– 9 Tips to help jobseekers beat age bias

By Andrea Coombes


Nov. 21, 2012, 7:00 a.m. EST
9 tips to help jobseekers beat age bias

Age discrimination is alive and well in the U.S., but there are strategies mature job seekers can employ to improve their chances of overcoming it.

The first challenge is to avoid getting discouraged. While antidiscrimination laws have gone a long way to reduce age-based layoffs, bias in hiring is difficult to root out, said David Neumark, a professor of economics and director of the Center for Economics & Public Policy at University of California at Irvine.

“There’s enough evidence out there of discrimination that I certainly lean toward the view that it’s still a problem for older workers, particularly on the hiring side,” Neumark said.

Still, age bias may not be as prevalent as many people assume, said Mary Eileen Williams, author of “Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50.”

When she runs workshops for job seekers, Williams said, generally just 25% to 30% of participants say they’ve experienced age discrimination.

Age bias “is out there,” she said, “but it’s not affecting everyone.” Plus, attitudes may be changing: Read column: Where the jobs are for mature workers.

Here are 9 tips for mature workers to overcome age bias:

1. Focus on the present

Rather than talking about your past, talk about how your skills can help the employer now and in the future, said Andrea Kay, career consultant and author of “This Is How to Get Your Next Job,” due out in 2013. “You don’t want to negate what you’ve done, but couch it in terms of what they need today,” she said.

That means researching jobs so you can say, for example: “I know that this job focuses on the development of a new marketing plan for international business. That’s something I did in the past. Here’s how I could help you with regard to how you develop that new market.”

Also, be clear about your willingness to try new approaches. For example, Kay said, job seekers might say: “When I was with ABC Company, that was a project that I handled and we did it one way, but I know there are many different ways to address this. There is different software we could use. I look forward to working with people here on the best way to approach that.”

2. Address unspoken biases head-on

Mature job seekers might try battling the interviewer’s unsaid biases in a proactive way, Williams said.

For example, if the interviewer seems to assume older workers don’t get along with younger ones, you might say: “I like to learn from people of all ages.”

Still, there’s a fine line between forestalling biases and raising red flags about your sensitivity to such biases. “If you get a feeling or there’s some kind of clue, it’s OK to address it, but you’ve got to be really careful how you bring those things up,” Kay said.

Martin Yate, prolific author of career-management books including “Knock ‘em Dead 2013: The Ultimate Job Search Guide,” said job seekers should address an obvious age differential with an honest statement.

For example, “If I was sitting in your position, I’d say ‘There’s a big age difference here. Can this guy keep up? Is he current with his skills?’” Then, talk about your skills and how physically active you are, Yate said.

Or, he said, job seekers might say: “I might be the oldest person interviewing for this job. I think there are some benefits to my candidacy. I have more experience. Every job is about problem identification, prevention and solution. I’ve been working in this field for X years and I’ve faced an awful lot of problems before…When everyone else is running around panicking, you hire me you’re going to have one person who’s been there, who has a frame of reference, who will be calm, and who will help other people work through it.”

“Is it easy to say these things? Hell, no,” Yate acknowledged. But “if they can only get half of what I’m saying out, they’re still going to be ahead of the game.”

3. Make lemonade out of tough questions

If the interviewer wants to know, for example, why you’re applying for a lower-level job than you held previously, turn that point into a positive, Williams said.

A job seeker might say: “I’ve enjoyed my years as a manager. At this point in my career, I’ve found I really enjoy getting my hands into the projects myself.” Or, “I feel I can mentor younger people more effectively this way.”

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Where the jobs are for mature workers5.

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One Response to “ – 9 Tips to help jobseekers beat age bias”

  1. Jane

    Thanks! Great post!

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