Over half of my clients are age 40 and up – and I’m not far behind. As you can imagine, we spend a lot of time talking about age discrimination.
If you’re an older job seeker, you know that you face some real challenges, and there’s no point in pretending otherwise. It’s important to acknowledge it, accept that there’s not much you can do about it, and then focus on the few things you can control.
At core, age discrimination is about misperception – the misperception that if you’re an older worker, you’ll be too set in your ways, not fast enough, too expensive, uncomfortable using the latest technologies, not relatable as part of the team, too hard to train, etc. It’s up to you to guard against these judgments!
There are a few simple things you can do to influence people’s perceptions of you:
1. Don’t unnecessarily date yourself.
No one cares about the cool position you held back in the 80’s or your groundbreaking senior thesis from 1991. Employers want to know what you’ve been up to in the past few years and how you can add value today and tomorrow. Focus on that and leave out information that dates back too far. Remove graduation dates that are more than 10 years old and keep your work history limited to the past 10-15 years at the most. Don’t give anyone an opportunity to start “doing the math” and figuring out how old you are.
2. Keep your skills current and embrace the latest technologies.
Your resume and LinkedIn profile should demonstrate that you’re using all the same tools as “kids these days.” If you feel rusty in a particular area, there are tons of quick and easy resources to help get you up to speed.
Coursera is a great way to take college classes for free, if there’s a particular subject into which you want to do a deep dive. Otherwise, YouTube has an abundance of tutorial videos so you can learn the basics of any skill. For example, if you go to YouTube right this moment and search for “social media marketing,” you can spend the next half-hour watching videos and be able to hold your own in a conversation at that professional conference you’re attending next week.
You don’t need to be a subject matter expert in all things tech. You need to have basic working knowledge and the ability to speak about these subjects with confidence.
3. Make sure your clothing, hair, and accessories are stylish and contemporary.
That doesn’t mean you need to color your gray or get a nose piercing (unless you actually want to do those things, in which case I say GO FOR IT!), but you know how you have that one friend who always looks incredibly polished and put-together? Ask him to go shopping with you and help you select a few different outfits for interviews and networking. Ask for advice about your hair and makeup (if you wear make-up). Be yourself, but be the shiniest version of yourself.
4. Grow and cultivate your network.
This is the biggest thing you can do to make yourself immune to age discrimination. Remember, your task is eliminating misperceptions. The best way to do that is by authentically getting to know people – and letting them know you. A network of people who know, like, and trust you is your best asset in this fight. Get involved with a professional association, give a lecture, volunteer with a non-profit, make meaningful contributions to a discussion group – do things that allow you to demonstrate your value and make connections. Once people know you, your age won’t matter (or at least it won’t matter nearly as much).
As the concept of retirement becomes obsolete, age discrimination will become an increasingly problematic issue. There’s virtually no one in today’s workforce who won’t be employed well into their 60’s or 70’s, and it’s in our collective best interest to push back and not tolerate it. Things will change. But in the meantime, stop using that aol* email account and go watch some TED talks or do something else that’s relatively hip.
* For those of you who are using an aol, hotmail, or yahoo email – cut it out immediately! Get a gmail account and use that for all your job search activities.