Finding a job if you’re over 50 will take a bit longer than for the job seeking public at large: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average time it takes a person to find a job as of April 2014 is 35 weeks; if you’re over 45, the average is 49 weeks. Now that the Baby Boomers are approaching retirement age (many finding their nest eggs are still impacted by the recent recession), the over-50 workforce is bulging at the seams.
Many of the jobseekers I talk with are highly concerned that their age is becoming a barrier to finding work. Some even say, “Nobody hires older workers these days.” While my own experience has shown older workers are finding meaningful employment, I grant the so-called ‘gray ceiling’ can make things a little more difficult. But I still say age is only a number. In and of itself, it is rarely, if ever, the reason you may not be considered for a job. There is something underneath that your age represents. Overcoming age barriers starts with finding those hidden assumptions and overcoming the objections.
So what are those assumptions? Here are a few:
- More years’ experience means you’ll be more expensive
- Older may mean slower, less productive, less energetic
- “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” means you’re resistant to change or new technology
- Being closer to retirement means you’ll leave the job soon
- Being older may mean you have more health issues and thus will miss more work.
Overcoming possible age discrimination starts with being prepared to counter these and other negative assumptions. Don’t wait for the question; employers know well enough not to be point-blank about asking your age. But just because they don’t ask, don’t assume they aren’t thinking about it. Be proactive and volunteer statistics and examples of how you break these stereotypes. For example, if you are applying for a high-tech company where you might be pegged as ‘behind the times,’ speak to how you’ve learned, adapted to, or even trained, the latest technology, computer programs, or industry trends. If you’re applying for a production job, have statistics that prove your high productivity in previous jobs.
De-emphasize your age further by focusing on the skills you have that directly relate to the employer’s needs. Scrutinize the job postings, but go one further. Find the employer’s website, LinkedIn and Facebook company pages, and Google the company name followed by “News” to find news articles regarding your targeted company. Learn about their mission, vision, values, goals, recent accomplishments and challenges. Then think of ways you can use your skills and experience to help them reach their goals or overcome those challenges. Make sure you allude to these in your cover letter, resume and in any other contact you have with that employer. For example, when applying for an administrative support position for a non-profit you could cite how you would use your Lean systems experience to streamline office procedures to help the organization make more efficient use of its donor’s dollars.
I would stress to more ‘mature’ jobseekers to look past the age discrimination issue and look at how to overcome age-related barriers. You can do nothing about your age. But you can dispel age-related myths.