Overcoming Ageism in the Workplace
Published: Aug 27, 2014 By Jessica Mattison
When did we become a society that values youth over experience? Just because someone has a few gray hairs, does that mean they are out of touch? Unfortunately, this is the growing mindset of much of today’s youth. Ageism is rampant in our society, especially in the working world. We cast off our elders as obsolete fools who cannot keep up with the times and advancing technologies. They are characterized as antiquated, unproductive citizens with nothing of worth to contribute. With the Baby Boomer Generation moving into their late fifties and early-to-mid-sixties, an increasingly large number of our population is feeling the effects of ageism.
Cutbacks and layoffs have become commonplace following the recession in 2009. Who are the first to go? Typically, the oldest members of the company. Senior workers are let go because they normally have the highest salaries and best benefits. In other words, the company saves the most money by getting rid of the most expensive employees regardless of their value. These workers are often forced into early retirement and are considered to be too old to work, but are, in reality, too young to retire. This leads to a buildup of massive debts where they are spending a good portion of their retirement while trying to survive unemployment. For businesses, these cutbacks are just a short-term fix for a long-term problem that create even more problems for the economy.
Ageism is most notably a factor when those laid-off begin searching for new employment. Most employers have a certain age in mind for the positions they have advertised. You can fall on either side of the spectrum, too young and inexperienced or too old and too expensive.
Your resume is often a dead giveaway of your age; all anyone has to do is look at your graduation date and they instantly have a rough estimate of your age. How do you get around this?
It’s simple. Scale back your resume. Start by removing dates; graduation dates are not essential. You can also limit your work experience to the last ten to fifteen years. Once you have garnered decades of experience, it is not pertinent to include jobs you had right out of college. If you are worried about this being seen as dishonest, you can even rename this section on your resume to state, “Recent Work Experience.” Let’s say that you have some very impressive experience that is relevant to the position you are applying for, but it falls outside the ten to fifteen year scope; generate another section on your resume for “Additional Experience,” again, without including dates.
Similarly, if computer skills are not listed on your resume, you’ll end up dating yourself. Consider enrolling in an online or night computer course to learn how to use such programs as PowerPoint, Excel, Word, and Outlook. Also, remember that with the prevalence of social media, privacy is a thing of the past and you will be “googled” by potential employers. Setup a LinkedIn profile reflecting your resume with a professional, modern looking picture. You want to show employers that you are up-to-date with today’s technology and not resistant of it.
With younger jobseekers fresh out of college, you may need to become more open to the idea of accepting lower wages than you once had to. Applicants with less experience will agree to lower wages so to compete, you may have to do the same. State on your resume that your pay requirements are “open.” Once you are offered the position, then it is time to negotiate.
Tweaking your resume should help to a least get you in the running for a face-to-face interview. Once you get your foot in the door, you’ll have the opportunity to sell yourself.
Remember that some, not all, hiring managers have narrow-minded opinions of older jobseekers. These include being set in their ways, difficult to train, less productive, frail, and technologically inept. So make a point to emphasize traits most valued in older workers, like vast experience, loyalty, excellent work ethic, reliability, exceptional decision making abilities, and self-confidence. In business, it is all about Return on Investment. You are the investment, so make sure the employer knows exactly what he/she will gain in hiring you.
As we have evolved to live longer, healthier, more productive lives, regrettably, our concept of age has not changed along with it. Until our minds catch up with our physiological state, we will never be able to overcome this bias. Instead, older jobseekers are forced to use creative tactics to overcome and find employment.
So, as bleak as it may seem out there in the job market, don’t give up just yet. Try out some of these tips and tricks—you might be surprised at the results.
Jessica Mattison is a freelance writer in Cary, NC.