Can you guess what we need?

A large recruitment agency in the UK, Robert Walters, has taken self-censorship to new heights with a list of words that it has banned from its job advertisements. In a knee-jerk reaction to Employment Equality (Age) Regulations which came into effect on October 1, the company has issued a list of seventeen banned words. The banned words should “under no circumstances appear in any Robert Walters advertising from this point forward” in a move that the company’s marketing director, Steve Edwards, called “being cautious” and having “defined guidelines on what you can or cannot say”.

The concept may seem fairly reasonable at first glance and ageism in the workplace is a problem, but the company has gone rather too far. It’s not just about saying something like “young person required”. Some of the words on the banned list are vibrant, dynamic, ambitious and hungry. I fail to see how an older person can’t have these traits. Dynamism and ambition are hardly the exclusive domain of the young; if anything, apathy can often be more accurately applied.

Perhaps one of the most absurd directives is that ads for gym staff and personal trainers can no longer openly solicit applications from fit or energetic people. Why not? It’s a requirement of the job. You can be 25 or 55 and still be fit and energetic. If the ads said, “No fat bastards” then that would certainly be offensive. Even if they openly said, “Over 50? You’re too old for us!” then that would be blatantly ageist and would certainly contravene the new laws. But asking fitness professionals to be fit and energetic is a given, surely? Would they advertise an accountancy position without requesting good numeracy skills to avoid being seen as numerist? Absurd.

The company has also requested that references to modern qualifications such as media studies or information technology be avoided in advertising. Imagine all the applicants for an IT job when they see an ad that doesn’t require IT qualifications. On arrival for the interview they would be informed, “Ah, yes, actually you do need a degree in Information Technology. But we didn’t put it in the ad because we didn’t want to be ageist.”

The list of banned words also includes youthful, quick-learner, self-starter, high-flyer, gravitas, newly qualified, soon-to-be-qualified, recent graduate and experienced. It would seem that Robert Walters recruitment considers older people to be slow learning, low flying and incapable of continuing education.

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