How to Deal with Age Discrimination in a Job Search

Some time ago I was doing a search for an IT systems administrator. Despite receiving resumes from scores of candidates, I only had two who I felt comfortable submitting to my client.

The first, a young guy with a one-page resume, was concerned that he did not have enough experience. The second, an older guy with a seven-page resume, was concerned that he was too old and could not compete with younger candidates. The former was preferred by the department head, the latter by the owner. The former’s references were awful; the latter’s were stellar. The old guy got the job.

I tell this story probably once a month to “older” clients who come to me concerned that because of their age they won’t be able to get a job. I put “older” in quotation marks because clients in their forties, fifties and sixties all consider themselves “old.”

This is a problem of attitude. Yes, there is some basis for it in fact, but mainly it’s a problem of marketing and branding. The older clients don’t know how to “package” themselves.

Let’s begin with a little honesty. If an employer is going to discriminate against you based on your age, they are going to discriminate against you based on your age and you will never be able to prove it. So why go through the process, wasting your time, and keeping you from the employers who are going to realize your worth? Why hide your age? They are going to figure it out when they meet you!

My first piece of advice: Don’t hide your age, boast about it. But do it sensibly. Don’t begin your resume stating that you have decades of experience. Begin with a list of five or six accomplishments that will make the employer want to invite you in for an interview.

There’s no law that says you have to list every job you have ever had. Cut your resume off at a logical date. The advice I give is to go back approximately 10 years or to the year 2000. You’re not hiding anything; you’re just choosing a logical cutoff point.

Second, don’t apply for jobs that have as a qualification “3 to 5 years’ experience.” If you have 20, they don’t want you. It’s basically entry level. So why waste your time?

Third, not being seen as tech savvy (ironic given that my first example concerned IT!). This one is easy. At the top of your resume, next to your contact information, aligned with either margin, have a QR code. It could link to your website, LinkedIn profile, e-mail or text. Regardless, it sends the message that you are comfortable with technology. Similarly, include your LinkedIn profile, Twitter handle, or other social media, if relevant to your profession, as part of your contact information.

Fourth, appearance. Surprisingly, this seems to be more of an issue for men than women. Some men dye their hair. Personally, I think it’s silly. You can almost always tell. But if it gives them confidence, that’s a positive. Of course, the employer may react negatively thinking to themselves, What else is he trying to hide?

In any case, health is far more important. You have to look healthy. That means make an effort to lose the extra pounds. Don’t wear tight fitting clothes. Look sharp.

Fifth, let the employer know you are looking for a long-term gig. But do it subtly. Employers will be worried that you will leave after a few years to retire. Let them know you want to stay for the long haul. You can do that in two ways:

When they ask, and they will, why you want to work for them, if you were able to find this out, and LinkedIn profiles are the place to go, tell them that you noticed that most or a large number of their employees have been working for the company for a long time and that they promote from within. That, tell them, is the type of company you want to work for.

Or, in response to a question about a plan they want implemented in, say, three years, answer that you can complete the plan within three years but that you consider that to be only a first phase. The follow-up could take another seven so you see it, in essence, as a 10-year project.

Sixth, competition with the supervisor. If you are an “older” worker, by definition, your new boss will probably be younger than you. You could be their parent or grandparent. They know it; you know it. And they might think that you are after their job. So put them at ease. When they ask you what you like about the job, if it’s true (never lie!) tell them that the most satisfaction you get is seeing colleagues grow. (Give an example to establish credibility.) Explain that you’ve been the center of attention, now you want to help others get that attention. That’s the job satisfaction you are looking for.

Finally, the biggest advantage that “older” workers have is that they have what to say and know how to say it. Unlike younger workers who lack experience, and thus meaningful stories to tell, older workers have them in spades. They can choose the story which will best resonate and thus help get them the job.

This post is based in part on Chapter Four of my book, A Hooker’s Guide to Getting a Job: Parables from the Real World of Career Counseling and Executive Recruiting.


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