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Beat The Clock: Overcoming Ageism

By Dr. Darla Shaw, SPHR, MBA, MLS, PhD.


Anyone over the age of 45 will probably tell you that they are worried about ageism. Two out of three workers age 45-74 say they have experienced ageism first hand!


I have had many people ask me to remove their earlier work history on a resume, take off dates of graduation and more, all to avoid the stigma that comes from having "too much experience" or being seen as "overqualified". They have this feeling that when people look at their resume, all they see is someone who is “overqualified” or take one look at their LinkedIn profile, see the silver in their hair, and pass on them.


Then there are the naysayers; the ones who say ageism isn't real. It's just another social justice warrior fad, and a way for people to avoid responsibility or blame others for not getting a fair shake.


The truth though is a bit more complicated than either view.


According to the AARP, workers aged 55 and over are accounting for almost ALL of the job growth since 2000! That trend is expected to decrease once older workers start retiring, but for now, the nation’s 35.5 million older workers now make up 23.1% of the U.S. workforce of 154 million. 


So… almost 1 in 4 workers in the United States is considered an “older worker”. That’s a lot of people and so obviously discrimination can’t be happening everywhere, right? 


Perhaps not everywhere… but it does happen! People aren’t just paranoid.


Having been in HR and recruitment for 20+ years, I have seen clients deliberately weed out older workers. One client even told me not to give him any resumes at all unless the DATE OF GRADUATION was on their resume! He wanted someone “young” he could “train up”. Seriously.


The question is… WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN?


In order to overcome any discrimination or bias, you must first understand the “motivator”, whether conscious or unconscious. Some motivators are obvious; fear, stereotyping and stigmas passed down with no factual evidence, culture bias, etc.


In the case of ageism specifically though, there seem to be THREE motivating factors, which I have listed below. Understanding these factors is the key to overcoming them, and I have provided a few suggestions on how to counter them. This is not a complete list, but these are some techniques I’ve seen work!


Factor 1: MONEY


“Older workers” have spent years building up their careers. As a result, when they go to talk about salary, it’s generally higher than their younger counterparts who don’t have the same experience or education. 


If you’re applying for a role where having a lot of experience is NOT a priority, then you are most likely going to get weeded out. Sales is a primary example of this. A lot of sales positions are viewed as having an “anyone with the right personality can do this”, and so having two candidates, one more expensive than the other, will usually result in going for the “cheaper” candidate.


How To Beat It:

Two main ways to overcome this.  First.... KNOW YOUR WORTH! Do your research on salary.com, payscale.com and glassdoor.com. Be sure to understand what the market is for your position. Ask recruiters what the going rate is! Sometimes they know more than those websites do, which use an aggregate system.


Second, even if you are asking for market value, but especially if you’re asking for more, be able to justify your value by showing the results of your past success. You have an advantage over younger workers because you’ve had years to build up your reputation and achievements! Make sure your resume and achievement examples reflect that, and that you can put into dollars and cents how you will be able to bring value to the company more than your competition.



Factor 2: LENGTH OF SERVICE


The closer you get to retirement, the more companies wonder…. how long will you be here? Some companies have a hard time understanding that if they get even 2 years of dedicated, loyal service out of an employee, especially one who can mentor and train others, they are likely going to get more value than hiring someone who might quit any day! But again, it’s a stigma, and stigmas rarely make sense.


How To Beat It:

Be prepared to talk about how much longer you plan to work. Although it’s illegal for interviewers to directly ask how old you are, they can backchannel the question with remarks about how long you plan to keep working. The correct answer is always something like, ‘I enjoy working, and feel like I’m still learning, and intend to stay in the workforce as long as I can. I don’t plan on hanging up my hat any time soon.”


No matter what, express enthusiasm for your work. You need to reinforce the skills and experience you bring to an employer and the fact that you want to keep using those skills and perhaps mentor younger people to teach them some of the things you know.



Factor 3: RELEVANCE


The first two were almost forgivable in their practicality, but this last one is just plain ignorance, stigma and perception. Workers aged 45 and older are more likely to be viewed as “out of touch” with latest trends, but especially with technology. The worry is that you can’t keep up and perhaps don’t know what’s going on with your industry.


How To Beat It:

It’s important that you’re current in your industry—and the tech that it uses—and that you’re aware of the latest trends.


That doesn’t mean you must be fluent in every platform. You do not want to sit there and talk about how much you love Snapchat! No one expects you to be the technology whiz, but they also don’t want you to be a dinosaur. List any social media profiles on your resume so an employer can see that you’re comfortable with the technology. If there are other platforms, apps, or programs that are used in your field, be proficient in those as well.


If you’re not a tech whiz, enlist the help of a friend, or consider taking an online or local technology course if you need assistance. Try Coursera.org or LinkedIn’s Learning platform for online options.


Also be sure to talk about the latest industry trends in your interview, or mention a brief excerpt in a cover letter. Little things like that prove you are up to date, and can mitigate this unconscious bias before it even starts.


Ageism is a problem. It won’t disappear over night! But you can fight it. Message me for more tips or help overcoming ageism like many of my clients have done!




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