Ageism is Alive and Well: What to do About it

Career, Job Search

With age comes wisdom. 

But many hiring managers don’t care about that at all.

Ageism in the workplace is discrimination based on age. Some younger people may think they’ve fallen prey to ageism in their initial efforts to get a job. But the practice of ageism is much worse for job seekers progressing into the second half of their lives. 

There are jobs where being older is a benefit. Due to technological advances, however, there are far more positions where it is considered a hindrance to be above 50 years of age. Anyone in their 60s looking for work faces ageism in almost every job for which they apply.

An AARP survey from 2017 shows just how immense the impact ageism has on older citizens looking for work. The general viewpoint of people over 50 today is much different than it was of the same demographic half a century ago. Seemingly contradictory, older adults now are not as aged as their past counterparts. However, numbers still play a role in hiring practices.

While ageism may never cease to exist, job seekers do not have to accept it. There are legal processes in place to actively combat it. But, it’s not always easy to prove that a job candidate was passed over simply because of their generation. Often, there are viable reasons why a company chooses an alternate hire, even if the older contender is more qualified than the younger.

But, we are not here to focus on those situations where companies likely practice age discrimination. We want to concentrate on applicant strategies that ensure companies equally consider employing workers of all ages, specifically those more mature in age. Job seekers can use these strategies to eliminate years of life as a hindrance to landing the job. 

Apply wisely

Think about it. Are you best suited for a job that requires heavy lifting and constant standing? Are you likely to be a top prospect in marketing or sales that targets younger audiences like teenagers?

Don’t sabotage your efforts. In the age of ageism, there are indeed limitations to the functions an older job candidate can perform. There are physical restrictions, and perhaps technological barriers, to being in your 60s and above. Applying for numerous jobs out of your skillset, work background, or life experience can significantly affect your mindset.

Consider the other side of the coin. Businesses do exist that appreciate and welcome more experienced candidates. Countless companies don’t want to spend the time or money to train someone in leadership techniques. Pinpoint and apply to positions where senior leadership is valued and requested in the job description.

Reinvent yourself

Have a friend or colleague look over your resume and flag anything that focuses specifically on your age.

Take out any numbers – graduation dates, first employment date, children’s ages – that will indicate your elder status.

Do not go back to your very first job. You may have worked for a company that no longer exists or in a field that is no longer relevant. Make sure you eliminate any job reference that does not hold a specific purpose in the 21st Century. 

Make sure to write your resume for the 2020s, not the 1980s. Terminology is key. A reference to past proficiency with a word processing machine will most certainly date you.

Proudly state your experience

Let employers know that you managed a staff of 50 through the Great Recession. List all of your leadership positions without putting specific years with them. If your resume indicates your growth within a company over time, present the different roles without stating the years you held each position.

When writing a cover letter, you need to do some serious wordsmithing. If you are not a skilled writer yourself, have someone look over your cover letter who is an experienced writer. You may be inadvertently indicating advanced age with a word or phrase. There must be a balance between listing your credentials and causing a hiring manager to hyperfocus on when your career first started. 


Watch out for trick questions 

There was a day, decades ago, when you were embarrassed by a particular question: “How many years have you been in the business?” The number was just too low to matter. Now, you worry that the number is too high.

The issue lies with automated tracking system applications that require you to answer the question. You absolutely can give the exact answer, but you can also reply “more than 20”, which is true. “At least 35” may be a disqualifying response.


Prepare yourself

If you manage to get past the first stage of the process and schedule an interview, you must prepare.

Talk to your currently employed friends and ask about computer programs. If the names or software acronyms are unknown to you, get familiar with them. There are basic books that provide the fundamental terminology and increase your comfort level for any technical questions.

An interviewer may ask how adaptive you are. Many believe older people are firmly set in their ways. Prepare a story to indicate just how adaptable and open to change you are. Showcase how you’ve upgraded your skills over time.

Stay in the present. If you are looking for a position strictly to delay Social Security benefits, don’t say that. Leave your exit strategy out of the conversation. You may have quite a few years under your belt, but the company won’t want to risk quick turnover for the position.

Use these strategies and tips to make the most of your job search and the most of your years of experience. Ageism may exist, but it doesn’t have to hinder you from landing your dream job at any age.