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Overcoming Age Bias in the Job Search Process

July 2017 - By Phyllis Mufson, CPCC

Age bias, though unfortunate, is a reality for many older job seekers. Career Coach Phyllis Mufson, CPCC discusses some strategies for overcoming these assumptions and increasing the odds of landing the job.

When I speak with mature job seekers, they invariably begin by telling me that the reason that they can’t find a job is their age. They say things like, “Doesn’t my experience count for anything?” and that employers don’t want to hire older workers.

It is true that many employers can be said to have age bias, but bias has many facets. Studies show that while employers and hiring managers hold assumptions about older workers, many of the assumptions are positive. However, they also have real concerns.

To create a positive impression and land the job you want and are qualified for, you must understand age bias, build on your assets and disarm your liabilities.

Positive Employer Assumptions about Workers Over 50
Employers view older workers as having significant advantages:

  • In-depth knowledge
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Reliability with a strong sense of responsibility
  • Statistically lower absenteeism and low turnover

Employer Concerns about Workers Over 50
Many employers wonder if older workers will request higher salaries than they plan to pay. That is a significant barrier, but knowing that is in employers’ minds, older job seekers can proactively address salary expectations in your cover letter and interview.

There are other concerns that interviewers are unlikely to voice, although chances are they will be on their minds. Some of the subtext behind the questions you are asked in interviews will be:

  • Are you continuing to learn and grow, or do you have a "been there, done that,” focused on retirement attitude?
  • Will you work comfortably with co-workers of younger generations? Can you take direction from a younger supervisor?
  • Are you keeping up with new developments in your field?
  • Are you vital and energetic?
It's up to you to create the right impression.

Beat the Stereotypes
Be visibly up to date:

Conducting your job search in an efficient modern manner will immediately signal to recruiters and hiring managers that you’re adapting to technological advancements. This is an area where almost every mature job seeker needs to focus. Below are just two areas to consider:

  • A professional online presence is necessary. Having a complete LinkedIn profile is the minimum. As LinkedIn is the primary source for recruiters searching for candidates, you must be represented to be found. Also, studies show up to 90% of interviewers and employers will search for you online. If they don’t find you, they’ll assume that you’re behind the times.
  • Your resume and other written marketing materials need to be in a current format. Resume styles change over time. For example, most resumes are now scanned through an ATS (applicant tracking systems) before they are ever read by a human. It’s important to include keywords in your resume that the ATS will be scanning for to make it through the initial screening.

Flexibility:

Employers will be observing to determine if you will work well with younger colleagues and if you are willing to accept direction. They will be looking to determine if you suffer from ‘hardening of your attitudes’ and will be resistant to new ways of working or if you welcome challenges.

Prepare for interviews by developing anecdotes that illustrate your flexibility and show how you’ve worked collaboratively to solve problems in the past. Also, be sure to highlight interests and skills you’ve developed recently.

Technical skills:

Are your technical skills up to date for the job you are seeking? Yes? That’s great. Just check your resume to make sure that all obsolete software is removed. No? It is up to you to upgrade your technical skills. Having gaps in your technical proficiency will be a barrier to getting hired and may even keep you from being invited for an interview.

Energy:

Employers will wonder if you have the energy to keep up in fast-paced work environments. In interviews, they will be watching your body language and listening to your answers to evaluate your physical and mental fitness.

Working on your fitness and being mindful of your diet is certainly important in creating an impression of fitness. But also take the time for an image check-up. How is your posture? Are your haircut and wardrobe up-to-date while not inappropriately youthful? It's up to you to manage employers' perceptions of you, your experience, your energy, and your willingness to learn and contribute with workers from other generations. If you take a clear look at yourself and commit to any necessary changes, you will definitely see the positive results.

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