Five Ways to Manage Ageism in Your Job Search
Updated: Nov 5, 2019
Ageism is alive and well. More than 60 percent of employees age 45 and up have experienced or seen age discrimination at work, according to an AARP study. So, what’s a Gen Xer or Boomer to do?
First, develop ways to avoid being discouraged. You must also accept that ageism is a factor in your search. Recognize that you don’t want to work for an organization that is too frugal to pay experienced workers or one that relies on stereotypes about a lack of technological expertise. Finally, reframe your own branding and self-marketing to amplify your currency and value in today’s workplace.
Although it’s not as natural for many Xers and Boomers to think about personal branding, self-promotion - not just resume shopping - is now a required part of the job search process. Broadcasting skills through social media posts, networking, and online job search boards are how the jobs of today are secured.
Here are five tips to overcome ageism in your job search:
1. Come to Terms with Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Taking a hard look at what you have to offer an employer – the good and the bad – is one of the most difficult parts of the job search process. I recommend that clients use a SWOT analysis process similar to those used in marketing campaigns. Take time to look critically at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Being honest about how strong your strengths are and identifying your true weaknesses is HARD! It’s imperative to get feedback from people that will give you an accurate assessment of these attributes.
Your SWOT process should include researching desired job descriptions and those people on LinkedIn that hold the jobs you wish to have. Use this information to identify what you have to offer, training you may need, and the kind of organization in which you would be a good fit. Find ways to develop and market your skills to combat the idea that you’re too old to learn or change.
Say you’re ready to transition from the corporate to the non-profit sector after being laid off with a severance. Use the time provided by severance to get a master’s in public administration (MPA). An MPA can help to convince those hiring, that you’re serious and have the skills to navigate from corporate to non-profit cultures.
There is ageism everywhere but don’t just sit back and accept it. In looking at your skills, remind yourself of your value and build a story around your unique selling points.
2. Refresh Your Resume
Remember that the resume is meant to get you through the screener, which can be either a database or a very young employee. Listing dates that make your age obvious and continuing to include irrelevant jobs are unnecessary. College graduation dates from over 25 years ago will make the screener realize they weren’t even born when you graduated; don’t give anyone a reason to toss your resume at first glance.
Instead, collect the five top jobs that interest you and seek out the keywords for each; incorporate these words into your job descriptions while making your titles prominent, and dates and employers small. You’ll need resumes for various job positions; start with a template and refine the resume for each specific job. Remember, the screener (or AI) has a set of titles and keywords for which to search; make it easy to refer you to the next phase.
Lastly, use bullets to highlight the specific successes for each role. Although difficult in many disciplines, attempt to assign numbers to your accomplishments; for example:
25% reduction in customer complaints through the implementation of a new tracking system
Managed $1M loyalty program resulting in annual increases of 6% in purchases of non-standard products
Drove operational cost controls targeting annualized 3% savings or $30M annually
3. Become an Expert in Online Networking, Electronic CVs, and Online Search Engines
Eighty-five percent of all jobs are filled via networking, according to research from LinkedIn. As such, most counselors and branding consultants recommend only spending about 10 percent of job searching time online. Networking, meeting people face-to-face, and company research is a better use of time.
LinkedIn is an ideal place to post your work history, add a little personality in the ‘about’ section, incorporate keywords, and write or repost content that makes you a thought leader in your discipline. There are a host of online and published resources in which you can take a course on using LinkedIn, but please be sure your profile photo is appropriate (Photo Tips from Meero here) and that you use the refreshed, and edited content from your template resume to get started.
After creating your profile, continue to network; adding recruiters, peers, and thought leaders to your network. You can use LinkedIn’s online resources to learn about how to apply for jobs and see how you meet the qualifications. The company has features that allow both job seekers and employers to see if an applicant is a match for a role.
From CareerBuilder to Indeed and Glassdoor to LinkedIn, there are a host of online resources to find jobs and research companies. The best options will be specific to your job discipline. Check out The Balance Careers “Top 10 Best Websites for Jobs” to learn which sites will cater to your needs.
4. Take Online Courses to Develop Technical Skills
Many employers are concerned that older workers can’t keep up with technology. If you’re unemployed or are in a job with little upward mobility, this is a time to develop your skills. Use your SWOT analysis to determine what you need and access online resources such as Udemy, Lynda.com, and Kaplan.
Many companies use productivity software, SAP, or other industry-specific technology. Now is the time to take the courses you need, and then you’ll be able to list those skills on your resume to prove that you are tech-savvy and someone to hire.
In working with one of my clients, I asked him about all the talk of ‘Agile’ in the tech industry and if that training would improve his offering. He began to review job descriptions and his peer’s resumes and realized that a week-long course would allow him to achieve a master-level certification. Not only did he make a network connection during the course, but the certification also revealed other job opportunities.
5. Look the Part
We all know that ageism is real and that professional norms have changed. Today's workplace clothing norms are far more casual, and that goes for interviewing standards as well. Wearing a full business suit might be a sign of respect to you, but to a younger workforce, it might feel parental.
In terms of appearance, getting rid of grey hair isn’t as necessary as considering a modern hairstyle, glasses, and clothing. I always recommend that my clients analyze what younger people are wearing and then find out where they shop. Heck, go to any city center or commuter train station, and you identify the ‘uniform’ for the industry. Stop! The uniform should never include the hoody – it’s sloppy and not appropriate for work.
Clothes shopping for a younger look isn’t comfortable but, in many cases, you can do it from the privacy of your home. There are a host of styling companies such as Stitch Fix and Trunk Club that will ship options after you provide information to a personal stylist. Sites such as Bonobos, M.M. LaFleur, and Beta Brand cater to a younger audience as well. Remember, you don’t have to clone anyone’s look. Just find a way to blend your personality with a slightly younger dress style.
Controlling stress is critically important during the job search process. You might consider starting an exercise regimen that adds a routine to your day and provides the social interaction lost through unemployment. Exercise can also pay dividends in your confidence and the way you carry yourself. Check out this article from Expertrain about the other benefits of an exercise program during unemployment.
Own Your Expertise
Just because employers have biases doesn’t mean that you have to buy into them. Take a critical look at the challenges and approach them like you would any work assignment – head-on. Good luck to you.
Hillary Hufford-Tucker is the founder of QM MarCom and provides fresh solutions for marketing, communications, personal branding, and graphic design campaigns. When she’s not working, she’s cooking for friends and family, cycling, F45ing, or traveling. Connect with her on LinkedIn.