I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that age discrimination has become much sneakier than in the past. No one comes out and says, “We’re not hiring you because you’re too old.” Instead, discrimination is subtle and equally damaging. Ageism
“She seems set in her ways.”
“I’m not sure he can work for a 37 year old.”
“What would she have in common with a group of 20-somethings.”
“Why would we want someone who would be taking a step backward in their career? When the market picks up won’t they be looking for greener pastures?”
And, I know the speech about how federal law requires that firms use bona fide occupational qualifications as their criteria for evaluating people. Yet, in the trenches of the interview, how can you ever prove that you were discriminated against? After all, who is your competition, and who’s to say that their skills and experience don’t better fit an employer’s needs?
The four examples I’ve offered are pretty easy to defuse if you remember that no one is ever going to ask you, “So I’m 37 and you’re 58, is it? How do you feel about working for a younger manager?” You just have to put yourself in their seat for a moment and think as they do.
Did you submit a resume that shows you as a director or manager of a function when they were looking for a staff person? Why you would accept a lesser job is left unanswered unless you do so in the email you send with the resume (or cover letter if you use another submittal medium)? For example, a director has not done the duties performed by one of his managers for many years. How do you meet the needs of the employer? Why are you qualified? Answer that with the resume; don’t expect to get that opportunity at the interview. You may not get that far.
Can you work for someone (much) younger than you? The question implied is whether you would have authority issues with a younger manager. Answer: After you’ve had an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the role being interviewed for, proactively, comment something along the lines of, “This may not be a question in your mind, but I would like to dispel it if it is. You may look at me and wonder whether I can take direction from someone younger than me. Let me say that I’ve worked in organizations where younger workers had trouble taking direction from their older managers so I understand how destructive a bad attitude can be. I want to assure you that if I ever have a question about a decision you make that I’ll ask you about it personally.”
Are you flexible or rigid in your thinking? Some workers, young or old, are inflexible. Yet older workers carry that label because we associate older people with inflexibility in the culture at large. Again, being proactive is the key to diffusing bias. “Joining a new company is like moving to a new country. Everyone is different; the ways things are done or responded to are often different. There’s a new language to learn. I’ve stepped into new jobs and new roles on several previous occasions and been able to learn the lay of the land and meet or surpass objectives.”
What would you have in common with a bunch of 20somethings? They are suggesting to you that they are afraid that there might be a cultural mismatch between you, the mother or father figure, and the rebellious children. “What is the group like? (Your eyes light up as they tell you about the team.) “Wow, sounds terrific! Who are the natural leaders of the group? Are you concerned that I’m going to act like a know it all, act like their father (or mother) and try to put out their creativity or just not be willing to go for drinks with them?” By putting everything on the table for discussion in a non-confrontational way you have an opportunity to get the interviewer to share concerns and respond to them with a smile and an answer.
Success in any interview involves placing yourself in the employer’s chair and addressing the tangible and intangible concerns about you and your experience. If you take time to prepare for questions related to your age and your ability to fit, I am confident that you will get better results on your interviews.
Some other tips for overcoming discrimination:
- Dress in outfits that are appropriate for your age and industry. An accountant should dress differently than someone working in fashion.
- Get a good sleep the night before. We’re all busy. Don’t put yourself in a position where you are physically tired throughout an interview.
3; Put a smile on your face and a twinkle in your eyes when you meet each person.
Just because snow appears in your hair or beard doesn’t mean that you are less talented or less able than a 20-something. It does mean that you have had experiences and (hopefully) learned from them.
Be conscious of age bias and sell your personality against the stereotype. More good opportunities will be available to you.
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1900 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.
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