When Rex was laid off at age 58, he wasn’t too worried at first. After all, over his career he had earned valuable skills. He had become a Senior Event Marketer and had 40+ years of experience to his name.
It was only a few months into his job search that he began to worry a bit. He applied to 25 positions that he was highly qualified for. The result: only three interviews and zero offers. Although it wasn’t ever explicitly said, Rex suspected discrimination based on his age could be contributing to his disappointing performance.
According to the age discrimination act, Rex should be protected from, “discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms.” But, as many older workers know, this act is hardly enforceable.
Luckily, Rex was a journalist in a past life. So, he took his journalistic skills and began researching what age discrimination was all about and how he could overcome.
What he discovered was shocking, but also helped him to overcome the ageism barrier. In this post, we’ll share what Rex recommends to older workers looking to get hired and how to fight age discrimination in your job search.
Four Ageism Examples & Mistakes
The first thing that Rex did to uncover why his job applications were failing was to contact the recruiter at his previous company and ask him for feedback on his resume.
The recruiter said: “Lose the bullet points about having 40 years’ experience. Delete the work experiences from the 1980’s and 90’s. Drop the year you graduated from the University of Michigan. Oh, and the AOL.com email… it has to go. Nobody uses AOL anymore, get a Gmail account.”
Rex hung up the phone feeling downright deflated. He was proud of his history…all 40 years of it. He changed nothing and continued to apply for more jobs thinking that there must be companies that will hire someone with his level of experience. Several months and applications later, Rex reconsidered whether he needed to make a change.
He spent time learning more about how to overcome the external – and more importantly – the internal challenges an older worker faces. Here’s what he learned.
- “I have 25+ years’ Experience”
Regardless of your age, it’s easy to think “more is better.” When it comes to getting hired as an older worker, however, this isn’t necessarily the case. Experience is only valuable in some situations; in other situations, it can actually be detrimental.
Even if it’s not your intention, it can still create the perception that you don’t have humility. Your experience may be valuable, but not everyone’s is. Employers have been burned by workers with both too little experience and too much experience, so they’re not necessarily going to look at your experience as a positive by default.
It’s up to you to prove that your experience is valuable. Not by just saying you have it, but by demonstrating it through metrics. This is where the old adage, “show, don’t tell,” is very accurate.
- Most Recruiters are young, speak their Language
A common mistake that MANY job seekers make regardless of their age, is that they don’t think about who is interviewing them.
The fact is that most recruiters are young. This can cause discrimination based on age inadvertently if you don’t think about the recruiter’s perspective. They may have unconscious biases about older workers, so, if you want to get past this first gatekeeper, it’s important to remove any clues from your resume that tip them off about your age.
- The date you graduated college
- Old email addresses such as “aol.com”
- Work experience prior to 2000
Another thing to keep in mind is that according to studies, a recruiter spends between 6-30 seconds reviewing your resume before putting you in the “yes” or “no” pile. This means that if your resume is over 800 words long, it may get overlooked simply because of the amount of time it will take them to review it.
For entry-level job seekers, we recommend keeping your resume between 350-500 words. For highly experienced workers we recommend extending that word count to 450-800 words.
IMPORTANT: This rule is not set in stone. But, if you’re wondering if your resume is the right length, you can use our Resume Grader to check things like word count, bullet points, and skills to make sure you’re on the right track.
Take your resume even one step further and create a “Career Snapshot” to showcase your best experience in an infographic format.
- The Few Spoil It for the Many
Specifically, regarding hiring, age discrimination causes good candidates to be thrown out with the bad. The trick for the older job seeker is to NOT exhibit the common red flags that signal negative qualities of older workers.
Rex defies these stereotypes in very specific ways. For example, after he was laid off in June of 2020, he earned an on-line social media certification to demonstrate his dedication to continuing education. He did this because older workers are often viewed as having obsolete skills and resistant to learning modern practices.
Challenge yourself to learn something new and it will impress a recruiter more than “25 years of experience” ever will.
- Play to Your Strengths Not to the Masses
Perhaps the most common mistake that older job seekers make is to apply to jobs that they’re overqualified for. It’s understandable why people do this.
