I hear it all the time. “Nobody is calling me for interviews because of my age”.

Ageism is alive and kicking at all hiring levels, even at the senior-executive level. Many senior executives go from feeling that they’ve finally reached the pinnacle of achievement and experience in their career to seemingly overnight being concerned about being “too old”.  In fact, senior executives are often caught in the worst Catch-22 of all: their calm maturity, experience, and 360-degree view of operations gained through decades of overcoming business challenges are precisely where their unique value resides.

There are no hard and fast rules for combating ageism, or any other type of “ism” for that matter, since it is so difficult to prove it is really even there. But you can take steps to ensure that you aren’t shooting yourself in the foot before you’ve even begun.

The first step is to realize that a portion of the ageism you are experiencing may be perceived and there may be other underlying problems hindering your search. For example, if you are not effectively communicating your unique value to recruiters and hiring managers, you won’t generate interest, no matter how old you are.

Ask yourself, does my resume pass the 6-second rule? That is, do readers immediately understand where I fit in –– in terms of industry, organizational level, and the specific business pain points I am prepared to alleviate?  Have I adopted a modern style that caters to skimmers or is my resume filled with text density and lengthy lists of items that overwhelm readers and turn them away? Is the writing totally polished and does it convey my stellar performance and my ability to creatively overcome challenges and take strategic initiative?

Many of the senior job seekers I work with complain about ageism when, in reality, the message of the value they bring and the impressive business results they’ve delivered is being short-circuited in its delivery somehow.

Assuming that you have managed to effectively communicate your unique value in your resume, it’s time to ask yourself if your age is a minor or somewhat ambiguous point on your resume or if you are advertising your age in screaming colors, distracting from your core message.

Ask yourself, do I have an outdated resume style, such as one that uses an objective statement? Is my resume 4+ pages long with detailed descriptions of what I was doing in 1985? Am I touting “30 years of experience” in my resume’s summary section? Have I included date of birth at the very top of my resume? (something I see all the time from the European clients I work with).

All of the above are doing more harm than good—because they are distracting readers from the value you have to offer. I certainly don’t advocate dishonesty of any form in a resume, but luckily, there is no official resume code book that says you have to include certain information. In fact, as a resume writer, an important part of what I do is make strategic decisions about what to include––and what to omit–– based on whether or not I feel it will help or hinder my client’s search.

Taking the focus off of your age is not just about what you omit, it’s also about what you choose to highlight and include. To determine what will help you, rather than hinder you, it is necessary to consider the “why” of ageism. Many hiring agents fear that older candidates have lost relevance, are less agile, are out of touch with their rapidly evolving market, or have incompatible old-fashioned, top-down leadership styles. Knowing what worries hiring managers about older candidates can provide clues as to the qualities that you might want to stress and highlight in both your career literature and during interviews in order to combat those unfair stereotypes. Instead of focusing on your decades of experience, you may want to focus on the fact that you have a steady finger on the pulse of your market, a strong commitment to continuing professional development, or a democratic and open leadership style. In sum, take those stereotypes and turn them on their head, using them in your favor—as long as your description truly reflects who you are.

Age bias is real and there is very little you can do to make it go away. But it is within your control to remove the spotlight from perceived weaknesses as an older candidate, place it on your unique strengths, and debunk any age-related assumptions about your irrelevance in today’s employment landscape.


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