Career Poll: How Handle Age Discrimination?

Given that many of my clients are of the Baby Boom generation, and out there for seeking work with 20-30 years of experience under their belts, I get a lot of questions related to age discrimination.  These individuals often wonder to what extent they might be passed over in the hiring process, entirely due to their age, and whether there are steps they can take to mitigate potential discrimination to any degree.

As a result, I ran a poll last month on LinkedIn asking people to chime in and vote for the technique that, in their experience, might work best for addressing this challenge.  The specific question asked was:

“What is the best method of combating age discrimination, if you’re an older worker?”

The five response choices were:

1) Dumb down your resume and omit early jobs
2) Project energy and a youthful appearance
3) Avoid war stories and dwelling too much on the past
4) All of the above; every little bit helps
5) None of the above; don’t worry about it

A total of 49 people cast their vote on this particular topic, and while you’ll see a small graphic of the results below, you can click here to access the full set of results.


The Analysis?  The results of this poll didn’t surprise me one iota, although as you’ll read in a moment, I disagree slightly with the conclusion of the masses…

Right off the bat, you’ll note that over half of the people surveyed suggested that older workers use every tactic at their disposal to fight the potential of being passed over for a job due to one’s age.  They suggest removing early career positions off the resume, avoiding talking too much about the past, and taking active steps to present a high level of energy and a youthful appearance.  This should come as good news for the owners of 24 Hour Fitness and the manufacturers of Grecian Formula.

And yet, inherent in this majority opinion on the subject is the notion that age discrimination is a phenomenon that actually CAN be neutralized effectively.  And that one should take this issue seriously, if they’re an older worker, and take active steps to combat it.

I’m not so sure I agree.  I find myself leaning more to the 20% of respondents who suggested that older workers simply do their best and go about hunting for work aggressively, without worrying much about the age factor.  This isn’t to deny that age discrimination exists, of course, since I don’t question that fact for a second.  The issue, though, is whether the average job hunter should get sidetracked or spend much time focusing on a dynamic that’s utterly out of their control.  Bigots will be bigots, after all, and there’s no hiding one’s age in the interview process — given the access to personal data employers have at their disposal these days.

Additionally, my personal belief is that most of what people refer to as “age discrimination” should much more accurately be called “experience discrimination” because it’s not a person’s calendar age that causes the problem — it’s that many jobs simply don’t REQUIRE 20+ years of experience to perform properly.  And if somebody takes a lower-level assignment with that much experience, there’s a strong likelihood they won’t be happy doing the work, will not be satisfied with the salary, and may quickly move on if a better opportunity should one come along.  A person with CFO credentials is always going to be a high-risk hire for a Controller or Accounting Manager job, in other words, whether that person happens to be 35, 55, or 75 years old!

I wrote an article a while back that you’ll find here, if interested, that talks about this issue in more detail.

To me, though, the MOST useful information that came out of this recent poll were some of the inspirational and insightful comments that were submitted underneath the survey.  Many of these commenters urged older workers to avoid embracing a “victim” stance in their search — and to instead make sure they were thoroughly examining the value of their age/experience and communicating this value effectively to hiring manager.  As one person put it:

If you’re more mature…and can solve the problem of providing the best candidate for the position, which is what an employer is looking for, why would you do any of the the things on this list?  Show your worth by your work ethic, your production quality, the fact that you save the employer money by having the experience and knowledge of knowing where mistakes have been made and you can meet or beat their expectations.  You’re loyal, dependable, flexible and you bring added value to any company.  We may be older, but we’re the ones who taught the younger generations how to do what they do with technology.”

Amen.  And while I realize age discrimination will always be a sensitive topic, I appreciate those of you who took the time to weigh in with your votes, thoughts, and insights.

As for the coming month?  You’ll find my latest LinkedIn poll question here, exploring the subject of hiring discrimination even more deeply and asking: “What type of discrimination, if any, do you feel is most prevalent in today’s job market?”

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One Response to “Career Poll: How Handle Age Discrimination?”

  1. Great blog Matt. As an older worker I so far have managed to not allow myself to be a victim of age discrimination, even tho I still do not have a job. I think once you succumb to thinking of yourself as an older worker then you totally lose your power. Keeping positive and knowing that I do have a skill set with experience has helped me stay focused in my job hunt.

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