Helping Clients Overcome Ageism in Their Job Search
By Amy Geffen
Now more than ever, older workers are changing careers, taking on part-time jobs or starting their own business after retirement. These Baby Boomers are prone to continue working instead of retiring. They know they will live longer and need to find purpose and meaning for the rest of their lives. If your older clients joined the Great Resignation in 2020, or have been laid off, and are wanting to be employed now, they may be experiencing ageism or bias because of their age.
Why Ageism is an Issue
Older workers (ages 40-65) have been stereotyped with negative characteristics that hinder the ability to work, such as
- no longer professionally up to date
- unable to learn new things
- struggle with technology
- uncomfortable working with or for younger employees
- loss of creativity.
Some employers perceive older workers are unaffordable because their salary demands are higher than younger workers. These concerns result in age bias in the job search process.
Ways to Address to Ageism in the Job Search
Career professionals working with older clients can address ageism through advocacy and focusing on strengths (Dara, 2020). Kenneth Lang, LinkedIn trainer and expert, suggests that older job seekers should “acknowledge ageism exists and control what they can” (Kelly, 2020, para. 8). He suggests coaching clients to use LinkedIn with a current headshot and an email address with a professionally accepted domain (i.e., not aol.com or yahoo.com).
Career coach Linda Trignano acknowledges that age discrimination is alive and well. “The pandemic has made it even more difficult for the experienced individual to land that new job” (Kelly, 2020, para. 13). To counter this, Trignano states, “My top suggestion is to get really good at talking about how your skills match the hiring manager's needs, to increase your chances of getting hired” (Kelly, 2020, para.13).
Employers are looking to hire candidates who have the most experience and up-to-date skills for as little money as possible. There are multiple strategies career professionals can employ to help clients present themselves as the most suitable candidate for a job.
1. Update Technology Knowledge and Express Learning Agility – Coach your clients to take responsibility for learning new technologies or computer applications that relate to their field of endeavor. They may need to take an online course or a short course at their local community college in order to stay current. Coach your clients to include in their resume and job interviews examples of how they have been maintaining their professional development by reading trade journals, attending events or conferences, or taking courses from experts in their field. Be sure to help them include any courses they take in their resume, even if they are currently in the middle of the course.
When the job seeker mentions their ability to learn new things, it helps to overcome an employer’s assumption that people of a certain age are incapable of learning new things, adjusting to different circumstances, or “going with the flow.” Job seekers should not give the employer any reason to think older workers are set in their ways and cannot change.
2. Demonstrate Experience Working with or for Younger Colleagues - Employers may mistakenly think older workers are uncomfortable working with or for younger employees. Help your clients prepare examples of how they worked with younger team members on a particular project or reported to a younger supervisor. If they do not already have a positive outlook about working with or reporting to younger colleagues, help them see it as a positive factor.
Jack Kelly, executive recruiter, suggests explaining in the interview an openness to working with different generations, using wording such as,
I also understand that my manager and peers may be substantially younger than myself. I love it, as I will be able to learn so much from this vibrant group of people. I’d be honored to help mentor all of your smart, high-achieving employees and share some of my experiences—if they’d be interested in hearing them.” (Kelly, 2020, para. 4)
3. Show Innovative Thinking - Employers may feel that older workers lack the ability to develop new ideas or be creative. Encourage your clients to think about how they have solved problems in the past. Have they produced a new process, or a different approach to solving a problem? Being ready with accomplishment stories may prevent the employer from assuming the older worker lacks innovation.
4. Prepare for Salary Negotiation - Employers sometimes want to hire younger workers because the younger worker is assumed to have lower salary requirements. Employers need to realize that older workers tend to have more to offer in terms of experience, skills, maturity, responsibility, and crisis management. Career professionals can instruct clients to find out what the employer is looking for beyond the job description and show they can offer more than what is required. This may help position them to earn a higher salary or a bigger bonus, by increasing the employer’s comfort level with paying more.
Jack Kelly suggests practicing negotiation conversation with clients by saying, “I’m open to the compensation. I can assure you that I won’t be a flight risk if a better offer comes around. I’m the type of person that sticks to my commitment and word” (Kelly, 2020, para. 4).
5. Focus on Accomplishments vs. Responsibilities - Bob McIntosh, a LinkedIn trainer and career coach, urges older job seekers to forget their age and focus on accomplishments instead of job responsibilities.
Accomplishments illustrate that a worker can get things done and take initiative. “Talk about leadership, dependability, recent accomplishments, your 6-minute mile” (Kelly, 2020, para. 12). Help your clients tailor the resume to each job they apply for. Older job seekers should heavily highlight results and only focus on the past 15 years. McIntosh suggests that job seekers concentrate on the last ten to fifteen years of their experience instead of listing their entire job history because work that was performed more than 15 years ago may not be relevant today. McIntosh adds that for those who have worked at the same place for a long time, the software and procedures have changed considerably, therefore the job seeker may want to share how their accomplishments have grown as things changed.
Combating Ageism with Empowerment
Career professionals who emphasize to their older clients the need to illustrate their skills and experiences with specific accomplishments throughout the job search process can address negative stereotypes. This strategy includes the cover letter, resume, and interview, giving specific examples of how the job seeker has learned new things, worked with younger colleagues, and is keeping up-to-date with technology and industry knowledge. To combat ageism, clients need help to show how they bring more to the employer than a younger, less experienced candidate. Your key objective as a coach is to empower older clients to show themselves in the best light possible and focus on what they can control.
Kelly, J. (2020, October 5). Career coaches advise on how to fight back against ageism. Forbes.Com.
Dara, A. (2021). No 1 Piece of Advice I Give My Clients on Ageism. (2021, September). I’m a career coach — this is the no. 1 piece of advice i give my clients on beating ageism. Fairygodboss. https://fairygodboss.com/articles/im-a-career-coach--this-is-the-no-1-piece-of-advice-i-give-my-clients-on-beating-ageism
Amy Geffen, PhD, is a career coach, trainer, educator, and author. She brings to her practice over thirty years of experience in such industries as finance, engineering, higher education, risk management, health, non-profit organizations, and associations. She has a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College, a master’s degree from Harvard University and a PhD from New York University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.