Your Career Q&A: How to Land a Job Despite Age Discrimination

 

By Martin Yate May 28, 2019
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Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column. 

I am an older worker who was downsized six months ago. I have applied for several jobs and received more rejections than I can count. I did manage to secure four interviews but was informed that the company is looking for "the right fit." Since I'm no longer 35 years old (that perfect age group companies seem to be seeking), how can I get around this?

There could be a couple of issues at play here: one could be your resume, and the other could be how you are handling interviews and age discrimination. You are getting some interviews, so your resume is on the right track. But there could be a couple of oversights that are having a negative impact.

Focus Your Resume

Does your resume have a target job title? Not having one makes finding it in resume database searches more difficult for recruiters and hiring managers.

Most people try to write a resume that's an honest recitation of their work history. Consequently, it lacks a readily identifiable focus, is based on subjective criteria and ignores two important rules:

  1. The customer (in this case, the employer where you are trying to get a job) is always right.
  2. Find out what the customers want so you know what to give them.

We religiously apply these rules in our daily professional lives until it is time to write our resumes, and then they fly out the window. Your resume should be based on objective criteria. A quick review of a selection of job descriptions for the jobs you're pursuing will give you a prioritized list of the employers' needs and the words they use to express them. This in turn gives you a template and keywords for the story your resume needs to tell.

Your resume doesn't have to share your entire work history. The way jobs were done 15 years ago is irrelevant to the way they are done today; plus, going back too far only draws attention to your age.

Age Discrimination

Older job applicants may anticipate encountering age discrimination at interviews and then overcompensate by describing how they can very easily do the job because of all their experience. The hiring manager thinks, "This is a know-it-all who won't fit in and will be a management problem." Think back to when you were starting your career and how intimidating older workers could seem. Keep that in mind when you are next interviewed by someone younger than yourself. Don't talk down to the younger interviewer, but keep your answers focused on the questions asked and your interest in the job.

You will have an opportunity to address age discrimination in a positive way when the hiring manager asks, "Do you have any questions?" Your response could start along these lines: "If I were sitting in your seat, I'd be wondering about all kinds of questions I'm not allowed to ask. So, I'm going to answer them for you."  Then in your own words, make the following points about how being older than the rest of the team has its advantages:

  • "If you have clients in my age range, I have a frame of reference for how to deal with them, so having me as part of the team will help others perform more productively."
  • "I know the job and enjoy the work, and I've made all my mistakes on someone else's payroll, so you know I have the benefit of experience, and I'm competent at what I do."
  • "Every once in a while, things go wrong, even in the best-run operations. I've been through this and know how to step up and be part of the solution while being a calming influence for others."
  • "As we grow in maturity, we become more self-aware and don't change jobs as frequently, plus I don't want your job or any other. I'm not suddenly going to walk out on you."
  • "Should I join the team, which I'd really like to do, I believe six months from now you'll see me as a completely reliable team player you can trust to have your back."

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

Packed with practical, honest, real-world guidance for successfully navigating common HR career challenges, Martin Yate's new book, The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions, is available at the SHRMStore. Order your copy today!

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