Question of the Month: November 2005

Question: “I’m not having much success with my job search and I suspect age discrimination might be the problem.  What can I do about this?”

Alas, there is no employment-related issue that causes as much anxiety in most candidates as the subject of age discrimination and its effects in the hiring process.  The questions pour in, each month: Does age bias exist?  How prevalent is it?  How does one get around it?  Are there companies out there that value and actively target the skills and experience of older, more experienced workers?

While we’d all love to live in a fantasy world where age had nothing to do with the hiring process, the unfortunate reality is that discrimination toward both younger and older candidates does exist, just as it occasionally does with regard to gender, race, and other factors.  Luckily, there seem to be only a small minority of organizations where age bias is practiced as an unwritten law.  In most cases, the bias is far from premeditated, and Career Horizons would argue that the perception of bias is not necessarily connected directly to a person’s biological age, per se, but to the specific attitudes, personality traits, and qualification issues that companies often tend to associate with candidates from different generations and experience brackets.  A subtle distinction, we realize, but an important one.  While it’s obviously impossible to win over somebody who is discriminating against you solely because of your birthdate, it’s actually not that hard to win the “hearts and minds” of people who might be questioning your candidacy simply because of fears they have regarding your attitude and employment stability.

For example, when dealing with candidates who possess 20 or more years of experience, most hiring managers will immediately start worrying about questions such as:  “Does this candidate have relevant, up-to-date skills?  Can this candidate take direction effectively from a younger manager?  Will this candidate be expecting too much money?  Does this candidate have the energy and commitment level to keep up with our fast-paced environment?  Will this candidate be retiring in the next few years after we make a considerable investment in getting them trained?”

It’s these generalized perceptions, therefore, that older workers need to work on overcoming during their job search campaign if they want to minimize the impact of age bias on their career prospects.  With planning and practice, almost all of these issues can be successfully addressed if a candidate honestly acknowledges that the root problem is “perception” and doesn’t fall into a defensive mindset that makes age discrimination the boogeyman for each and every setback they encounter.

Through creative resume editing and interview preparation, in fact, older workers can transform their years of experience into a major strong suit and a positive point of differentiation.  For example, a “veteran” candidate might argue that their additional years of experience allow them to be calmer under pressure, more reliable than younger workers, and to have a broader pool of experience from which to draw from in solving the company’s problems.  A few gray hairs might also help an individual relate better to a company’s customer base, especially given that the “Baby Boom” generation continues to control the vast portion of disposable income in this country!


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