Try Googling “age discrimination in the workplace, 2018.” You’ll get millions of hits.
At Artisan, we hear a lot of stories from "older" workers (this essentially means anyone that isn’t a millennial or a member of the new Gen Z) about working for years at a big company only to be laid off just as they were beginning that final march toward retirement. Many of these workers believe sincerely that they have been discriminated against.AARP suggests that age discrimination is real, citing a recent poll they conducted where 61% of respondents said they had seen or directly experienced discrimination in the workplace. A researcher at Tulane University said, “It’s just age; it doesn’t have to do with experience,” and he should know: his study sent out 40,000 resumes for more than 13,000 jobs in 12 cities. They submitted three resumes from young, middle age, and senior candidates with similar skills. The older candidates received far fewer callbacks than younger candidates.
Ageism in Hiring 101
We talk a lot about hiring diversity and workforce inclusion. But diversity involves more than physical color. Diverse backgrounds, points of view, and education are always a plus in today’s workforce. Forbes points out that diversity also includes bringing all ages to the conference table: "Candidates 45 and older have priceless knowledge, experience and expertise that, if utilized correctly, is the secret sauce worthy of investing in.” We agree.
But the same article also paints a more disturbing picture of hiring discrimination beginning in middle age: “Ageism continues to be the albatross of qualified candidates that is a real and present factor contributing to older workers being boxed out.”
Spotting Ageism in Job Applications
The signs of ageism may be subtle, but if you look hard, you just might find them. While the Age Discrimination in Employment Act was designed to prevent age bias against older people in the workforce, AARP suggests employers have gotten around the legislation in a number of ways that come up during their hiring practices:
- Drop-down menus on online employment applications that only go back to 1980
- Requiring birthdates as part of the application process
- Posting employment ads that prefer “digital natives” or people that grew up using smartphones and laptops
- Asking questions during the interview like, “Would you be able to work for a younger manager?”
Small Business Trends suggests even a company’s website can be full of age-related references, showing a young, hip crowd, and could drive away qualified older candidates. Also, is the company only recruiting at college events? That may be an inadvertent snub to perfectly qualified, but non-undergrad aged candidates.
Conversely, GovLoop says the opposite is true of the federal workforce, where 49% of employees in government jobs are aged 30 to 49 and there are twice as many people aged 50 to 64 years old working in government as in the population at large.
So Can I Ask How Old Someone Is?
While it is currently legal to ask a person’s age during the job interview process, should you? Asking what year the candidate graduated from college may reveal a subtle interviewer bias as well. Psychology Today says, “In the tech industry as in many industries, youth outweighs experience and academic credentials.” But we’ve also known Junior Developers fresh out of boot camp struggle to break into the field.
The bottom line here is that age discrimination cuts both ways and is always flat-out bad for employers and employees.
Fixing Ageism in the Modern Workplace
While the problem of ageism in the workplace is real, there are also many situations where older candidates come across as clearly not up to speed on modern technologies. This is evident particularly in trend-based industries such as marketing or computer programming.
For older workers still talking about the cloud like it’s a newfangled invention, it could be time to modernize your stack. While the flip phone is making a comeback, if you’re carrying around a phone the size of Mulder and Scully’s in The (old-school) X-Files, it’s time to reinvent yourself...and it just might help get you hired in the process.
How to Get Hired
In technology and other trend-based industries, staying on top of the latest iterations in the field is exactly how companies achieve a competitive advantage. If a job candidate is perceived as lacking the flexibility to exist in a rapidly changing environment, or if their skills are outdated, it puts them at a disadvantage no matter their age.
The truth here is that sometimes ageism in hiring isn’t just the fault of the employer. Employment is always a two-way street, a contract of sorts between the skilled worker and the company that writes the paycheck. While employers should work harder to eliminate any age bias in their hiring practices, older workers should take the time to modernize their skills to bring more value to their employer.
Read on for some tips on sprucing up your skills.
Modernizing Outdated Work Skills for 2019 and Beyond
A Harvard Business Review article shares corrections to common myths about the "older worker," including:
- It’s not only younger people that are capable and willing to learn new skills
- Being positive and enthusiastic about work spans all ages
- Older people are investing in health and fitness (employers care about this trend because sick days cost them dearly)
- Older people are not more tired or inclined to slow down anytime soon
Everyone has heard the gag about how “when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me,” but in the case of age-related hiring biases, the stats back it up. We need to change our assumptions.
But in the meantime, many people find they’re out on the street after a decade or more of consistent employment. In practical terms, this means it’s time to recreate their personal image in a way that lets employers know they’re still relevant.
Skills to Update on Your Resume...and in Real Life
A key step may be to update your resume, but we’ll tackle that in a minute. Right now, take a look at the kind of jobs you can find in your field. Do an assessment of the skills employers are searching for to determine if there are any specific job requirements that could send you back to school for some modernization.
