When we started our career paths what was of the biggest obstacles we faced? Experience. You’ve heard the catch-22 before. You can’t get a job because you lack experience but how can you get experience without a job?
Fast forward a few decades. After a successful career where you have amassed a load of experience, you suddenly find yourself on the job market again. All that experience…but, perhaps you’re too old for the position.
As the bulk of the workforce tips away from the Baby Boomers there are still millions of employable, highly experienced individuals who are closer to retirement than to their so-called “prime” years. This is also beginning to affect the Gen Xers who are approaching their 40’s.
According to the most recent statistics from the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate of those workers 25-54 years old was 3.3% with those in the 25-29 cell highest at 4.3%. This almost matches the unemployment rate of those 55-64 (2.9%) and 65+ (3.3%). The difference being that younger workers (aka Millennials) now outnumber older ones (Baby Boomers).
While discrimination on the basis of age is illegal, it is difficult to prove. It is even more difficult to spot as it can be embedded in how jobs are posted. It can also happen on an unconscious level as employers have certain assumptions about older workers. Like:
- Energy and stamina. A “fast-paced” work environment can imply that older workers cannot keep up.
- Tech savviness – This can be a legitimate concern as older workers are “digital immigrants” while younger ones are “digital natives”. The assumption here is that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
- Adaptability – Older workers can be perceived as “set in their ways.” This is a common misconception in the advertising world where companies target younger consumers because they have (supposedly) not made their final brand decisions.
- Money – Older workers cost more.
However, much like all stereotypes, painting with a broad brush ignores the individual.
Older workers bring so much to the table than “current” knowledge. They have experienced how work cultures thrive and grow. They understand
So, what can a so-called older worker do to combat some of these stereotypes?
- Stay current. Be proactive. Keep on the cutting edge of changes in your industry. Learn today’s jargon and be able to use it reflexively. Read articles. Take courses. Gain certifications. In other words – invest in yourself.
- Trim your profile. Focus on relevance and more recent experience. Things you did in the 80’s (or 70’s) may be a red flag to an employer even though they provide a solid foundation for what you bring to the table today.
- Be specific. Answer the job application with what you bring to the table right now. Generalizing is not always your friend.
- Focus on LinkedIn. Highlight your specific strengths. Get a current photo that matches what is generally seen on the site. Research what your peers are posting and find the best headlines that suit who you are and what you bring to the table.
Sports teams have figured out that a mix of wily veterans and up-and-coming youngsters is often the best combination for a winning franchise. How often have you heard a veteran player lauded for his “clubhouse presence”? This is where experience wins and where savvy employers search for the right building blocks for their team.
As with all job searchers – regardless of their age – it is their responsibility to prove their worth to a prospective employer. The sad reality is, unfortunately, that an older worker may have a few more obstacles placed in their path.