While I haven’t had as much time as I’d like recently to whip up some suitable blog content, I did host a recent networking event centered on the topic of age discrimination — and thought it might be useful to pass along a collection of facts, tips, and insights that were shared at the session. Without question, it seems to be a topic that continues to be of great interest to many-a-job-seeker out there.
Let’s start with some baseline facts and statistics on the subject that I was able to compile from the AARP website, as well as a few other relevant sources:
• 20,857 complaints about age discrimination were filed at the EEOC last year, although only 14.8% of cases were found to have sufficient merit to pursue
• 64% of U.S. professionals say they’ve seen and/or experienced age discrimination in the workplace
• 37% of older workers anticipate they would likely have to take a pay cut if they lost their job today
• 20% of professionals who are 40 or older feel they’ve lost a specific job opportunity based on their age
• On average, it takes somebody over 55 over three months longer to find a job than a younger person
• According to the Pew Research Center study, the peak earning year for U.S. men in today’s labor market is 47 years, compared to 40 for women
After reviewing and discussing these statistics regarding age in the workplace, my group then identified a number of common stereotypes regarding older workers, agreeing that these were likely the underlying reasons that certain employers were hesitant to hire workers with many years of experience. In general, it was felt that many recruiters and hiring managers might perceive older candidates as:
• Short-timers seeking to coast into retirement, versus being in it for the long haul
• Low on energy and unable to keep up with a fast-paced work environment
• Out of date with software, technology, and emerging trends in their field
• More prone to health issues and absenteeism than younger workers
• Know-it-alls, unable to take direction or unwilling to learn new things
• Too expensive, asking for salaries that are out of touch with today’s norms
• Harder to manage, since they’re less likely to put up with politics and B.S.
• Overqualified and likely to be bored in a more junior, lower-paying assignment
After fleshing out this list of stereotypes, we then brainstormed some approaches and action steps that older workers might adopt to help diminish these perceptions in their own search efforts. As a group, it was suggested that older workers should:
• Make a point to stay fully up-to-date in their fields and abreast of the latest trends, issues, and technologies
• Study the current jargon and keywords in their field and not date themselves by using obsolete terminology
• Dress in a modern, contemporary way and recognize that interview attire these days is often more casual
• Kick off a diet or exercise regimen to boost their energy, vitality, and confidence
• Avoid telling war stories and focus on looking forward, versus rehashing the past
• Target low-tech/un-sexy industries, lesser-known firms, and government agencies with less competition
• Trim out earlier jobs (and graduation dates) on their resume and LinkedIn to camouflage age
• Engage in ongoing training, classes, or online study to show a commitment to lifelong learning
• Rely more heavily on networking than applying to published job listings, where age bias is common
• Actively engage employers during interviews, versus just passively answering questions
• Visit salary sites (e.g. glassdoor.com) to ensure their salary expectations are in line with current norms
• Explore alternative career paths such as consulting, teaching, gig economy jobs, or self-employment
• Consider tackling the issue head on in interviews: “While I realize I’ve likely got more experience than a lot of other candidates you’re considering, I think this could be a significant asset in this role because…”
And lastly, and in some ways most importantly, we finished the meeting by having people turn the issue on its heel — having each person think deeply about how their age/experience might make them more valuable to employers than a more junior candidate — before moving on to discuss the importance of proactively “selling the value” of this experience in hiring conversations. To help each attendee uncover some useful insights in this area, we had people reflect on the questions:
• Do you truly feel your many years of experience are of significant value to an employer, versus a liability? If so, can you clearly articulate why?
• What do you know now about your field and industry that you didn’t know when you just started out?
• Can you think of any critical work values/beliefs/habits you possess that are highly sought after by employers, but likely less practiced by younger generations?
• Has your experience given you a strong point of view about what works (or not) in your current field — and are you sharing this opinion in a confident, powerful way?
• Lastly, if you’re a management-level professional, do you have a clear leadership philosophy? Can you articulate the approach you take to getting the best out of people and back it up with examples of where it’s been effective?
In closing, I’m sure we’d all agree that the market would be a better place if we could eradicate all bias (both implicit or explicit) from the hiring process. Until such time as this ideal world comes to pass, however, the thoughts above are ones that can help older job hunters gain a better understanding of the dynamics of this challenging issue — and minimize its impact in their career endeavors. Hope they’re helpful…