“I’m an older adult looking for work, but no one wants to hire me. How do I find a job?”
As a career coach, I hear too often from job seekers who believe they are being treated unfairly because of their age. Unfortunately, age discrimination can occur at any stage in the job search – during prescreening, interviews, salary negotiations, and everywhere in between. Even job descriptions can include ageist undertones that deter older job seekers from applying in the first place (for example, “We’re hiring a vibrant salesperson to join our young, fast-paced team.”).
Whether or not an employer’s bias is intentional, ageism is happening far and wide. According to a WerkLabs survey of U.S. workers over age 40, 60% said they had experienced ageism in their professional lives. Of that group of respondents, 75% said they had encountered ageism in their job search. We’ll likely see those numbers rise as older Americans make up a larger portion of the workforce, retirees “unretire” in the wake of inflation, and tenured employees seek greener pastures or change careers during the “Great Resignation.”
While you can’t switch off a hiring manager or recruiter’s unconscious bias, you can set yourself up to land the job no matter your age. The best place to start is your resume.
Revamping Your Resume
If you’ve been out of the workforce for quite some time or have long-held positions with the same company, your resume is probably overdue for an update. To “age-proof” your resume, include only the last 10–15 years of your work history and leave out your graduation year (unless you obtained a degree within the last five years). If you have relevant accomplishments from earlier in your career, you can include them in a “Selected Career Highlights” section before your work history (this approach is seen in a “hybrid” resume format that many older job seekers use). Think of this section as your “greatest hits,” where you can show off your achievements without using dates.
When listing your skills on your resume, remove any obsolete software programs. Similarly, update your email address if necessary (AOL will date you), and avoid using an address that contains your birth year (e.g., John1960@gmail.com). And, unless you’re going for an acting gig, nix the headshot.
Acing the Interview
During the interview stage of the job search, how you “market” yourself – your strengths, weaknesses, career goals, and other aspects of your personal brand – will serve as your line of defense against ageism.
When interviewing, don’t try to detail your entire work history; instead, pinpoint which aspects of your career best align with your target position and highlight those skills, experience, and achievements. Throughout the interview, emphasize your desire to collaborate with different types of people and add to the organization’s diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and points of view. Talk about your desire to continually learn and grow and showcase how you’re nimble and flexible using real examples from your career.
It’s also possible that your interviewers may not have expected someone your age or they may be significantly younger than you, making for a potentially awkward situation. Be ready for those types of reactions and don’t let them derail you. You might find that your interviewers will try to guess your age with questions like, “How much longer do you plan to work?”
A great way to respond is, “I am passionate about my career and continued professional growth. I intend to stay in the workforce as long as I can.” While personal questions like, “How old are your kids?” and “When did you graduate?” are not legal to ask, you may still encounter them. In general, the safest way to respond to these questions is to determine the intent and provide a tactful answer that ultimately speaks to your ability to do the job.
One last piece of advice on interviewing: Nowadays, you’ll likely be asked to participate in virtual or video interviews in your job search. Familiarize yourself with the platform (like Zoom) in advance and be mindful of your background – set up a nicely curated bookshelf or use a virtual background. Test your tech before the “big day” with a friend or family member, practice making eye contact correctly, and check that you have a strong internet connection.
Negotiating a Fair Salary
Ageism can rear its ugly head into the salary negotiation stage of the job search, so get ready to negotiate your worth by determining the current market rate for the position you’re pursuing. Look for job postings for similar positions that may include salary ranges, giving you an idea of a fair going rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is also an excellent resource for salary data.
Still, be realistic – you may not make the same salary that your former employer paid you, especially if you have more experience or qualifications than the job requires. It’s also helpful to figure out the lowest-possible salary you would accept as well as “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” in terms of benefits – for example, are you willing to accept a lower salary for more PTO or remote work options?
Despite ongoing efforts for employers to create and nurture more diverse and inclusive workplaces, job seekers continue to feel the impacts of ageism. Age-proofing your job search begins with strategically updating your resume, preparing for interviews, and negotiating a fair salary. But, above all, maintain your confidence and remember: Age is just a number.
Lori Cole, Certified Career Coach, iHire
Lori Cole is a Certified Career Coach and Advisor with iHire, an industry-specific recruitment marketing platform. With more than 20 years of experience in staffing and recruiting in the online world, Lori is always looking for ways to make life easier for job seekers.