What Advice Should We Give to Older Candidates?

I recently hosted a live (text-based) chat for job seekers with a panel of my company's recruiters that gave general advice and answered job-seeker questions.  I was struck with how many questions were coming from older (I'll say 50+) job seekers that clearly expressed their worries and concerns with being treated fairly in the job marketplace.  A couple of sample comments in the chat and on my corporate blog were:

"How does a job seeker over 50 get considered for bottom of the totem pole job again?"

"How do I get a recruiter to notice that my past and current experience in sales and education is a benefit to the company? They seem to look for inexperienced people that they can offer a low wage/salary to."

"why does it take the older applicant longer to find a job?  is it that you know you can hire a younger candidate cheaper?  Or you think they are more "teachable"?  How might older applicants assure you otherwise?"

"Should I only list my jobs for the last ten years as some recruiters have stated (I have 32 years experience in the graphic arts field). I am concerned that my age is becoming a factor but I feel that this is not be forthcoming about all my experience (I am in my mid fifties)."

Is their perception of bias correct?  Older job-seekers seem to feel that (regardless of age-discrimination laws & policies):

  • It's almost impossible to start over and execute a career change or get hired at a lower level than they were before
  • Yet, companies will take a younger candidate over an older, other things being equal
  • Experience is no long preferable to technological agility
  • Therefore, they should seek to hide their age & experience in the early stages of the application process.

In your experience, how prevalent is an age bias among hiring companies & hiring managers?

What advice would you give to older job seekers as a result?

Views: 1191

Comment by Elise Reynolds on April 5, 2012 at 12:24pm

LOL  Charlie, a little man-scaping can do wonders for the confidence.

Comment by Jackie Burress on April 5, 2012 at 1:12pm

I think age bias is very common and I think my role as a recruiter is to retrain the hiring manager's way of thinking toward older candidates.

As for advice, I like Elaine's recommendation for perkiness - enthusiasm and excitement will definitely get you further in the recruiting process. Also, flexibility is a big thing - make yourself available to work schedules outside typical 8 - 5 business hours and days. If you feel your technology skills could be brushed up - one of the biggest reasons why I see younger candidates chosen over older ones - go to the local community college and take a course.

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on April 5, 2012 at 7:32pm

Here's my perspective based on 2 years as a career coach for the state employment office - not a recruiter. This was right as the recession was in full swing, about 2009-10. My job was to help people collecting unemployment get back to work - could be a simple resume tweak, could be a full on case management situation.

Age discrimination in most cases was a self-fulfilling prophecy. My "mature workers" as we called them always led with age. They were some of the most challenging people to work with because they were so adverse to change. Refusing to change the format of their resume, refusing to re-think their comp requirements (as noted before), refusing to update skills (also mentioned, thanks Jackie). You just can't help people who don't want to be helped. The job seekers who took our advice were the ones that landed jobs, quickly.

Comment by Claudia J. Samuelson on April 10, 2012 at 10:41am

These comments are all valuable and I hope some of the "older" workers find this article.  As recruiters, it is our job to judge people.  The older I get, the easier and more dead on and efficient with time/judgement I become.

I have found that ultimately, individuals need to fit in. If it's going to the interview, you'd better look like you'll fit in. The fast paced start up doesn't want someone with an outdated suit.  Who wears matching suits anymore? Pay attention and go shopping. Find someone that you admire in your age category, or ask your kid to help you look cool but "age appropriate".

Don't brag about all your education and experience. What can you do for them NOW?

Get to work! Volunteer at the dog shelter. Coordinate care for a vulnerable adult. Become the neighborhood dog walker. Get a job at Starbucks, McDonald's or Target.  Be there. Be in the world. 

Work out. Get a personal trainer.

And if you are too depressed, find a good therapist.

People want to hire engaged, energetic, adaptable, self correcting, competent employees who learn fast and don't create drama.

Fitting in is about not standing out.  If your gray hair makes you look old, color it. If your eyeglasses are out of date, get new ones.

