I don’t think about my age too much. People often tell me that I look younger than I am so I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to look older, not younger. But recently, four events occurred within the same day that forced me to think about age and the perception that age can create.
- I saw a lead that a major magazine was offering a job search makeover for women between 25 and 45 years old…I did the math and realized that if I had been interested, I wouldn’t be eligible.
- A colleague posted on Facebook that he was celebrating his 35th birthday. I commented back that I recently celebrated my 35th birthday…for the 11th time.
- I was exercising and monitoring my recommended heart rate and realized that I fall into the category for the oldest exercisers on the chart.
- A client listed her work history on her resume back to 1995 and asked if she should remove that information because it was “ancient.” I didn’t even think my teenage kids thought 1995 was ancient history!
So what happened? I went to bed feeling young and woke up feeling old? I had become Rip Van Winkle overnight? How could this be? I think many boomer job seekers face the same dilemma. Age was never a factor in their job search, but now it is. I have heard stories from clients telling me recruiters have told them they are too old for certain positions. Others, who are often several years younger than me just assume they will be discriminated against based on their age. And everyone seems to have a different cut off for what they think “too old” is. Some say 40, others say 50 or 60.
In a job search there are some things we can control and many things we cannot. I always coach my clients to focus on the aspects of the search they can control. And while we can’t control our age or other people’s perceptions about our age, there are proactive steps all job seekers can take to make sure age bias is minimized.
- Group earlier experience into a category that reads “Additional Experience.” Create an abbreviated overview of the positions you held more than 15 years ago, but include the dates. This allows the hiring manager to focus on more current and more relevant experience. Many people believe that by omitting the dates there is less likelihood that the bias will surface. I think the opposite. When the dates are missing, people wonder why and often assume you are even older than you are. If you chose to leave off certain employment experiences to make you look younger on paper, I say proceed with caution. If you are called in for an interview and it is obvious that you are much older than the information on your resume represents, you run the risk of making the hiring manager believe you are not truthful…not a great way to start out a relationship.
- While I’m not usually a big fan of a “hobbies” section on a resume, the information displayed there can sometimes offset a potential age bias issue. If you regularly participate in a sport that showcases your active lifestyle, this is something I suggest including. And if you have certain technology skills that prove you are current in your field, I recommend adding that information as well.
Some job seekers believe that by not having a picture on online identity and networking sites, they decrease the chance of being discriminated against. Again, I disagree. If you do not post a picture in communities where they are the norm, people will think you have something to hide. Sometimes people post pictures that are 10-15 years old. Another mistake that could damage your credibility when you meet the person who viewed your profile in person. Your picture is part of your brand. Pay as much attention to it as you would your other marketing collateral. Lighting, makeup, clothing choice, an updated hairstyle, and maybe even a wee bit of photo-shopping (shhh) will help you present your best image while still being transparent and authentic.
Sometimes when a hiring authority figures out your age, they draw the conclusion that you command a certain salary and that perhaps they won’t be able to afford you. When interviewing, if you detect this feeling, be sure to be able to discuss your interest in the position, your desire for meaningful work, and your flexibility. This can help the hiring manager to understand that salary in not necessarily your main motivator. The reality is that many older workers are not more expensive; if anything they are often behind market value because of longevity with a previous employer. Large salary bumps generally occur by switching jobs more frequently; not by staying with the same employer over many years. So the very thing the employer is concerned about might actually turn out to be a non-issue. Better to explore the issue than let the hiring manager come to their own, and possibly incorrect, conclusion.
Job Search Research
No one is the right fit for every company. Some companies do have a more youth-oriented culture. But many do not and even tout themselves as best places for boomers or people over 50. AARP publishes a list each year called the Best Employers for Workers Over 50. By targeting the companies that embrace older workers you dramatically decrease the potential for encountering age bias.
It sounds so cliche but it is true. If you believe you are old, others will believe it as well. If you refuse to put arbitrary limitations on age you increase the chances that others will reject these notions as well. Focus on the value you can bring to an employer, not the longevity of your career history. Leverage the latest social media technologies such as Twitter and Facebook to stay connected in current conversations. Ditch phrases such as “back in the day” and “when I was your age.” Rewrite the rules.
I take my cues on age from my soon to be 79 year “young” mother. She still wears her hair in a ponytail. She knows more about the hardware and software on her computer than most 25 year olds. She has no major health issues. And she can get away with wearing clothes designed for women more than half her age. So that’s my barometer. What’s yours?