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Ageism and Job Hunting; is it Time to Give Up?

A look at how to adapt to an ever-changing business environment.

I have been getting quite a few calls lately from late-career professionals who are convinced that they have failed to earn interviews or job offers because they are older than their competitors. Many of them are angry and embarrassed about being turned away by managers younger than their own kids. They think no one wants to hire an old person.

 

They're right.

 

Old people have stale ideas and are stuck in their ways; they favor the status quo over moving ahead. Old people lack the energy to meet the demands of a vigorous workplace and can’t relate to young customers, vendors and coworkers.

 

Choose not to be old.

 

While aging can’t be controlled, oldness can. With age come experience, wisdom and patience. Oldness connotes bitterness, obstinacy, and obsolescence. Seasoned, but current, workers use smart phones, social media and g-mail accounts while geezers long for the “good old days” of rotary dialing, postage stamps and mimeographs.

 

Choose not to be a geezer.

 

Things have changed in the business world. Young professionals’ aptitude for technology is extraordinary; their attention span is often short. They expect instant information and are comfortable sharing experiences with people they have never met. They forgo individualized handwritten correspondence for mass communication through the click of a trackball.

 

Choose to adapt.

 

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr had the right idea when he wrote his famous prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

 

It is prudent to accept that the image of an older worker creates bias; but we can change the image we project. Instead of wasting energy being mad at the system, savvy job seekers develop strategies to leverage the dynamic.  Reservations about hiring older workers are easy to anticipate, so it makes no sense to intentionally violate them. They are, after all, the same objections we had when we were younger hiring managers.

  • Is the person likely to ditch me for retirement or a more prestigious job?
  • Will I be comfortable supervising someone with more experience who may challenge me?
  • Is the person adaptable to new ideas and methods?
  • Is the person comfortable with the technology I use?
  • Can I communicate with this person on my terms, via my method of choice?
  • Does the person have the energy to do the job at a high level for a long time?
  • Will this person fit in with younger or more technical co-workers, vendors or customers?

 

Mature job seekers should develop messages and practice a presentation to defeat these obvious and appropriate concerns. Coming across as energetic, interested, committed and prepared is easy. Dress, posture, grooming, tone of voice, and handshake are controllable. Knowledge of current trends and work tools is learnable. To help, here are some of Job Guys favorite dos and don’ts for mature folks:

  • Do come across as highly energetic with a career plan that extends at least 5 years. Don’t share that you would have been retired five years ago if your 401k hadn’t tanked.
  • Do build a resume that is tailored to the level and function of the position you are targeting. Don’t include accomplishments and numbers that over-qualify you just because you are proud of them.
  • Do show more recent successes in your resume than older ones, even if the older ones are better; don’t create a “bottom heavy” resume that drives home the point that your best work was done in the 80s.
  • Do have LinkedIn (and maybe Facebook; Twitter) accounts and use them; don’t play Farmville (if you have never heard of Farmville, you are already on your way!).
  • Do have a professional sounding email address; don’t date yourself: dear-old-gramps@aol.com doesn’t convey super energy.
  • Do own and know how to use a smartphone and record an upbeat voice message prompt. Don’t leave the mechanical default greeting that suggests you didn’t know you could change it (this is often a first impression!).
  • Do make sure your clothing, makeup and personal grooming reflect age appropriate current fashion. Don’t go overboard with a two week revolving wardrobe from Abercrombie and Fitch.
  • Do show an awareness of current tools and best practices; don’t talk about how you developed a spreadsheet application before Excel became popular.
  • Do convey why the position in question is the goal; don’t talk about how you will run the organization within six months and show everyone how it’s done.
  • Do tell interviewers how you have recently and successfully worked with younger people using current methods; don’t talk about how, when you were their age, you listened to Air Supply on your Walkman as you strolled three miles to work barefoot in the snow.

 

The tone of these tips is light for a reason. While getting a job is serious business, it is critical not to take one’s self too seriously. The business world is now run by younger people who have every right to hire people who can keep up and are comfortable to work with. Some older job seekers choose not to put much effort into proving they are either of those things.  As a mature worker myself, I choose to adapt.

Bri September 29, 2011 at 06:44 AM
The points on changing your persona were very good strategies to try to break through the stereotypes formed in the employers head about every different age group applying to the job. Showing that one is upbeat and willing to work as a team will help set a mindset for the employee that you might be different than just the typical image they have in their head of what an old person is. No matter what, it seems like the job market will always be a challenge for older people as long as negative messages keep on being portrayed through outside sources. Even a person’s experience and knowledge can backfire on them if they are older as Bates mentioned. A company fears that the older people will try to take control and think they have earned seniority right off the bat. It was also interesting how Bates mentioned not to date yourself during the interview. Sticking with current times and technology will help break the automatic assumption one is old or acts as a typical old person everyone has in their minds. Bates ended the post with an encouraging thought of adapting. The ability to adapt is one of the crucial factors in breaking stereotypes of older people and striving towards decreasing ageism immensely.

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