Recently, a client in her fifties told me that in a job interview an employer told her outright that they were really looking for someone much younger. She said that this experience caused her a lot of anxiety and has made her very self-conscious. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident.
In a coaching session, when asked how this particular experience made her feel, she responded “useless.” Older job seekers may tend to believe this bias as a truth because they feel vulnerable and less valuable compared to new graduates or younger job seekers.
As a Career Counsellor, I often hear clients say, “No one will ever hire me because I’m too old.” This is a commonly voiced assumption when working with older job seekers. The key to overcoming this perception is to implement strategies to deal with this anxiety so it does not become the driving force behind one’s job search.
There are several questions that you should be asking yourself if you have experienced ageism in your job search. Do you really want to work for an employer who judges you solely on your age? How can you market your age as a positive attribute? Do you believe there is an employer out there who will hire you based on your skills? Is there a job out there for you?
The reality is that there are employers out there who discriminate and break the law. Part of your role as the job seeker is to decipher the good from the bad and minimize your own preconceived ideas about ageism by reinventing the brand called you. Target your job search and look for employers that will value an experienced worker.
A great tactic to implement when preparing for a job interview is to minimize the impact of your feelings/emotions and think pure strategy. Often people will carry the baggage and negative experiences of previous interviews to upcoming interviews. Don’t buy into the myth that being an older worker is something negative. Be proud of your experience and promote it as an invaluable asset.
Make a list of the positive things that come along with hiring and retaining a seasoned worker. Begin to market these positive attributes. Come up with work related examples that highlight these attributes. What employer would not want to hire someone who is loyal, mature, responsible, dedicated, dependable and focused?
Often, older job seekers will tell me about their interview experiences and I commonly hear them say “the interviewer could have been my son or daughter.” Your responsibility is to be open-minded to the fact that there are young people in the labour market and start building bridges so you can relate to younger interviewers. Incorporate examples of how you worked effectively with younger leaders and co-workers. Stay away from going overboard with emphasizing your years of experience and try to focus on your skills and achievements.
Whether you have experienced ageism or not, it is so easy to get discouraged in your job search, even to the point of quitting. Resiliency, determination and persistence mixed with a well-planned out job search will produce results. You just have to believe in yourself.
So, what happened to the woman that experienced that incident of ageism in her job interview? Truthfully, she allowed it to roadblock herself for about six months. She bought into what that employer told her and started believing that “no one would ever hire a person her age.” It was a major setback in her job search and caused her a lot of anxiety. She lost her confidence and became overwhelmed by the whole experience. Through a lot of coaching, she gained a new perspective and realized that it was only one employer’s personal bias and not a reflection of herself as an employee. It is a constant battle to believe that your age is an advantage and not a liability. You have to stay mentality fit to withstand the ups and downs of an exhausting job search.
In summary, there are many obstacles that the older job seeker may experience. However, the key to success is not to get derailed in your job search. I don’t think anyone is too old to contribute positively to a company’s bottom line. The way in which older workers see themselves contributes to the mindset and stamina of their job search. You might be an older worker but you have to own that reality. Putting a positive spin on your rich work experience and not exposing your vulnerabilities is the true art behind being a successful job seeker.
by Susanne Feeley