Finding a job after forty - a common mission impossible in Slovakia?

Looking through the new offers every day, sending out CV's, job interviews and then waiting anxiously for a phone call. Sounds familiar? In Slovakia, as in other countries around the world, this is an experience shared by most people at some time in their lives.

The country has struggled with high unemployment for many years. And although now it has brought the number down to less than 12 percent, many say finding a job in Slovakia is something of a mission impossible.

Ambitious, dynamic, team spirited - these are just a few of the qualities most job ads say they require. They might also say: flexible, educated, creative and young. It may not always be said openly, but being young can be a big advantage in the market place and for older people finding work can be a big problem.

"New, dynamic teams of young people is a fashion in many western countries, and it has also come to Slovakia. Profiting from the rich experience and knowledge of older people is very rare. One day a person is a high positioned manager and the next day, as a pensioner he works as a security guard."

Says Miroslav Danihel, a Human Resources specialist. In Slovakia there are more than 180 000 people over 40 registered as unemployed, approximately 30 percent of the total number. Peter Knazovicky from the national Labour Bureau.

"There are two groups of people that are harder to employ in Slovakia. The first one are graduates that are educated but have no job experience. The second are older people."

Changing from one workplace to another one after the age of 40 is very hard. Is that just a myth, or a proven phenomenon? HR specialist Danihel again.

"According to research, employers greatly praise their older employees, characterizing them as very responsible, capable and loyal. However there is a strange paradox - when hiring they look almost exclusively for young people."

Illustrative photo: archive of Radio Prague
Most HR people agree that hiring an older person is a bigger risk. That is because they can be perceived as less flexible, and tend to be ill more often than their younger colleagues. Sociologist Zora Butorova from the Institute for Public Issues looks for another explanation.

"Slovakia underwent crucial political and economic changes and this is why there is this attitude among many people, which we could really call ageism. They think that if you are over thirty, you are no longer a promising worker."

In most companies only every fifth employee is over 40. Officially, redundancies can never be based on age. According to the anti-discrimination law passed in 2004 it is a crime to state age as grounds for dismissal or for not offering somebody a job. However, that is how things are on the surface.

"Except for a few exceptions hidden discrimination based on age is present in all organizations and institutions. Those few exceptions, where older employees and their experience is valued, can mainly be seen in foreign companies in Slovakia."

Says HR expert Miroslav Danihel. No one knows what happens at a job interview and the real reason somebody is not selected. Although all this may not sound too optimistic, sociologist Zora Butorova says for the older generation better days are yet to come.

"The society will think more about the fact that if you have a team that is mixed from the point of view of age, it is an advantage to the team."

"I truly believe that anyone can find a job, but they must really search for it hard. It is often just a mental block. When people are rejected for a job a few times, especially at this particular age, they often give up looking."

...concludes HR expert Miroslav Danihel. Just recently the retirement age in Slovakia was raised to 62. Employment up to this age is of great importance, since your pension is based on the number of years you have been working and of course on your salary. For Slovaks, this serves as good motivation not to give up the fight with CVs, job interviews and even some negative responses.