Then consider some or all of the following to modernize old job skills:
- Go back to school to get a certification or degree: Before shelling out savings or severance pay for this educational brush-up, check out Harvard's free online classes.
- Volunteer to pick up new skills: If your goal is to learn SEO, why not volunteer to manage social media for your local dog shelter? Or if you’re trying to become a technical writer, offer to write grants for your local women’s shelter?
- Consider publishing: Put your expert opinions on LinkedIn or Medium, or start a blog to illustrate the skills you currently have or have just learned.
- Keeping pushing: Publish PowerPoints you’ve completed or post videos of public speaking or team building on social networks to help potential employers see you in action.
- Try mentoring as a way to share your skills with others: If you have a degree, most community colleges will consider your skills an asset.
- Freelance: Consider freelancing as a way to supplement your income while keeping your skills sharp, and once you get the freelancing thing going, ask yourself if you could take a pay and time cut from the day job to learn valuable skills.
- Network: Connect with a Recruiter to help get you noticed.
Now, let’s look at the next step in the process of staying relevant in today’s modern work world...the resume.
Resume Tips for the Experienced Employee
Now it’s time to age-proof your professional credentials. Edit your resume by limiting what is included. Chronologically, go back about 10 to 15 years, but no more, and try not to run more than a front and a back (two-paged) document. It’s going to be challenging to encapsulate a long career onto two pages, but consider it a necessary exercise to keep the attention of a harried Recruiter with 100+ resumes to review.
Here are five fast tips to improve an outdated CV:
- Do: Use a readable font like Arial or Times New Roman
- Do: Save space and dump the objectives section
- Don’t: List dates for your college graduation
- Don't: Keep old tech on your resume, remove technology flags that signal that you’re hopelessly lagging behind like "Word 2002” or COBOL (unless you’re aiming for a COBOL developer role)
- Do: Optimize your resume for application tracking systems by adding keywords
- Don’t: Add your picture to your resume
Need help? Consider modernizing your resume by hiring a professional resume writer. Or try getting advice from colleagues.
Need more help? Click here to get some additional tips on resume writing.
Once your resume is done, don’t forget about your social media profiles. LinkedIn can serve as a professional resume, and we guarantee potential employers will look at your social media presence. If you don’t have a social media presence, that’s exactly where you need to start. And don't worry, we have a blog about that too.
Interview Tips for the Experienced Employee
Business Insider reported on a recent World Economic Forum survey of 350 executives in nine industries around the world.
Ironically, they found a list of skills for 2019 that is tailor-made for more experienced candidates, including:
- Cognitive reasoning skills that include troubleshooting and critical thinking
- Negotiation expertise, which is a particularly needed skill in the design space
- Service orientation or demonstrated desires to actively help coworkers succeed
- Judgment and decision-making are particularly important for data analysts or any job where strategic thinking is part of the role
- Emotional intelligence is a skill exhibited by workers that can “herd cats” or bring together disparate teams to get a project done; staying patient in the thick of a crisis and paying attention to how team members feel are important characteristics
- Coordination with team members requires emotional intelligence, negotiation, and cognitive reasoning; having this skill shows your adaptability and sensitivity in the face of a deadline
- People management skills are an important way to set the experienced worker apart; motivational skills can help build a healthy corporate culture, something that employers find highly desirable
- Creativity is now one of the top three skills employers will be looking for next year, according to Business Insider
- Critical thinking is the mark of higher cognitive function and a skill that applies logic to a variety of business settings to improve a company
- Complex problem solving will be heavily relied upon as companies enter new markets or beta test new technologies
Not to be ageist, but the truth is that many young people have not necessarily developed these skills, so find a way to highlight these traits within the body of your resume to try conveying to employers the depth of your experience.
If you’re like many workers that have been in the same job for years, your interview skills have probably collected a little rust. Once you’ve revitalized your resume, started down the path of learning new skills, and cleaned up social media, it’s time to start practicing for the interview. Selling yourself in an appealing way is hard, but that is exactly what you must do to outpace other job seekers.
How to Brush Up on Interviewing
You can practice these skills by networking with others. Look at your social network and figure out which colleagues may help you on the way to your next big adventure. Then invite them for coffee and to chat about the job market, your resume, and what’s happening in the world.
One last tip: be careful to weed out any negativity from the hurt you’re probably feeling from the job loss. Potential employers can smell bitterness from 1,000 feet away.
Reinventing Yourself in a Changing World
Reinventing yourself is going to take some effort. If you’re an older worker that has been downsized, take heart. There are employers that recognize that an age-diverse workforce is a stronger workforce. According to Forbes, they include AT&T, UnitedHealth Group, PNC Financial, and others that offer mentoring programs to reinvigorate a sagging career.
A hard truth is many people complain about ageism when often the real issue is that they haven't evolved their skills. It will be challenging, at first, to look at the loss of a long-term job in your later years as an opportunity, but in fact, it is. Making a successful transition to more modern work skills takes a real investment of time in the most important person in the building — you.
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