to know this myself. I thought the idea of a job posting was to hire someone with a certain skillset rather than a certain age.

I also heard this rumor that discriminating on the basis of age when hiring is not allowed. In fact, I think there may be something called the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Yet, despite this, if you search for the term “digital native” on any of the job websites, you’ll find many, many job postings looking for them.

A quick search landed me on a senior producer role. The second sentence of the job posting reads: “We want you on the team if you are an experienced digital native with experience in news and politics and are looking to bring your combined expertise to be a leader on MSNBC.com.”

We should be hiring based on skill, not age. The idea that anyone older than 38 is unable to work in the digital world is sad and just plain wrong. The phrase “digital native” sounds stylish, but if you’re writing job descriptions, think about what this really means.

In what other context would it be OK to say, “If you’re younger than 38, please apply”?

Ask for the skills you want in a candidate, not their age.

Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.

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