Maybe these things aren't fair, but as Charlie said, no one would not let Eric Clapton play with them.  It's who he is and what he does NOW, as well as what he did, that make him still marketable, at any age.

Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 10, 2012 at 1:13pm
Germane to this discussion are two excerpts from resumes I received yesterday. As I opened the first one, the first thing I saw was: "as a member of the "graying generation"

Delete, the position is for a fast paced, corporate accounts customer service person who wakes up in the morning with their first thought being, check the blackberry.

If this candidate wants to identify themselves as a member of the graying generation, Wal-mart needs you as does the city library. Either take that off or don't apply to something that starts out, "fast paced, demanding". And no, don't go on in the second sentence to say you are healthy. Let's assume that you are healthy unless you qualify under disability.

The next resume led with " over 30 years of experience". You just dated yourself before I got to the rest of the resume. Couldn't you just say, "experienced". Looking at the rest of the resume it reflected work experience starting in '95. I'm no math whiz but buster, you just red flagged your resume as being greatly shortened so you just told me you are worried about your age. If you are, so am I. I would rather see "experienced" and the early career just be dates and company names and positions. Let's be real. You will have to fill out an app at some point, you will have to walk in for an interview, so if you think you will get hired by shortening a resume so it looks like you are 40 on paper it won't work but it will irritate a hiring manager when you walk in the door obviously 20 years older than your resume. Trust me on this one. If the first position on your resume is sr. Manager, or VP. Any idiot knows you shortened it and rather than risk interviewing you and being busted for age descrimination if they don't hire you, that bogus resume is going in the trash.

Bottom line, tell it like it is, don't lead with your age but don't try to hide it. Be who you are. Update your look, color your hair, update your technology skills, let an employer know that you have already climbed the corporate ladder. Unlike many of the young lions, you know when to roar but don't have to make noise to do a good job nor are you going to be looking for another job in a year if you don't get a raise or a promotion. Your children are grown and educated, you are looking for a spot where your expertise can be of value and you have the ability to mentor some of the "up and comers".

Believe me, there are many employers who are tired of trying to keep a pride of young lions focused on doing the job they were hired to do without driving everybody crazy or jumping ship at the first sign of discomfort, politics or not getting a raise when the company is not making money.
Comment by Elise Reynolds on April 10, 2012 at 2:06pm

Great points Sandra

Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 10, 2012 at 6:16pm

One of the best things those of us over 50 have to offer is that we are not looking for "work/life balance" for God's sake, so we can take kids to soccer games or go on trips to the islands.  We grew up in a culture where work and life were the balance.  You worked so you could have a life, your employer was not supposed to provide you time during the 40 hour work week so you could go balance yourself.  If you don't think that will be well received by a prospective employer try putting it in a short cover letter that says you are not looking for a company to provide you with work/life balance you already know how to do that along with the requirements for the job.  :)  Just think about all the things that you hear employers bitching about with the latest generation and those are the qualities you have to sell.  It will be like a spring breeze from an old fart who doesn't look or act like one.  Like, "You know mr. employer, Friday and Monday are work days for me they start at 8:00 and end not at 5:00 because i am either in a hurry to hang out with my buddies or nursing a headache from a big weekend, my day ends when i get the work done or get to a stopping point and have hit my deliverables for that day or that week or maybe when security tells me to leave before the air conditioning shuts down.


Being older is fun if you know how to talk about it.  Now hook up and see if you can stay up cause old people don't need as much sleep, we already reinvented the wheel and discoverd it was just as round and turned the same way when we got through reinventing it as it did when we thought we had to reinvent it.  And..we don't have to damn well talk about what is wrong with everything anymore.  We already know that too and it is what it is, let's go to work.

Comment by Jane Roth on October 30, 2012 at 2:04pm

Hiding their age makes no sense.They should dress well and with modern clothes on a job interview. Older workers are not in demand sad to say but true.With my experience is they have to accept a lower salary when getting a job offer if they want to wrok. The older applicant costs more in medical insurance as well. Older workers should list the last 10-15 years of work experience. I am in staffing 35 years. Good Luck Jane Roth


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