“Fit, vibrant, energetic, stamina, enthusiastic, ambitious, progressive, forward-thinking, adopter of new technology, recent graduate, passionate, motivated, growth, willing to learn, dynamic, adaptable, fresh, inspired, quick-reacting, ability to think on feet, bring a new rejuvenation…”
Hint: For more mature workers, it’s meant to not describe you.
In essence, this is just a sample of random “code words” used by employers in job announcements to try and deter more mature professionals from applying by using terms usually reserved to describe younger workers.
Read between the lines, and these jobs are screaming out loud that only “young” people should apply.
Age discrimination? You betcha.
It is heartbreaking for so many veteran workers to suddenly encounter this bias, especially when we put so much of how we value ourselves into our careers.
Writing off someone’s value simply because they are getting older (and therefore more disposable) is not only short-sighted, but also illegal.
But proving it is difficult – are you willing to risk getting a bad reputation as a “litigator” by suing a potential employer? Not many people are willing to do this, as they are fearful about having a dark cloud following them throughout their job search.
But you can fight back. The key is understand where and when to pick your battles.
The very roots of this vile practice of age discrimination take hold in multiple levels in a job search.
Let’s break it down:
- Job announcements. Reviewing the aforementioned code words, does the job description include anything like these terms?
If so, move on. THIS IS A BATTLE YOU CANNOT WIN.
The company already has a HR problem as someone let a clearly biased announcement slip through and actually be published. Age discrimination is endemic in the organization, and it’s not your job to take it on. So you need to move on.
What that should tell you is that even if you made it to the interview, once they see you walk through the door, it would be game over already. The company culture only values youth, and you can’t change that.
- Résumés. Does your résumé reveal anything about your age? Key areas to pay attention to include:
- Your email address (does it include a birth year, year you graduated, or your age?)
- When you graduated? You do not need to include this on your résumé. Just say you graduated.
- Work history. Keep it current – stay within the last 10-15 years. Anything more than 15 years starts to trend towards you being at least 50+. Employers also don’t care as much about what you did 20+ years ago as they do about your most recent accomplishments. That’s more reflective of what you are capable of doing in the current moment.
- The Interview. Let’s say you weeded out the job announcements, fine-tuned your résumé to be age-neutral, and now you are proudly walking in the door with a fine head of gray hair and some wrinkles (I call them battle / wisdom stripes). Now what? It’s clear that you aren’t a new college graduate.
This is where the hard work begins.
Let’s break down the interview into similar layers, and examine the best strategies you can use fight age discrimination while in the interview:
- When you first walk in.
Appearances matter, so you can take the initiative to color your hair, shave a beard, get Botox, lose weight, apply moisturizers, etc. etc. and all the other so-called youth remedies.
Does that really work?
That’s a pre-emptive strike to make yourself physically appear as young as possible and to fight back against age discrimination.
The next step is to SHAPE THE PERCEPTION of the interviewer when you first meet them and walk into the interview room.
- Be energetic. (But not too much)
- Make eye contact.
- Talk about the weather then tie that into a physical activity you recently completed.
- Ask the person as you are walking to the interview room whether they had tried __(new thing)_ and that you had tried it and thought it had some exciting possibilities for the company.
- Discuss how excited you are about talking with the company as you took a class learning about ____.
The goal with these types of strategies is to subliminally communicate that you embody the values that embody what society accepts as youthful.
Simply put: you are using reverse psychology on them – you are defeating their first-step impressions of you being older by immediately demonstrating what is seen as stereotyped youthful characteristics. This is how you combat age discrimination. It begins here.
- During the interview – PROACTIVE APPROACH.
Dealing with core issues that are on the minds of interviewers BEFORE they start dancing around them can again be an assertive way to shape their perceptions of you while addressing those unarticulated concerns.
How you do this is by proactively inserting little bits and pieces addressing the following concerns BEFORE they ask you about it or comment about it. You are taking control of the conversation:
You want too much salary. “After conducting extensive salary research, I am confident that your company offers a competitive package. I’m ok with that, and would like to spend more time learning about this incredible job.”
