How to fight ageism in your job search
Age is just a number, but occasionally it can weigh down your job hunt. Try these strategies to redirect the conversation.
If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, the chances are good that you’ve seen or experienced ageism in the workplace—as two out of three workers between ages 45 and 74 have, according to AARP. People often think it’s most prevalent for employees 50 or older, but it can start even earlier.
What does ageism mean? It's discriminating against someone on the basis of their age. For example: The ageist belief that elderly people have no interest in technology trends, or the ageist practice of only hiring young professionals for client-facing roles.
“Ageism is a reality in today’s job market, and employers may not hire someone older, fearing they’d have one foot out the door to retirement,” says Alexandra Levit, chair of DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board. “When companies spend money to bring a new hire on board, they want to believe that person will work there forever—even if objectively, hiring managers know that won’t happen, regardless of how old the candidate is.”
Older employees are generally more experienced—and hence make more money, which can make them a tougher sell to a recruiter who’s looking to pay less.
If you’re a mature worker, there are a few strategies you can employ to combat age discrimination in the workplace:
Be prepared to talk about how much longer you hope to work
“Although it’s illegal for interviewers to directly ask how old you are, they can backchannel the question with remarks about how long you plan to keep working,” Levit says. “The correct answer is always something like, ‘I enjoy working, and feel like I’m still learning, and intend to stay in the workforce as long as I can.’”
No matter what, express enthusiasm for your work. “You need to reinforce the skills and experience you bring to an employer,” says Susan Peppercorn, a career transition coach and CEO of Positive Workplace Partners, “and the fact that you want to keep using those skills and perhaps mentor younger people to teach them some of the things you know.”
In the end, people nowadays are healthier and living longer, and many either need to keep working for financial reasons or because they simply like what they do. For a significant number of employees, there’s no interest in not working.
Make sure you’re up to speed on technology
It’s important that you’re current in your industry—and the tech that it uses—and that you’re aware of the latest trends.
That doesn’t mean you must be fluent in every platform. “You do not want to sit there and talk about how much you love Snapchat,” says Nancy Halpern, an executive coach with KNH Associates in New York City. “You can’t try too hard. No one expects you to be the technology whiz, but nor do they want you to be a dinosaur.”
At the very least, list any social media profiles on your resume so an employer can see that you’re comfortable with the technology. If there are other platforms, apps, or programs that are used in your field, be proficient in those as well.
“I’ve worked with people who are very skilled in what they do, but they’re not up to date on technology, and it has hurt them every time,” Peppercorn says.
If you’re not a tech whiz, enlist the help of an adult child or friend, or consider taking an online or local technology course if you need assistance. Try Coursera.org for online options.
Find the right company
Ageism or not, not every employer is going to be a good fit for you. Some company cultures trend younger—startups, for instance—and you may not want to be significantly older than everyone else in the room. Additionally, some businesses may not be worth your time. “There are companies [that I know of] that won’t hire someone over 40,” Peppercorn says.
You can sniff out possible instances of ageism in the workplace by reading online reviews at sites such as kununu, where current and past employees can rate their employers based on a variety of factors, including attitude toward older workers.
Networking can also help you weed out the better places to focus. “It’s especially critical for more mature workers, because the only way to really understand the culture of an organization is to network with people who are familiar with your target list of companies,” Peppercorn says. “They might say to you, ‘Don’t even bother with company X.’”
Pay attention to the age of employees when you visit an organization for an interview. Look for a range of employee ages rather than a concentration of people in their twenties.
“Obviously, the kind of job and the subject matter of the job responsibilities will be relevant,” says Cynthia Pong, a coach and facilitator with Embrace Change Consulting. “But if you can find the overlap between companies that are better for more senior workers and positions that match your skill set and passions, that would be the sweet spot.”
Retool your resume
There are a variety of things you can do with your resume to help recruiters see past their own prejudices. One strategy: Stay current with the look of your resume. Some fonts on your resume can come across as modern, whereas others are considered more formal and traditional by recruiters and hiring managers. Decide which look suits you and your industry, and stick with it.
There are two schools of thought on whether you should include a career summary section on your resume. While some recruiters think it’s old fashioned, others think it’s a great way for experienced and older workers to provide a succinct description of your experience. It can be used as a way to showcase some of your past achievements while highlighting your current technical skills.
“We have found that recruiters and hiring managers tend to lower their bias when they see modern skills listed on a prospective hire’s resume,” says Marina Byezhanova, co-founder and director of candidate experience for headhunting firm Pronexia. “Even if these skills do not directly pertain to the position in question, seeing them on a resume signals to the person reviewing it that the applicant is a lifelong learner, not afraid of acquiring new knowledge.”
Some career experts recommend omitting graduation dates from your resume if you graduated college more than 25–30 years ago. “I’ll also advise that they eliminate the first few jobs they’ve had, especially if they were low-level, entry-type positions,” Halpern says. “Removing those means you can eliminate the dates you were there, resulting in a resume that starts with a mid-level position and its accompanying dates.”
Get some reassurance
Ageism in the workplace is nothing to balk at—it's real. Regardless of your confidence level when it comes to job searching, it can't hurt to double-check your efforts to improve the odds that they'll pay off. Could you use some help refining your resume so that it's primed for your job search? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression. Remember: There's absolutely no reason for your career to slow down when you yourself have no intention of doing so.