Why can’t employers see that our experience and wisdom makes us more valuable than someone 20 years our junior?
It’s especially frustrating, because our parents didn’t experience ageism, so we don’t expect to be discriminated against based on our seniority. Seniority is supposed to be a good thing, isn’t it?
However, there are ways to avoid ageism, because we largely cause much of it ourselves. If you’re over 40, you are likely causing the very ageism you experience, based on things you can control.
This statement angers many, who have experienced age discrimination. It angers senior candidates, because they aren’t making themselves obsolete on purpose, not even realizing the effect that some of their actions and statements have on employers.
You might ask, How can I be causing others to discriminate against me because of my age?
No, I’m not talking about weight loss, exercise, new clothes, and dying your hair. However, it’s been proven that attractive candidates are much more likely to be offered a job than non-attractive candidates. It’s also been proven that higher energy levels from exercise, can help make a positive interview impression. While improving your attractiveness and energy levels can help, candidates over 40 still cause much of the ageism they experience.
Even attractive candidates over 40 make themselves obsolete, based on what they do, how they act, and how they communicate.
Here are 5 ways you’re made yourself obsolete and solutions for each:
- Resume structure: Objective statements, profiles, summaries, Key skills sections (at the beginning) are all signs of traditional job search techniques. These used to work before resumes were read and scanned digitally and before there were job shortages. Not only do they not work today, they invite ageism – using an old-school resume structure gives the impression that you don’t have a current view of business, or that you’re too inflexible to change with the times. Both of these impressions feed the negative bias against age.
- How we communicate: We can unknowingly give the impression that our best days are behind us. When we talk fondly about what we did 20-30 years ago, we make it seem that we aren’t going to be as effective now as we were then. Even when talking about personal, non-work related subjects, why increase the perception of ageism by focusing on the distant past?
- How we describe early job experience: Many of us over 40 give detailed descriptions about our early job experience. We do this because we think it will impress employers that we held responsible jobs early in our careers, that we contributed to our employers even when we were rookies. Employers are hiring you for what you’ve done recently, not what you did 20 years ago – When you give much detail about your early jobs, it takes attention away from what you’ve done recently, giving the impression that your greatest ability to provide value ended long ago.
- How we let our skills go stale: If you’ve been in a management position, you may have had staff to do much of the detail work. However, business has gotten leaner and meaner while you were in your past position. Employers aren’t interested in hiring people who give the impression that they can’t handle the details as effectively/efficiently as their staff, because your next job will probably have a smaller staff – and you’ll probably be expected to shoulder more of the details.
- How we don’t stay up to date in technology: Employers have a preexisting bias that age 40+ candidates don’t keep current with technology. This goes far beyond a solid knowledge of Microsoft Office. If you aren’t current in popular Enterprise systems (if you’re in Finance, Marketing, Operations, HR, or IT), you’ve made yourself obsolete. If you aren’t current in Social Media, no matter what your job function is, you’re obsolete. Social Media isn’t a new phenomena – Linkedin has been around for 9 years, Facebook for 8 years, YouTube for 7 years, Twitter for 6 years, blogs for over 13 years. Social media is also now a critical skillset that employers look for in all areas, not just marketing – including executive positions, operations, finance, HR and legal.
What you can do about it: Use a modern resume structure. Recognize that no one cares about your objectives, they care about solving their problems … not yours. Recognize that profiles, summaries, and key skills sections were fine when companies were looking for generalists, but employers have changed how they hire. Even for generalist positions, employers look first for specific areas of expertise, to solve current priority problems. Of the candidates with that specific subject matter expertise, employers determine the ability to learn new skills, to adapt to work in new areas, from the interview (not the resume).
What you can do about it: Keep the conversation in the present. Give current examples of how you’ve already solved the hiring manager’s problems – avoid examples more than a few years old. Steer the conversation away from topics prior to 5 years ago. Even keep conversations and examples of personal information current. This means, avoid talking about how you caught a Hank Aaron homerun, or how you saw the Immaculate Reception. How ’70’s of you.
What you can do about it: Include your early titles/employers, but leave out the detail, no matter how proud you are of your early work. Even if you were President of the United States at age 25, don’t include details about how you negotiated arms settlements. Recognize that your next employer isn’t going to care what you did 20-30 years ago. You’re not a rookie anymore, you’re not interviewing for a rookie job, you’re probably looking for a position at a higher level than you held 20 years ago, you many be in a different industry or job function, and technology probably has drastically changed the industry/business/job in the past 20 years.
Here’s an example, I recently coached an executive management team member of a top 5 ad agency. He was responsible for managing a large staff of people doing internal marketing for the firm, before getting caught in a downsizing. Now he wanted to move to a mid or small-sized firm. He didn’t have direct clients, he couldn’t bring a client list to demonstrate value to a new employer, but worst of all – he hadn’t actually done the detail work for years … he depended on a large staff to do all the campaign work. This client was having a very difficult time convincing other employers that he could still be productive, since his recent work was more as a department figurehead/communicator to the CEO/COO … than as a “do-er”.
This is especially important if you’re in career transition, because employers also discriminate against the unemployed for exactly this reason – stale skills.
What you can do about it: Stale skills could affect you also. One of the most common ways this can effect your job search, is if you depended on a staff to create spreadsheets, proposals, PowerPoints, reports, data analysis, or even write documents. If you haven’t done this in a few years (or ever), you need to re-learn (or learn) how to do all of this yourself. Your 20-30 year old competitors grew up being experts in Microsoft office – they started using it in grade school. If you aren’t at least an intermediate level on all aspects of Microsoft Office currently, take classes (re-learn) and/or get certified (if you’re at a basic level) to demonstrate current skills. For instance, if it’s been 3-4 years since you’ve created intermediate-level Excel spreadsheets, your skills are stale – So do something about it.
Some of the most common complaints I hear from 40+ job seekers are: “I don’t like Twitter”, “Facebook is just for kids/games”, “I don’t have time to screw around on social media”, “blogging just takes too much time.” Is it any wonder that employers are biased against you because of your age, when you are resistant to learning/using new tools?
What you can do about it: Get with the program. The best way to show social media familiarity, even expertise, is to use it. Better yet, incorporate social media into your job search. Even if you are in stealth search mode, you can use social media to find and be found, to demonstrate subject matter expertise (of anything) and familiarity with social media tools, just by using social media in your job search.
If you’re in technology, this is especially important, even at management levels. You’re in an ever-changing field … life-long learning and self-investment are part of the deal, if you want to stay relevant. Just because you don’t plan on coding, doesn’t mean you can avoid an understand of your next employer’s technology. Take classes/get certified on current development languages and delivery platforms, so you can compete effectively against other candidates with experience in mobile, cloud, Ruby, Agile development, FBML, Social Media integration, and other areas in high demand. Employers aren’t investing as much in training – rather they are looking for employees and managers who don’t need training, because of past experience or self-investment.
The important thing to note here, is you can affect how employers view you, no matter what your age.
It’s critical to understand how your actions and communication impact an employer’s first impression of you … and whether your experience is viewed as valuable, or stale.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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