Too Old for the Job?

Warren’s frustration was evident the day he dropped by my office. He rarely visited without an appointment so my curiosity was immediately piqued.

I knew that Warren had just come from a much anticipated meeting with a key decision-maker about a position he’d applied for. He’d gotten this contact’s name from a colleague who had succeeded in putting Warren’s resume into the decision-maker’s hands. During the initial phone conversation, the decision-maker showed growing interest as he came to recognize how closely Warren aligned with what the company was looking for.

“I was really psyched about yesterday’s meeting, Warren began, punctuating his words with agitated gestures. Our earlier phone conversations went so well. I figured it was a done deal when he said he wanted me to meet the two managers that I’d be working with.”

Warren began to appear frustrated in a way that I see all too frequently.

“When I walked into his office and introduced myself, Warren continued, he looked rather disappointed and his smile faded. His tone seemed different than when we had spoken on the phone. The enthusiasm was gone. I tried not to read anything into it, but there was no denying it.”

“The clincher was when he said that the other individuals weren’t available to meet with me after all — scheduling conflict, he said — and he couldn’t say when they’d be available again. He’d call me, he said. I was there less than 30 minutes.”

I anticipated the inevitable conclusion. “The conversations went so well up until he met me,” Warren surmised matter-of-factly. “I believe it was my age.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites that since the start of the recession both the number of unemployed and the unemployment rate have increased by a greater percentage among the older segment of the workforce than for younger workers. And, once unemployed, older workers are on average out of work longer than younger counterparts.

The interviewer on the other side of the table might very well be young enough to be your son or daughter. And, it’s only natural for hiring managers to want at the very least to identify with their staff. Older workers (and younger hiring managers!) need to overcome some ill-gotten myths, such as:

  1. Older people are less healthy or lack energy. Of course, the aging process sometimes brings health issues, but that can be overcome by appearing fit and healthy. In her book, Finding A Job After 50, author Jeannette Woodward tells the story of a high school reunion at which an outsider would never guess that everyone there was relatively the same age. There are things we do or don’t do that make us look and carry ourselves older.
  2. Older people are know-it-alls who resist change. The environment is certainly different from 15 or 20 years ago. One thing older workers must avoid is the when-I-was-your-age syndrome!

Let’s say you are the person sitting in that hiring manager’s chair. Would you hire you? Assuming you would…why? The challenge as an older worker is to emphasize the value that you bring to the table and anticipate and deflect the (mis)perceptions. Conveying what’s-in-it-for-the-employer is paramount during those conversations.

I’m finding it increasingly ironic, having dealt with hundreds of job seekers, that older workers themselves are swayed by toxic thinking. One candidate confessed that she had no particular concerns about her age until a friend said to her, “Nobody’s going to want to hire you.” She said she never thought of herself as “old” until her friend’s remark and now she was worried! (Fortunately her confidence was restored after attending my Overcoming Age Bias in the Job Search session.)

In the informative and motivational book, The Age Advantage: Making the Most of Your Midlife Career Transition, author Jean Erickson Walker asserts mid-life career transition is an ideal time to focus on becoming a “Master of Life” who delights in the present and views the future as an unexplored world waiting to be discovered.

I often remind my clients that as a mature worker you bring a level of skill and experience that cannot be provided by even the sharpest new college graduate. Don’t be intimidated by your own experience. It has served you well throughout your career:

  1. You no doubt have a strong work ethic. There’s no sense of entitlement in how you approach what you do.
  2. You have both depth and breadth of experience. You bring historical knowledge to an employer. You (and workers like you) are the memory of your profession.
  3. Your professional network is strong. You know a lot of people. Tap into that vast pool of compatriots!
  4. Contrary to the stereotype, you probably are both computer savvy and up-to-date technically. (If not, take a class.)
  5. You’ve probably had a great deal of experience working collaboratively with people of various ages. A candidate of mine reported that she included names of Gen X colleagues on her reference list. Great idea! The employer will now get a youthful perspective on how you do what you do.
  6. Conduct your search with heavy emphasis on networking. An essential part of anyone’s job search, it is even more so if age is a concern. As an older worker it helps to have advocates – cheerleaders – to pave your way and champion your message within targeted companies.
  7. Become a member of a professional organization within your occupation, then join a team. On a team you are behind the scenes in a role of influence, and the quality of your network is fortified.
  8. Have an up-to-date appearance. Do you look out of touch, out of style? Remember, the person on the other side of the table might be young enough to be your son or daughter. Do you look like or come across as old Aunt Clara or Uncle Rufus?  Keep in mind that it’s not about looking younger…it’s about looking relevant and vibrant.

I gazed at Warren standing there. “I believe it was my age,” he repeated resolutely. I nodded in considered agreement, knowing not to put a saccharin spin on this.

“You’re probably right,” I said. “Sit down, let’s talk.”

By: Charlene Holsendorff