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Jan 29 2016
Will I work again?
Am I too old to be hired?
Will any employer take the time to see—let alone value—what I have to bring to the table?
These questions are all too familiar to millions of older job seekers.
Sadly, ageism is alive and well. It's not just folks in their 50s who face it; it's happening to folks in their 40s, too. Age discrimination tends to occur more in industries where the work performed is physical in nature, such as construction or manufacturing, but it isn't as widespread in other industries as it once was.
Job application details and background checks inadvertently provide employers with enough data about candidates to estimate their age. And unfortunately the wealth of personal data available on the Internet reveals not just age, but many other personal facts, should a hiring manager or employer want to know such things.
But here's the silver lining in the ageism cloud: As the labor market is flooded with older job seekers, some employers have come to recognize their unique value. Older workers generally need less training, can hit the ground running in a new role, and can contribute in multiple functions within an organization. Such "multipurpose" workers offer employers the opportunity to fill more than one role with a single candidate, thus saving hiring and payroll expenses while bolstering efficiency and productivity.
The good news is that there are a number of strategies that 40-year-old+ workers can implement to help reduce the impact of potential discrimination, boost their employability, and capitalize on the value they offer budget-constrained companies:
- Remove dates from resumes relating to jobs or education that occurred more than 10-15 years ago. Showcase older work experience in a separate section and list the number of years of experience rather than the actual years employed with each company. Remove the dates from education, professional development, or certification entries. Include CAR (challenge – action – result) stories that demonstrate your breadth of experience, sow related key words into summary and core competency sections, and emphasize short timelines whenever feasible (and true).
- Leverage the full weight of personality in interviews. Make assertive, non-aggressive eye contact, deliver CAR stories with energy, and communicate your wisdom and experience humbly. Employ one to two "hip" clothing or accessory elements to prove you're not out of touch with current trends. Don't go overboard! Demonstrate good manners. Listen proactively and take notes. Smile. Leverage an exceptional handshake.
- Consider your LinkedIn photo carefully. If you are trying to mask your age or an age-related feature (gray hair, double chin, and so on), you can use Photoshop or a related software product to remove or soften some visual elements. Also consider having a 20 or 30-something-year-old take your photo. Many young people have a knack for creating informal, quirky poses that convey optimism and energy. Stay away from stodgy head shots and try black and white photos for a sophisticated look.
- Remove pre-2000 work experience from your LinkedIn profile's employment section and briefly note these removed jobs in your profile summary if pertinent (LinkedIn won't allow work experience to be added without dates). You can list education without dates, however. Use the resume strategies noted above to infuse your profile with energy, cross-functional skills, key words, and CAR stories.
- Employ a mix of job search strategies. Rely less on job boards and choose which ones to pursue more carefully. Increase your LinkedIn presence through answers, status updates, and active involvement in 25-30 LinkedIn groups. And though you may not like doing so, consider blogging or Twitter as job search tools worth exploring. What more direct way to demonstrate that you embrace current trends, especially those involving technology?
- Beware of applicant tracking systems. Employers use sophisticated databases to screen incoming resumes and often search for candidates based on the amount of experience they possess. If you apply for positions via job boards, employer sites, or recruiter websites, your resume will be analyzed for key words and your experience level. It is vital that your resume reflects the amount of experience sought in the job posting (assuming you possess it, of course), but no more or less.
While ageism may be a reality, it doesn't have to be yours. By preparing a personal anti-discrimination strategy composed of one or more of the suggestions shared above and executing that strategy on a weekly basis, you can shorten your job search and land a role that enables you to contribute your considerable experience in a workplace that welcomes you.