Friday, March 5, 2010

Age Discrimination - Job search question of the week


On Fridays, I'm posting a job search question from one of our readers. This was a question posted in response to my posting on Linkedin Answers “Candidates - What's your most difficult job search question?”

K.T. shared a question she had about her own job search, and asked:

"Age discrimination is my biggest problem. Being a face reader I can tell immediately their impression of me. It's happened many times."

Read more ...

Age discrimination is a big issue for candidates these days. It's illegal, yet it's also rampant. How can job seekers get past it?

I'm not sure that getting past age discrimination is a tactic that will bring a high success rate. Trying to get a company or hiring manager to change their idea of fit, to change their preconceived biases (however wrong they may be) is a tough battle with long odds. I'm not saying it's impossible, and I'm sure readers have examples, but they aren't the norm. Odds are poor, no matter what tactics you try, you're not likely to change hiring manager bias.

I'm wondering why you'd even want to?

Let's say you beat the odds, and magically convinced a hiring manager that your skills were so rare, that the company had to hire you, regardless of age, regardless that you didn't fit their idea of "fit". If you're 60, and everyone else in the company is in their 30's how long do you think you're going to last in this environment? Do you think your ideas will be listened to, or will the 30 year olds feel you just don't get it, due to generational differences? Before the angry lions jump all over me, there are many exceptions to this statement (being the #1 or #2 in a company, being a subject matter expert on senior issues, being brought in as a mentor to guide younger staff in a specific subject matter expertise, to name a few).

Unless you've found one of these exceptions, you're going into a position where you may be set up for failure from the start. Who needs the hassle and stress?

I think a better idea with better odds of success and better odds of keeping your sanity is to look for companies who want a more senior employee for the position. Not every company is run by 30 year olds. There are plenty of businesses who have a large number of more experienced workers, whose idea of fit is someone like themselves - with grandchildren.

Why even interview with a company who wants a 30 year old for the position? Instead, why not focus your time looking for companies who want older workers?

How can you find companies who want older workers? Here are a few ideas:
  • Your best bet is to focus on Guerrilla Job Search (see: to find companies with workers at your level. Talk to them about ageism in the workplace, and see what it's like at their company. Don't under-utilize the contact by leading the conversation by asking if they hire people over 50.
  • Other starting points can be SimplyHired's filter for over 50 friendly companies. Don't focus on the jobs listed, but rather, on the companies who are hiring people over 50.
  • Look for companies in your industry that are being sold, or where the owner is retiring. These are companies that are more likely to need senior leadership, and may not need the person to be willing to commit to the next 30 years of their life.
  • Look for companies that support or sell to the growing Senior market
  • Look for companies who have problems in your area of subject matter expertise. They may have less experienced management and seek someone to mentor managers through a turnaround.
  • Avoid selling yourself as a generalist. Few companies today look for a jack-of-all trades. Even if that's going to be your day to day job function, you'll likely be hired due to a concentrated subject matter expertise and ability to solve a specific business problem (

One big thing to avoid:

Make sure you show that you aren't out of touch by using digital job search techniques, demonstrating that you understand Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter. Nothing says you're an out of touch candidate like a paper resume - you give the impression that you don't know how to email.

For example in our last election, John McCain made a major late campaign mistake, when he proudly announced in a press conference that he sent his first email and was learning to use the internet. At the same time, Obama used social media tactics to build grass roots audiences, by building massive Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter followings. Even though it was Obama's staff sending the messages, he effectively used social media to win the most publicly visible job search in history. McCain's email statement made him look out of touch and served to distance him from voters - made even more apparent by his pride in accomplishing something that most Americans view as an everyday part of their lives. It didn't matter that McCain's war injuries made it difficult for him to operate a keyboard and his pride came from learning to overcome a war related disability - he still gave the perception of being horribly out of touch.

This isn't a partisan or political discussion about who would have been better in office - let's look beyond that. The statement serves to demonstrate that people who aren't comfortable with technology have a hard time finding work in a society that increasingly depends on technology. This is a bias that older workers have to be especially diligent about giving the right impressions of being just as tech savvy as their younger counterparts.

Finally, don't try to pretend you're younger, not even in your resume (see: Why bother hiding your graduation date? If you get an interview, the moment you walk in the door, your interviewer will make a gut feel judgment. If you've mislead them on your resume, the best result you'll can hope for is immediate disappointment - or your interviewer might have the impression that you misled or even lied on your resume. Will that help you find a job?

Your best best in overcoming ageism in job search is to find companies that ageism is less likely to exist, demonstrating equivalent technology skills, and not hiding your age. Do some of our older and wiser readers out there have some hints they can share about their success in beating ageism?

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