Overcoming Ageism to Land a Job

Mature workers bring a ton of experience and wisdom to any job

There is little doubt that one of the “isms” prevalent today, at least in American society, is ageism; stereotyping and/or discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. The term was coined in 1969 by Dr. Robert Neil Butler, a Pulitzer Prize-winning activist, and aging issues pioneer, to describe discrimination against seniors and patterned on sexism and racism.

While it has long been a factor in hiring, making this more of an issue today is the “un-retiring” trend as the value of retiree’s 401k and IRA funds has taken a big hit. The fear of outliving one’s savings is a powerful motivator when it comes to re-entering the workforce. In doing so, folks in their 60s and beyond are facing ageism and its inherent hurdles to getting hired based on stereotypes and judgements that are not only unfair but often wildly inaccurate. For sure this practice is illegal but it’s also dumb and self-defeating. Why wouldn’t an employer want a highly experienced, stable, and mature person on their team? Sometimes the hiring manager feels threatened by a seasoned worker but won’t admit it. Instead, they use other excuses for not hiring that person, for example:

· He won’t know how to use current technology on the job.

· She won’t have the energy and stamina to do this job.

· He won’t stick around very long, and we’ll have to find a replacement.

· She’s going to be out a lot dealing with illness.

· He’s set in his ways and won’t be comfortable with change.

· She will have a hard time taking direction from someone 30 years younger.

In other cases, many Americans that have retired and are fairly comfortable financially have found that they lack purpose and meaning and want to re-enter the workforce, even if it’s in relatively low paying role as long as they feel fulfilled doing it. In these cases, the hiring manager might assume the 70 year old former executive won’t be happy with the level of responsibility and/or compensation. Then it’s fairly easy to play the age card under the cover of the “he’s way overqualified” canard. Some have grown frustrated with ageism as a deterrent and decided to start their own business.

The Case for Hiring “Mature” Employees

Mature workers by and large have a strong work ethic, know how to get along and collaborate effectively with others and a ton of life experience. They have faced many work and personal challenges over the years and not only survived but learned how to handle adversity. These folks don’t go to pieces when something goes wrong on the job. They tend to be patient in dealing with problems and customers. They also have pretty high self-awareness and know their strengths and weaknesses and are comfortable in their own skin, so they don’t feel the need to lie and cover up mistakes or try to take credit for something they didn’t do. Another plus is that they won’t be taking childcare leave and jumping to another company for a few dollars more. Sure, some hiring managers will cite longevity as an issue with a 65 or 70 year old job candidate but really how many of those managers are really thinking beyond 3–4 years anyway? I had a hiring manager ask me when I was in my late 50s “How do I know you will stick around for at least five years?”. I replied, “None of us have a crystal ball so you don’t. How do I know you will?”. I got the job and within 9 months he moved into a different role in that company! Frankly, a hiring manager expecting a decades-long commitment to the company is ridiculous. The days of “full employment” and a job for life at blue chip companies like HP, IBM, or Kodak are forever gone. Many people work five years in one organization and move onto greener pastures for a variety of reasons and while turnover is disruptive and costly companies have adapted quite well.

Advice for Mature Job Seekers

For one, don’t ever apologize for your age or for that matter for what you don’t have, like a certain college degree or certification. Focus on what you can and will bring to the job. While a hiring manager or HR person won’t ask certain questions for fear of running afoul of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, nothing prevents the job candidate from volunteering certain information she knows the other person is wondering about. This should be done in a non-defensive, friendly, open manner: “Ms. Jones, unlike many men of my father’s generation I have taken good care of my health through diet and physical activity. I’m confident my energy level and drive to contribute will enable me to help you and your team achieve its goals.”

I advocate that older workers wear their age and the experience as a badge of honor. “Mr. Harris, I may not have been the smartest technician throughout my 30 year career, but I did learn how to adapt to change and successfully handle a wide variety of project management and technical problems and how to manage client expectations and exceed them, and no one ever outworked me.”

Another point to communicate: “Ms. Rodriquez, I learned over my many years as a ________ what my strengths and weaknesses are. I am not afraid to say I don’t know and will offer to help my colleagues. If you value workers you can trust to bring to light any issues and to ask for and provide help, I am your person.”

Close: “At the risk of sounding overconfident, I am steady and dependable with a strong work ethic; it’s how I was raised. I know how to collaborate and never take credit for things I haven’t done but I am quick to fess up when I mess up. If those are attributes you want in the person you hire then I would love to join the Acme, Inc. team; I won’t let you down.”

I do understand that for many people raised and conditioned to not brag making these statements may feel boastful. But I also want to remind everyone “It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.” Practice saying what’s true for you in front of a mirror and then do it face to face with a friend or career coach. It gets much easier to say those things once you’ve rehearsed them. And since they’re true what have you got to lose?

Frank Manfre www.frankmanfre.com/career-coaching

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Frank Manfre

Frank Manfre

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Business consultant & coach w/ 35 years experience in leadership roles in for profit and nonprofit organizations focused on developing leaders & org health