Are You a Senior Returning to the Job Market? Get Ready for Round Two in the Fight Against Ageism!
It’s time to recognize the elephant in the room
It’s all part of a recent upheaval in the job market — seniors returning to work.
Whether it’s to supplement our income or to fill the vacancy in our lives created by a too-early, conventional retirement, many of us are considering a second act, either in our original field of expertise or to pursue a brand-new opportunity.
The news media tells us employers are ready to welcome us with open arms, and that the current demand for workers has helped reduce the hard-core bias of ageism.
Want the truth?
Are you sixty or (shudder) older?
Regardless of the latest HR campaign, you may find the job market not as welcoming as they are to someone half your age — someone with far less experience and expertise.
The stats tell the real story . . .
Job applicants who are 55 years old (or older) are three times less likely to be called in for a job interview as compared to younger applicants.
Reports of age discrimination in job interviews are reported in 85% of finance positions, 84% of advertising positions, and 81% of digital marketing positions.
In general, 75% of older Americans have reported feeling discriminated against because of their age during a job interview.
In spite of all the glowing rhetoric coming out of corporate America, it’s pretty much business as usual at the Fortune 500 round table.
Looking back on all those years we spent in the trenches, we’d like to think the workplace would recognize the knowledge and experience we’ve gathered in over forty years of working. We’d like to think employers would value the maturity, perspective, and people skills that older workers bring to the workplace.
But sadly, no.
The young are more malleable, have fewer rough edges, cost less, and can be more easily integrated into the cog-and-wheel hierarchy that comprises most employer/worker relationships.
Yes, there are a few employers that recognize the important contributions older workers make to their workforce in terms of reliability, work ethic, and expertise. But there is generally greater consideration given — as a presumed default — to the younger applicant.
So how do we prevent ageism from throwing a damper on our second-act dreams?
One option is to follow the advice most frequently offered by management consultants:
Older workers can compete with their younger counterparts by staying up-to-date on current trends, brushing up on their technical skills, and maintaining a positive attitude.
During the interview process, highlight your experience and expertise in areas such as problem-solving, communication, and team-building.
Be open to learning and adapting to new technologies and approaches to common problems — don’t let others interpret your need to do it the “old way” as being stuck in the past, unwilling to consider a new process or procedure.
Will these suggestions help?
Honestly, I don’t think so.
Because they don’t address the real problem.
The reason we seniors are not given our due in the job market is not that objectively rational. It’s not something we can overcome by wearing a fifteen-hundred-dollar sport coat over a pair of designer jeans, applying lots of makeup to hide the wrinkles, and wearing long-sleeved tops to cover the age spots and bat wings.
The real reason seniors are considered outside the preferred or ideal group of potential employees?
We’re going to tell the truth!
At our age, we’re tired of pretending.
We’re tired of lying and then being expected to repeat the lies that were created to persuade the uninitiated and inexperienced.
We dismiss the newest and shiniest management program because we know it’s only going to last until HR buys into the next reincarnation of some communication technique, employee empowerment initiative, or organizational tool to make each little snowflake just a bit more productive.
We try not to shake our heads at the 32-year-old manager who is trying to convince us that the company motto, “We’re all a family of equals,” is not only true but bankable.
We dismiss his naïve, Pollyanna mindset because we know he’s never seen the aftermath of a contracting economy, when a downturn in business leaves the office littered with the carnage of laid-off employees.
And when the Beamer-driving, Armani-suited, boy wonder dives headlong into praising the company’s mission statement, it takes every ounce of self-discipline not to laugh out loud when we hear him use the phrase, “personal empowerment.”
Because we know better.
We’ve been in the game too long.
We immediately recognize the difference between reality and fantasized constructions designed to placate product managers, bean counters, and HR managers.
We also know that company rewards don’t necessarily go to the person doing the best job. We’ve seen too many promotions and salary increases bestowed on the less qualified because of cronyism, chauvinism, or outright misogyny.
There’s a “preferred window of opportunity” in the corporate world, and it all has to do with snagging the gullible before they learn the truth. Before they question decisions that are “for their own good,” but ultimately leave them unemployed and a month behind on the car payment.
Too critical? Too harsh? Teetering on the edge of bitterness?
I see it every day. Hell, I experience it every day.
Hey, I understand. In our culture, it’s all about appearance. Youth over experience. Pretty over expertise. Fun over effectiveness.
And sometimes, it gets personal.
Because I look the part. I look like I should be retired.