Jobs are like a pyramid: There is an abundance of entry-level, low-paying jobs. The middle-layer is perhaps the best because there are a good number of well-paying jobs.
The highest-level jobs, however, are few and far between.
In many cases, what older workers experience as discrimination based on age is simply discrimination based on experience. If a company is looking for someone with 5-10 years of experience, you can still apply if you have 3 years’ experience or 12 years’ experience. But, if you have 25+ years’ experience, you’ll be wasting your time sending in that application.
Companies hire older workers, but they hire them for roles that they’re qualified for. Many job seekers overlook that when a company scopes out a role they’re taking salary + benefits into account.
For example, a company looking for someone with 5-10 years’ experience might have a budget of $70,000 for salary and another $10,000 for benefits. If you’re an older worker, even if you’re willing to accept $70,000 in salary, you’ll still probably cost the company $20,000+ in benefits, even if you’re perfectly healthy!
Companies make hiring decisions based on return on investment (ROI). In other words, what value does this particular person bring to this role and is that greater than the amount it costs the company? Even if you bring tons of value, if someone can bring similar value at less cost, the company will pick them simply because it makes better financial sense.
So, what are some ways to increase your perceived ROI as an older worker?
5 Ways to Improve your Job Application if You’re a 50+ Year Old Job Seeker
There are several ways to increase your chances of landing a job if you’re an older worker. The first, and most important, is to only apply to jobs that you’re qualified for.
Like we mentioned above, fewer senior-level jobs exist in the marketplace, so it’s absolutely crucial to make sure your skills are in line with the job, and that your resume is dialed in before you apply.
1. Use an Achievements-Based Resume
An achievements-based resume is structured to show your achievements rather than the roles you’ve done. You can see an example of this in career coach Matt Warzel’s video here. Building a Career Snapshot also often uncovers particularly useful metrics that you can use to build into your resume.
2. Condense Multiple Jobs into One
A great way to shorten your resume is by condensing your jobs. Most recruiters don’t care to see your 7+ roles, they want to see what you actually achieved. By condensing roles, you can show off your best achievements all in one place. In our “Bullet Point” module of our resume course we show you how to do this in a live resume editing session.
3. Remove Old Work Experience
This is applicable to any job seeker, but especially to older workers. Remember that a recruiter will spend an average of 6-30 seconds looking at your resume. Make sure that they’re looking at only your most relevant roles. You should remove any roles that aren’t 100% related to the current job you’re applying for. In general, we recommend having no more than 3 roles per resume.
4. Get Help from Professional Career Coaches
Most people ask for resume help from their friends and family. While this may help, in many cases it can be a mixed bag of advice. Just because something worked for your friend, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Professional career coaches have the valuable experience of working with hundreds or even thousands of job seekers, so they’ll be able to give you true best practices.
5. Take Time to Learn Best Practices
Searching for a job is a job in itself. If you haven’t applied to jobs in a while, it’s a good idea to brush up on the latest best practices. Our Accelerated Resume Course condenses the most important best practices into just a couple days of study and it has even helped job seekers up to age 61 land their dream jobs.
Final Thoughts on Age Discrimination
Discrimination based on age is a very real experience. But the fact is that many companies DO hire older workers all the time. The trick to overcoming age discrimination is keeping an open mind and adapting to the new hiring systems that exist.
The reality of age discrimination is just that … a reality. It’s not going to go away, and complaining about it won’t help.
What will help is adapting to how you approach the job hunt. First, always consider your audience. Eliminate the red flags that a younger hiring manager might react negatively to, delete the year you graduated from college or university. Strip out the years of jobs you’re listing if those jobs are pre-2000. Take control and most importantly, don’t give up!
Bogdan Zlatkov is the Founder of GrowthHackYourCareer.com and has taught thousands of smart job seekers how to optimize their resumes, reach “All-Star” status with their LinkedIn profiles, and how to ace their interviews to land their next job faster. Before starting GHYC, Bogdan was a Content Manager at LinkedIn Learning and the author of, “The Ultimate Guide to Job Hunting,” ranked #1 on Google. To accelerate your next job search, visit GrowthHackYourCareer.com