If you think your job search is being affected by age discrimination, here are some tips to get past these obstacles.
Many experienced candidates are terrified of encountering ageism in their job-search process. They worry that they are too old, too expensive, or too demanding to get the job they want.
When calls from recruiters and hiring managers don't roll in like a tsunami wave, it's easy to get discouraged. Perhaps everyone out there is looking for someone a little — or a lot — younger. Should the “over 40” crowd hang on to their current jobs for dear life? And if you are conducting a search, is it practical to perhaps set your sights lower just to get out of unemployment and land a job?
The tough reality is that age discrimination is real, especially when it comes to the senior job search. It can happen anywhere, despite age-awareness campaigns and threats of lawsuits. Hiring managers are human, and sometimes that means having stereotypes and past experiences that aren't favorable towards seasoned professionals.
You can't control what baggage and beliefs the employer will bring into the interview. However, there are plenty of factors that you can manage strategically to create better outcomes. Here are six job-search strategies for older workers that can help.
Update your professional presence
From the ATS to LinkedIn profiles, older candidates can appear unprepared for the digital scrutiny of today's hiring process. This includes your professional presence online, which includes your uploaded resume and LinkedIn profile. Make sure that all of them are up to date.
Resume formats have changed a lot over the last decade. If your resume still opens with an “Objective” section, it's time to rework it. Remember that many companies use applicant tracking systems (or ATS for short) to screen resumes. If your resume isn't optimized for the ATS, it runs the risk of getting rejected before any human gets a chance to read it.
LinkedIn profile standards change quickly, as well. At the very least, your profile should be optimized and look freshly maintained. Check that your current employer of record is, in fact, still current. Also, make sure that your profile includes a recent headshot. Some older professionals worry that a picture will disqualify them and opt to go without (or, worse yet, including one from 15 years ago). However, internal data from LinkedIn has shown that profiles without a picture get fewer views and less interaction — so dress professionally, smile, and look energetic.
Upgrade your job-search methods
Employers don't fill vacancies the way they used to. Fewer jobs are advertised in a newspaper; companies opt to publish their job openings online instead, so don't stick with an old-school approach for your job search!
Newspaper advertisement sections don't work anymore, and sending your resume to a company and waiting around for them to respond is likely to be disappointing as well. Yet, the silence doesn't mean there are no jobs out there for mid- and late-career candidates — job announcements just aren't where you last saw them!
Try widening your net. Look at LinkedIn Jobs, online job boards, and industry-specific job boards that are unique to your job search. Thought leaders and bloggers can sometimes share job announcements for employers in their field, as well. Dig around and you might be surprised by the wealth of options you didn't realize existed. Also, network, network, and network. You have the unquestionable advantage of knowing people in the industry, so use it!
Be prepared for objections
It's important to remember that in the eyes of a hiring manager, every single candidate has at least some red flags. For one professional, it might be a gap on the resume. For someone else, it might be frequent job hopping or an out-of-state mailing address. And yes, age could be a potential concern as well — on both sides of the spectrum.
Just remember that hiring managers may have reservations about your qualifications, fluency, and fit with the team as well, not just about your age. Don't take that as a sign that you've failed and don't get defensive. Instead, try to see the situation from the hiring manager's perspective when you prepare. If you were in their shoes, what concerns would you have? What questions would you ask, and what answers would you find encouraging? Then, prepare so that your responses are thoughtful and effective — and ease your prospective employer's worries.
Keep your skills current
The problem with some older, experienced candidates is that they don't stay up to date on technology and become less attractive than someone who has.
Technology changes fast, so show your prospective employer that you will hit the ground running. To do that, it's important to know what technology is “table stakes” for the job you are seeking and also to have a sense for what the future holds. An informational interview with the company you're interested in, combined with a careful review of the job description, should point you in the right direction for your research.
Even if you aren't looking for a job in technology, it's critical to have a level of comfort with using technology in your job search. Skype, video conferencing, and online scheduling are the new normal for interviews. Match the hiring manager's request for information exchanges: If they are asking for you to email answers to a few specific questions, don't insist on an in-person meeting!
Don't undercut yourself
This point is tough to over-emphasize. All too often, older job candidates are their own worst enemies. When a candidate is dismissive of their qualifications, makes a joke about their age, or otherwise hints that age is an issue for them, they can hurt their prospects — even with a neutral or sympathetic interviewer.
So, what should you look out for to avoid this?
Be prepared that the hiring manager or the HR specialist conducting the initial interview will be younger than you. Don't go into the conversation feeling like you have to defend your right to be there. On the flip side, don't be dismissive of the person interviewing you just because they are younger. Stay focused on your contribution promise to the company, core skills and qualifications, and your experience that will make you an asset to the team.
Make sure you are considering the right employers
Yes, it's possible to work for a company that will value your experience and reward you for being exactly who you are! And, let's be honest, some companies are just better than others at doing that. So, look around and scan through your prospective employers carefully. Read company reviews on Glassdoor (with a grain of salt, of course) and ask others in your network about their experiences.
Speaking of your network, one final note: The people you know can help you find opportunities that haven't been (and may never be) posted publicly. Keep those connections active, both during your job search and while you are employed. Remember that if you make a compelling case, a position or an opening might be created for you specifically.
Combating ageism in your senior job search
Age discrimination during the job search does happen. It's unfortunate. It robs our workplaces of valuable experience and remarkable contributors. And, when it comes to the employer side, there's little you can do to control it beyond filing a lawsuit if you believe age discrimination has taken place.
However, you can do a lot to control your side. Brush up your professional presence, present a compelling case by demonstrating your expertise, sharp skills, flexibility, and energy, and go in prepared to address possible objections — without getting defensive.
That final point is critically important. As an older job candidate, you might feel as though the world is conspiring against you. Yet, the reality is that the job-search process is tough for everyone. Right now, a new college grad might be sitting at a happy hour, complaining to his friends that no one will hire him because he has no experience, or there's probably a middle-aged candidate out there who's convinced that they're “too old” to get a good job.
Age is relative, so stay positive. Turn off the negative news. Get a workout, go for a walk, or invest in a resume rewrite to ageism-proof your resume. Stay focused on what you can control, take the next step, and the result will take care of itself.
Not sure if your resume is aging you? Check with a free resume critique from our experts today!