by Stacy Pursell, CPC, CERS
The VET Recruiter®
While the national unemployment rate is the lowest that it’s been since 1969 and it’s a candidates ‘job market right now, ageism still exists in the employment marketplace. In fact, tech giant IBM was sued earlier this year for age discrimination. So no matter how good the economy and the job market are, ageism has not disappeared.
For example, in a recent study, researchers at Tulane University sent more than 40,000 resumes to apply for 13,000 job openings posted online in 12 U.S. cities. They responded to each job posting with three different resumes representing a different age group. These included younger, middle-aged, and senior applicants. Even though all had nearly identical skills, the study found older candidates received far fewer callbacks—anywhere from 20% to almost 50% fewer—than younger ones.
Attitudes about older workers changed during the Great Recession. Millions of people lost their jobs because of the recession, including older workers. Then, when employers were finally ready to hire again during the recovery, those employers began to show preference for younger workers. They shied away from hiring older workers with more experience because they believed they had to pay those workers higher wages. They were also operating under other assumptions, such as the following:
- Older workers aren’t as strong or vibrant.
- Older workers aren’t as productive.
- Older workers are not as technologically savvy.
- Older workers will take more sick days.
- Older workers are more of a drag on an employer’s health insurance.
So how to do you fight ageism? What should you stress or what should you focus on during your quest to find a job over the age of 40?
Tips for the resume
First and foremost, what you should NOT focus on is your age! If you don’t want a potential employer to focus on it, then you shouldn’t, either. But that begs the question: what should you focus on? The answer is the same thing a potential employer is focusing on, and that thing is value.
Everything in the employment marketplace comes down to value. It’s why companies and organizations hire new employees in the first place. They’re looking for value and they want professionals who are going to bring value to their organization, because that value makes them more productive, and ultimately, more profitable. So in other words, more value equals more money.
A person’s value to an employer is broken down into two main categories: their skills and their experience. The more skills and experience you have, the more value you possess and the more value you can offer to a potential new employer. Your job is to emphasize your value, and as mentioned earlier, to NOT focus on your age. The place to start doing this is with your resume, and I have some tips for doing so.
#1—Do not provide a complete work history.
You don’t need to put every single job you’ve ever had on a resume. Employers are only interested in your most recent two or three positions. If you put on your resume that your first job was in 1987, then the hiring manager will be able to figure out how old you are.
#2—Do not provide the dates of your education.
Just put the college or university instead. And if the college or university has changed its name since you graduated, make sure you use the updated name.
#3—Be intentional with your wording and language.
For example, don’t quantify how many years of experience you have. Once again, if you say that you have 30 years of experience, the hiring manager can do the math.
#4—Show that you’re up-to-date with technology and industry trends.
You MUST stay current with technology. This includes computers, smartphones, social media, you name it. This is one of the top biases against older workers. My advice is to do everything you can to learn everything you can. Start with information relevant to your field of work and expand from there. Remember: the more knowledge you have, the more valuable you are.
Tips for the phone screen and interview
In today’s culture, if you’re past a certain age, some people have already branded you in their mind. That’s what ageism and age discrimination is all about: other people branding you incorrectly in their minds before they’ve even had a chance to meet you. So when you do speak with someone over the phone or meet them in person, you have to reverse all of that.
Below are some tips to help debunk myths and change perceptions during a phone screen or face-to-face interview.
- Be energetic. Make sure that you come across as someone who has a lot of energy. If you’re not an extroverted person, then you must make a concerted effort to be outgoing and friendly.
- Speak clearly and loudly. Do not mumble or talk under your breath.
- Be enthusiastic about both the position and the organization. This is important for every candidate who is interviewing, but it’s even more important for older workers.
- Smile a lot. You might think you shouldn’t have to do that during a phone screen, but it’s even more important then. That’s because the person on the other end of the line should be able to hear you smile, hear your energy, and hear your enthusiasm.
- If it’s a face-to-face interview, give a firm handshake. Don’t crush their hand, but be sure to send the right message. At the same moment you’re shaking their hand, look the person in the eyes. This is a sign of confidence.
And remember: there are certain questions that are illegal for hiring managers to ask. Some of these questions deal with age. If a hiring manager asks these questions, do not answer them. They are all designed to find out how old you are, and that fact is irrelevant in regards to whether or not you can fill the position.
Unfortunately, ageism and age discrimination aren’t likely to be eradicated any time soon. However, there are things you can do and there are steps you can take to overcome it and prove your value and your worth to employers in today’s workforce.
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