Along with things like employment gaps and lack of skills or other credentials, age discrimination is the major concern for most of the senior-level executives I work with.
No surprise. Although ageism can kick in as early as age 40, it really starts making an impact at around age 50 and over, which accounts for most top-level corporate executives.
Even though it’s illegal, age discrimination is pervasive.
According to an AARP special report:
“If you haven’t felt the pinch of ageism yet, trust us, you will. If you apply for a job online, there’s a good chance that a screening algorithm will automatically disqualify you because of your age. If you’re an older employee, it’s likely you’ll bear your share of age-related comments and jokes. And if you’re gunning for a promotion or heading into a job interview, you may feel compelled to touch up the gray, dress a bit younger and act like technology is your best friend.”
And it’s evident in these 3 areas of the workplace:
- Recruitment and hiring, when younger applicants are shown favor simply because of their age.
- On-the-job bias, when older workers receive fewer training opportunities, promotions and rewards, or are harassed.
- Termination, when a company “freshens” its workforce or trims budget by targeting senior employees for layoffs or encouraging them to retire.
Older workers face serious challenges in today’s job market.
According to Andrew Seaman, Senior Editor for Job Search & Careers at LinkedIn News, data from LinkedIn’s latest Workforce Confidence Index
“confirm the concerns and experiences of older adults. And the pandemic may have even increased those challenges. Unemployment among older workers jumped more during the pandemic than the rate for mid-career workers. The trend is opposite from previous recessions.”
So, those over 50 scramble to find ways to hide their age on their LinkedIn profiles and executive resumes.
We career professionals have a few tricks of the trade to somewhat hide age, or at least make it less obvious, in our clients’ job search materials, such as:
- Avoiding blatant statements like “25 (or 30) years’ experience in ____”.
- Not including career history beyond, say, 15 or so years.
- Not including dates for degrees earned more than 20 or so years ago.
These things may help a little, but executive recruiters and others sourcing and assessing talent won’t stop researching you once they have your resume and LinkedIn profile in front of them.
They’re also going to Google any given candidate’s name. Even a simple Google search will uncover your actual age. Don’t believe me? Try it and see.
Much of the reasoning behind age discrimination is unfounded.
For instance, the bias that older workers will jump ship quickly continues to impact hiring practices, although studies find that job seekers over 55 stay in jobs more than 5 times longer than younger workers.
Research conducted by the LinkedIn Talent Solutions Insights and LinkedIn Marketing Solutions Insights teams revealed these common workplace myths about age:
Myth 1: Only young workers want flexible work options.
The Truth: While more Millennials rated flexible work options as important to them than any other age group, the difference between generations was quite small. Between 40% and 50% of each age group rated flexible work options as important.
Myth 2: Only young workers care about company values.
The Truth: Older people said they cared about company values more than their younger counterparts — in some cases by more than a 10-percentage-point difference.
Myth 3: Older workers don’t want challenging work or to be part of innovative projects.
The Truth: A larger proportion of older people said they’d like challenging and impactful work more than younger generations. The percentage of people who wanted to take part in innovative projects was pretty even across generations.
These findings tend to indicate that people want the same things in their work, no matter their age.
Leadership management expert Anne Loehr noted other unfounded assumptions in a Fast Company article:
- Invest more in developing new skills.
- Feel more excited by their jobs.
- Neglect their health.
- Get exhausted by their work.
- Are looking to slow down and coast toward retirement.
- Have less interest in exploring new ideas and opportunities.
A study by London Business School researchers Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott found each of the above assumptions to be untrue.
Is age discrimination worse than ever?
In an article on LinkedIn, Peter Cappelli, George W. Taylor Professor of Management at The Wharton School, suggests that age discrimination may be even worse these days, with so much focus on social media.
“The IT world likes to present itself as a young person’s game, and we hear all kinds of misinformed assertions about older individuals: that they don’t understand technology, that kids who’ve grown up with computers just think differently, and so forth. We forget that we’ve had personal computers on our desks now for 35 years.”
Further, he argues against older workers costing employers more than younger ones:
“Or we hear that older individuals cost so much more in healthcare that we can’t afford to employ them, forgetting that those over age 65 are covered by Medicare and don’t need the basic insurance coverage most employers now provide. Nor do we think about the fact that the most expensive employees to ensure are young ones because they have kids. Or that they cost too much as far as pay is concerned, ignoring the fact that nothing requires an employer to pay older individuals more: Let them know what the job pays before they apply; if they can’t live with that, they won’t apply.”
Executive job search best practices will help you combat age discrimination.
The best defense against ageism is doing what any savvy job seeker (at any age) should do:
Stay up to date with what’s happening in your industry.
Target your job search toward specific employers who will be a mutual good fit.
Focus your job search personal marketing content (resume, LinkedIn profile and other materials) and networking efforts on showcasing the value you offer your target employers.
Show them and tell them how you’ll help them solve specific problems.
Communicate this by providing examples (with metrics whenever possible) of contributions to your past employers that added value. Working on your personal brand will help you do this.
For instance, job search strategist Jacob Share suggests that employers fear that older job seekers will be harder to manage:
“They might fear that you have a chip on your shoulder when it comes to working with a younger boss, or simply that you’re set in your ways and aren’t open to newer ways.
If you really have the know-how the company needs, this will be less of an issue. The interviewer may still try to gauge your attitude by asking questions like ‘how do you feel about working with a younger boss?’ and if you can tell a story where you successfully did so, or better yet, have references who are younger bosses, you’ll immediately calm their concerns.”
How to keep age discrimination from jeopardizing your executive job search.
In my post, Executive Job Search Success After 50: How to Overcome Age Discrimination, I offer several tips, including:
- As much as possible, keep pace with your younger competitors who are social media savvy, active on various social networks, and have built a strong online presence.
- Align your LinkedIn profile with your resume focus, optimize and fully populate all applicable LinkedIn sections with plenty of relevant keywords to boost your personal SEO, and get busy leveraging LinkedIn.
- And keep an eye on the quality and number of search results for your name by self-Googling about once a week.
Beat ageism by remaining relevant, agile and in touch with today’s world of work.
Resume writer Tiffany Hardy notes in a Blue Steps article:
“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.”
“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.”
In an AARP article, career strategist Caroline Ceniza-Levine offers these 3 savvy tips, when trying to break into a “young” industry:
1. Be youthful when it counts. Align your value with what it is about youth that your target industry values.
2. Go ahead and play the age card. There are times when experience trumps youth, so highlight your wisdom-from-experience factor.
3. Find a reverse sponsor. Look for a savvy junior professional to mentor you, or better yet, sponsor you, giving you advice and promoting your career.
Beat ageism by dispelling the notion that you’re out-of-date with the digital age.
In a New York Times article, career coach Nancy Collamer suggests preparing in advance to reverse the notion that older workers are not up-to-date with technology and the digital age:
“Include your LinkedIn URL on your résumé, or mention an interesting article you found on the employer’s Twitter feed during an interview.”
Career coach and recruiter Marsha Warner advises in an article on Mac’s List that you make sure your online brand is grounded in current technology:
- If you are using an email provider such as @aol, @yahoo or even @hotmail, update it. Create a designated @gmail.com account to use during your search.
- Create an address that is your name, or close to it. No nicknames, or identifiers, such as Nana, or Grandpa.
- Do not use your name plus your birth date for your email address, such as email@example.com, which will reveal your age.