And yet, I don’t fit into the little box created to neatly sort, label, and pigeon-hole the over-sixty crowd, who, based on the powerful undercurrent of ageism in the workplace, should be home watching daytime TV, fertilizing their price-winning rose bushes, or driving around the country in a Winnebago.
In short, I’m a disenfranchised anomaly, an abomination to the system.
Occasionally, I’m asked the question right to my face.
“Aren’t you retired yet?”
It’s usually followed up by some placating comment along the lines of, “Someone your age shouldn’t have to work.”
And then there’s the pity-couched suggestion that working full time is some kind of undeserved punishment . . . “Sounds like you were one of those who were negatively affected in the last economic crash, and you lost your retirement fund.”
In other words, they feel sorry for me. I’m pitied because I choose to work. Because I can’t find satisfaction in puttering around the house, tending to the garden, or looking forward to the big game on TV this Sunday.
Hey, for those of you who are happy with some semblance of the above, good for you. It just isn’t for me.
I’m just saying I don’t like being on the receiving end of discriminatory pity because I refuse to fit the mold — because I said “No” to marching in step to the cultural rhythms of conformity.
So, what’s the answer?
How do we elders find our place — the second time — in the world of work . . . because we want to continue our contribution; because we have more to accomplish, more to achieve?
Here’s one approach I’ve seen work numerous times, especially when the job being offered is typically filled by a much younger applicant.
First, I want to make it clear that most people do just the opposite of what I’m going to recommend. And most “career consultants” are going to have a brain implosion when they read this.
Conventional wisdom says to reduce the concern over ageism by ignoring it.
Not bringing it up is a way to show you have no reluctance or concern over your ability to excel at the job. It’s such a non-issue to you, that you don’t see the need to address it.
Sounds good, right? If no one brings it up — if no one thinks it’s important enough to mention — then it must not be a concern or issue, right?
Wrong. In fact, ignoring the fact that you’re significantly older than your potential co-workers is the worst thing you can do.
I recommend pointing to the elephant in the room and talking about it.
Make it a point to bring up the age difference between yourself and your potential coworkers — and how it can be an advantage to the company to have someone who can offer a perspective based on long-term experience.
This tends to put the hiring manager on notice and hopefully, make them more reluctant to summarily dismiss or discount your potential because of age-related discrimination.
In other words, bringing up the subject and discussing it makes an issue that was mutually considered — and ideally, mutually neutralized.
Will the issue of age still cast a shadow over the exchange?
Of course, it will.
But talking about your age in a constructive and confident manner helps to reduce its negative influence, and strips it of its default power to overwhelm the positive with assumed bias.
Just remember, what you don’t say is just as important as what you do.
Don’t bring up the illegal aspects of age discrimination.
And whatever you do, don’t give the impression that you’re ready to file a complaint or lawsuit against the company if you’re not hired. Veiled threats or innuendo about being passed over because of age will get you labeled as . . . “Troublemaker.”
It’s the fastest way of getting your application thrown in the trash.
Here’s the takeaway . . .
As seniors returning to the workplace, we’re seen as outliers, exceptions to the system — someone who doesn’t know when to quit. And that’s fine. Because it’s time to be the exception, to be the oldest person in the room, and to be appreciated because of it.
Older workers often demonstrate a better work ethic, higher loyalty, and better job performance. And historically, employers find older workers more likely to stay with their jobs for longer periods of time.
But before we can demonstrate all those outstanding qualities, we have to get past the much younger gatekeepers who typically want to hire those that who have the same characteristics as they do . . . same level of education, experience, and AGE.
That means challenging ageism head-on.
It means bringing it out into the open, discussing those extra decades of experience as a favorable attribute, and, in the process, reducing or even eliminating age as a default disqualifier.
Returning to the job market as a senior means being the exception. It’s not letting the culturally-approved advantages of youth outstrip the potential contribution we can make to the marketplace.
It’s going right to the bottom line and asking the gatekeepers what they’re trying to accomplish by hiring a new employee, and then asking if there’s any reason someone your age couldn’t fulfill the requirements of the job.
Questions? If you have a specific situation you’re dealing with and would like some feedback, shoot me a comment. I’ll do the best I can to help.
Thanks for reading,
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Roger A. Reid, Ph.D. is a certified NLP trainer with degrees in engineering and business. Roger is the author of Better Mondays and Speak Up, and host of Success Point 360 Podcast, offering tips and strategies for achieving higher levels of career success and personal fulfillment in the real world.
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