Ageism: Real or Not? How to Handle It
By Ron Visconti, Executive Director of Phase2Careers
Ageism in the workplace is real. However, what matters most is how we deal with it.
George was given his pink slip. 54 years of age, 20 years with the same company, a seasoned procurement specialist. "How am I going to get the next job?" Why is this happening to me? "Who will hire an older worker like me?"
Beverly, was a returning-to-work mom after a hiatus of 20 years in order to raise her kids. She had worked for many years in the hotel industry at the front desk. "They probably want someone younger," she thought. "How can I compete with someone younger and prettier?"
Jeanine is a thirty year veteran of the high tech industry. She has worked for many years with a Fortune 500 company as a software engineer. She has been experiencing a particularly hard time re-entering the job market after being unemployed for one year. She cites age and the interviewing process with younger, inexperienced Millennials as the reason why she is not employed. She gets countless interviews, but the job offer never quite comes. Ten interviews and no job offer.
The job search process fills us with doubts.
My interest in ageism grew from own personal connection. I am one of those who has experienced the issue first hand from my work with my clients.
Before the economic crash, I saw growing numbers of older workers. They had been one of the most devastated groups in the downturn.
When I coordinated a job fair in 2008, I noticed a lot more gray hair. I decided I would test my theory. I would place a simple 8 x 11 sheet of paper at my booth. Are you an older worker? Do you need more support? Well over 350 job seekers came up to me to tell their personal stories. I knew there was a huge trend. This is why and how I launched my new nonprofit, Phase2Careers. Phase2Careers' mission is to assist this hard hit population – the over 40 worker.
That being said: age should not define your job search. It is a small part of who you are and only one of many single factors. Don't let age be the first word to come out of your mouth as to why you didn't get interview or the job. Instead, make a column or list of things you can control versus what you cannot control. Age would be in the section of can't control. You can't set time back, however, there are lots of things you can control, which may well supersede the possible negative factor of your age.
Maintain a Positive Mindset
One critical piece of the job search is a positive mindset. Do you feel recruiters have a pre-determined view of your skills? A Positive attitude and what you project to others about your skills, how your work with others, and the impact you make on projects is key to keeping a positive attitude.
Be a candidate who is ready to compete. This means your skill set is current, you're up on industry trends, and you are actively networking and expanding the base of who you know.
The issue of ageism has been with us for decades and will doubtless remain. The Commonwealth Fund, a private New York philanthropic organization, concluded through approximately a dozen studies since the 1950's that Americans over 55 were:
- An Untapped Resource
Let us talk about some negative stereotyping. About a decade ago, the Association of Human Resources Executives (SHRM) asked, "What negative stereotypes do you have of the older worker?" In this survey of 308 randomly selected Human Resources Executives in 2006 (source: SHRM survey-2006), they reported these disadvantages of hiring older workers compared to other groups:
- Not keeping up with technology (49%)
- Causing extra expenses such as health care (38%)
- Seen as less flexible (23%)
- More likely to take time off to care for their infirm, aging parents (13%)
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers over 55 are unemployed for a significantly longer period of time versus their younger counterparts.
On the other hand, they also listed the many advantages of older workers, compared with their younger counterparts, as such:
- More work experience (i.e., more knowledge or skills (77%)
- More mature/professional (71%)
- Stronger work ethic (70%)
- Ability to serve as mentors (63%)
- More reliable (59%)
- More loyal (53%)
- Less turnover (52%)
Seasoned workers are able to solve large, present-day challenges through life experience and past achievements, according to Jim McDonald, Career Transition Coach, Career Step.
Renee Sagon, Recruiting and Marketing Specialist for SlingShot Connections had this to say about the seasoned workers: "Basically, they don't jump around from job to job. They also bring a high level of stability and maturity to the workplace."
What can you do to make yourself more competitive? Take classes in both hard and soft skills. Be actively engaged in your professional associations. Volunteer in non-profits to enhance your skills and being active. Join a mix of networking groups (from meetups to job search groups) to create energy in your job search.
Carol Dweck wrote a book, Mindset, on creating and maintaining a positive mindset. People with positive mindsets grow with adversity and are not defeated by tough times because they are in always in a learning mode.
Embrace, Don't Fight the Multigenerational Workforce
Whether you like it or not, the multi-generational workforce is here to stay. Many seasoned workers that I assist find it a challenge to be interviewed by a much younger person.
The Uber Co-founder, Travis Kalanick, said this to younger workers in an AARP Magazine interview (January/February 2016):
Tap into their expertise and knowledge. If everybody is passionate about the problem, then it is fun for everybody. For me, it's a blessing to get that kind of experience in the room. Don't feel that you are entitled to a job, you need to earn it.
Be Aware of Where You Fit
Ann Greenhaw, Human Resources Sr. Recruiter at Franklin Templeton Investments said this:
"Seasoned" workers can be a great asset, as they tend to have strong communication skills, and can communicate well verbally as well as electronically.
They tend to be more loyal, and in our industry they often bring with them a multitude of "connections", as they have developed a good network over the years.
"Ability, experience, loyalty and a strong network of industry people – all attributes of the "seasoned" employee!"
Know thyself. Not every job or workplace is right for you. Where will you thrive? Where will you make the greatest impact? Define your environment/industry. A smaller company? Larger company?
From many discussions and my research, some industries tend to be more favorable to the seasoned workers. Here is a sample:
- Financial Services
I am not saying that you might not fit into other areas, just be prepared to compete in whatever industry you choose.
Do Your Homework
Learn more about your prospective the company or industry, become an intelligent stakeholder in solving their problems.
Communicate Your Relevance and Worth
- Don't tell them what you don't have, but rather, tell them what you do have
- Don't talk too much; get to the point.
- Remember that it is all about the here and now
- There is no job so small that you can't contribute
- Emphasize all the positives about you: experience, maturity, ability to work on teams, …
In short, know what the employer wants and communicate how you can impact them. Whether you are competing for a private or public sector jobs, know their hot buttons and pain points. Be prepared for the possibility that they might say or think. "You are Overqualified." Absolutely Abby (http://www.absolutelyabby.com/interviews/overqualified-overture.html) tackles this very topic head-on.
Seasoned workers bring great value and meaning to the workplace. Being a smart job seeker means you know who you are, you know your full range of assets, as well as who is in need of your strengths. Turn the question and issue of ageism on its head. In other words, as a result of being older, emphasize the fact that you can and will be an indispensable worker!
Bio: Ron Visconti is a Baby Boomer who has assisted seasoned workers for many years. He is the Executive Director of Phase2Careers, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting the Over 40 worker.