You are overqualified. “I am fully in charge of my career destiny and your company seems to be the best positioned to benefit from my skills.”
You don’t want to try new experiences. “One of the things I really enjoy doing is pushing the envelope and trying new things. When I grow, so does the company where I work.”
You aren’t a cultural fit. “As someone who enjoys a wide array of friends at all ages, I find that I get along best in melting-pot environments that play of the unique strengths and perspectives of all staff. It’s fun to create sounding boards and brainstorm from different angles to open up companies to ALL potential possibilities and beat out the competition!
You aren’t adaptable. “That’s really funny… I actually have earned a reputation as an early adopter because when you have the opportunity to test drive new ideas or technology, that’s where the real magic begins when a useful application is discovered which can put the company ahead and drive profit.”
You have expired in your usefulness and reputation. “As a board member of ____ association, I have had the opportunity to mentor ____ and also contribute to the vision that has shaped ____ industry.”
You aren’t energetic. “I love getting in and tackling the complicated tasks… the more complex, the more fired up I am. It is inspiring and invigorating, actually!”
You aren’t up to code. “When I was at XYZ conference earlier this year, I gained some very good insights that most companies haven’t been able to obtain.” –or- “Since I am such a quality-driven person, I recently completed my certification in _____.”
- During the interview – REACTIVE APPROACH.
This will require you to read through the lines and be able to see when they may be expressing veiled doubt about your ability to do the job.
So therefore, you must be completely vigilant about any implied concerns, then be ready to respond with a proactive response that combats those latent biases.
If they are bold enough to make a blatantly biased comment related to your age, then address it directly.
“I’d like to offer a different perspective. Here’s how I ___” – that way you aren’t calling them out that they were wrong (and illegal) but you are also REDIRECTING them towards what does matter.
- At the end of interview.
So you made it this far and you have successfully batted away all age discrimination concerns from a potential employer.
Now is the time to make your business case as to why employers should hire you. But before you even repeat these words to an employer, YOU NEED TO TAKE THEM TO HEART, because this is what every mature worker has to offer companies.
Basically, this is what your true competitive advantage is over younger workers, and how you can really fight age discrimination:
- Your ROI. You have a track record, where a newly minted college grad does not. With that in mind, prove to them that you are a profit center, not a cost center. Younger employees are much more of a risk to employers because they are unknown quantities and therefore untested.
- Established connections. You already know the movers and shakers in the industry, and have trusted networks that reach much further than those of a newer hire. Think about how this can play out to a prospective employer’s advantage,and reverse their age discrimination bias!
- Organizational / industry knowledge. A lifetime of connections and experiences that provide perspective of how the industry has evolved is worth its weight in gold. You have insider knowledge regarding relationships and history. That can help companies steer clear of unwanted connections OR leap into new partnerships that quickly reap gains. You offer a longer history of “school of hard knocks.” Having “been there, done that” can provide better handling of difficult, complicated situations than a lesser experienced worker. This can be especially valuable when situations require diplomacy, tact, and confidentiality.
- Writing skills. Need I say any more? People who have a longer timeline in the workforce grew up in a pretty unforgiving era of professional writing skills, and as a result, theirs are much better than younger people who tend to corrupt words into easy acronyms and/or leave spellchecking to be checked by software. Companies struggle constantly with trying to project a polished, clean image, and clutter caused by inattentive staff cause headaches for senior managers aghast at how poorly these employees write.
- Critical thinking skills. This is your SECRET WEAPON. Ask any employer, and they will usually bemoan the lack of critical thinking skills in younger employees. Many attribute this to helicopter parents who do everything to isolate their precious children from having to ever think. Guess what? Your advantage.
Keeping in mind all of these tips, you have a much better game plan for addressing age discrimination – the answer is always bigger than ourselves, so this is the part that YOU can control!