The question that job hunters ask me more often than any other is: how do I handle the issue of my age? With so many highly talented and experienced job hunters in their 50s and 60s, one would think that this could be a golden opportunity for businesses to significantly upgrade their workforce. Even in companies that espouse a policy of welcome for older job candidates, the reality is that while they may talk the talk, few walk the walk.
Age bias exists; deal with it!
I advise my clients that they must overcome two primary issues regarding age. First, accept that bias sometimes exists and just deal with it. Second, devise a job search strategy that circumvents common road blocks.
Recruiters and hiring managers who have an age bias aren’t likely to be swayed by anything you do, so when I say, “Just deal with it”, I’m suggesting that you either find a way around these roadblocks, or move on to locate another opportunity. Older job hunters should lead with their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Strengths are expertise and highly developed skills, people skills (in many cases, the gravitas that comes with age can be a very valuable commodity), work ethic. There are situations where emphasizing age can be a real advantage: if you’re 65 and have Medicare, you don’t need expensive health coverage, which can be a real plus to a small business owner.
Draw attention away from your age
When you dwell on age, you’re drawing attention to it. It isn’t age, per se, that is the barrier. It’s the perception of your energy. What’s important is that you present as a dynamic and energetic individual. We’re in a youth culture, no doubt, so yes, it helps to look young. Wear current (but age appropriate) clothing and hair styles. Lose a few pounds. Many recruiters tell women that they should color their hair and maybe that’s right.
Bring subjects into the conversation that convey your energy and that let people know that you’re always interested in new innovations and the latest developments in your industry. Talk about activities you might engage in that are more action-oriented (athletics is obvious, but being involved in community activities or keeping a very active schedule also demonstrates a high level of energy). Drop remarks to demonstrate to employers that you’re up-to-date on technology (you might ask if their company uses Twitter as part of its marketing strategy) or other current issues.
Don’t emphasize your age in your resume or marketing materials. Avoid phrases like “more than 30 years of experience” when “highly experienced” conveys the same message. List your employment history under the heading “Relevant Employment History” and then list only the positions you’ve held during the last 20 years (how relevant is a position you held 30 years ago, anyway?), and consider omitting the year you graduated college. Don’t tell the interviewer how much she reminds you of your daughter (or granddaughter).
Effective networking reduces dependence on resumes which often emphasize age
What are the most effective strategies to find a position when you’re a bit older? My advice is basic and job hunters have heard it time and again. Network. Network. Network.
Assume that your resume will be screened and that recruiters who are “age adverse” will likely be on to the tricks I’ve described. The best way to avoid being screened out on the basis of age is to connect to a position before the recruiter has seen your resume. When somebody has the opportunity to meet you, when they’ve experienced first-hand the energy you project, when they see how plugged in you are to the current issues that face their company, they are far more receptive to review your resume, give serious consideration to your experience and appreciate how you can add immediate value to their business.
Most important, believe in yourself. One of my clients told me, “I may be in my 60’s, I may be bald, but you should see me whip the *** off some of these young guys on the squash court!” Believe me, when people meet him, they’re not thinking about his age!