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Fighting Ageism: Eight Tips for a Successful Senior Job Search

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Ageism – bias against people based on age – has been called “the last acceptable prejudice.” Ageism rears its head in ways that are sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle, from jokes about “senior moments” to job descriptions that make it clear that older candidates need not apply.

If you’re planning to work after retirement, or you’re one of millions of older workers seeking a new job in a mixed economy, you may encounter ageism in your job search. If you do, you’ll need some helpful tips and strategies to make sure you’re well-prepared. In this recent Washington Post article on the subject, reporter Danielle Abril provides eight suggestions that can help you rise above the threat of ageism and find the job you want.

We noted that a few of these tips also apply to applicants who have to fight discrimination based on being too young. You might want to share these tips with a younger relative or friend. Perhaps you can learn from each other.

Fighting Ageism: Negative Impact Will Affect Everyone

Ageism, especially in the workplace, is both harmful and surprisingly common. The chances are good, according to Abril’s Washington Post report, that your age will be used against you at some point in your working life, whether as a younger worker or an older one.

“Sometime in your life, someone with decision-making power will size you up based on your age, and you will be negatively impacted,” says Michael North, an assistant professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, who studies ageism in the workplace. “Age discrimination seems to be the most socially condoned prejudice.”

Fighting Ageism: Finding Recourse is a Challenge

Despite the ubiquity of ageism in the workplace, folks looking for jobs and feeling left behind because of their age might find it difficult to get genuine help navigating their way around this potential injustice.

Abril writes, “It’s hard to know and prove whether age has played a role in the decision-making process — and if you think it might have, was it intentional or not? Additionally, not all workers are protected by laws that aim to prevent age discrimination in employment (federal laws, for example, protect people 40 and older). So what can you do to ensure your age won’t dampen your chances of landing your next job?”

According to workplace experts, the real solution is to fight against the narrative of negative age-based stereotypes. Abril provides the following ways to combat the age stigma while job hunting.

Fighting Ageism, Tip #1: Emphasize Flexibility, Teachability

Though there’s much hue and cry about generational differences, both younger and older job candidates face a similar stereotype: that they are unwilling to change, or have their own particular demands and refuse to budge. According to workplace experts, candidates can push back on this by demonstrating efforts they have made to learn new job skills, and by showing excitement at the prospect of picking up new skills in the future.

North explains, “That might mean enrolling in extra training courses, getting new certifications and highlighting them in your résumé or interview. Younger workers may need to show that they have taken proactive measures to learn new job skills they may lack. Older workers may want to show that they can keep up with fast-paced environments and various tech tools.”

Career coach and former top-level human resources executive Teresa Freeman adds, “Show your tech acumen and use of relevant apps for that role.”

Fighting Ageism, Tip #2: Behave with Respect

Whether you’re highly experienced or haven’t worked for very long at all, being a job candidate goes much smoother if you approach a company with respect for their unique DNA, according to experts.

North advises younger workers to make sure you’re paying tribute to the company’s history and previous success while expressing what you bring to the table. “Don’t go into every interview calling yourself a disrupter,” he says. “Not all older generations will be open to that.”

And for older workers, excitement, openness, and humility will all make you come across as younger and more energetic – and more hirable – to a potential interviewer.

Fighting Ageism, Tip #3: Emphasize Experience Over Years

When it comes to your years on the job, think quality and not quantity. Simply stating your number of years worked, says Abril, won’t necessarily impress anyone, and may even work against you if it plays into negative older-worker stereotypes.

Aaron Wallen, senior lecturer at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies, suggests removing dates from your résumé altogether, if you can. He says, “Removing dates from jobs and graduations on your résumé might not only help you avoid the stigma a human reviewer may make, but also from machines making automatic rejections.”

He adds, “If anartificial intelligence system has concluded that the most successful candidates are typically younger or older than you, that may be a factor in whether your résumé makes it out of the stack. If you don’t have to input this information, don’t volunteer it.”

In fact, phrases like “40-plus years of experience” may not be best, either. Instead, Abril suggests sticking to your skills and experiences. “If you lack experience in one area, show how your skills are transferable for this specific job,” she writes.

And if you’re worried about gaps in your employment, Freeman suggests not shying away from them, but “placing it in an executive summary section at the top of your resume. Quantify your previous work’s impact with numbers or qualify it by explaining how it affected the results.”

Fighting Ageism, Tip #4: Choose Your Words Carefully

Words matter, as we well know, and certain phrases do have a tendency to evoke age-based stereotypes. “Instead,” Abril writes, “candidates should think about the narrative they’re trying to create and refer to stories and accomplishments that support it.”

For older workers, Freeman suggests emphasizing action words and highlighting their energy, and their ability to innovate and stay current. Avoid phrases like, “You may not remember this,” “I’m old enough to be your parent” or “I may be dating myself,” which play into stigmas around older workers. Freeman adds, “Try to tell recent stories, and if you’re using one from decades ago, explain how it could apply to today’s work.”

Younger workers, she suggests, should stay away from trendy slang that older colleagues may not understand, or may not feel is appropriate.

Fighting Ageism, Tip #5: Don’t Pretend to be Someone You’re Not

“Be yourself” might seem like cheesy advice, but it’s a cliché for a reason: it works.

“One of the worst things you can do during your job hunt is try to be someone you’re not,” Wallen advises. (The practice is often called “catfishing” – creating a deceptive online identity.) He adds, “Don’t use decades-old headshots or those that have been heavily edited to make you look different. Wear professional attire, but don’t try to go outside your age group or adopt different slang to appear younger or older.”

Fighting Ageism, Tip #6: Build Rapport with Soft Skills

In the employment world, relationships really are key. So, whether it ends up being “successful” or not, using every interview as an opportunity build rapport can go a long way toward cultivating really valuable career relationships.

Freeman says that every interview “gives young people the chance to show off social skills, eye contact and preview how you might act in a collegial or client-facing interaction. And for both older and younger workers, a good interview may provide connections for other opportunities even if you don’t land the job. If you’re applying to multiple jobs, don’t let interview fatigue decrease your energy or preparation for the next.”

Fighting Ageism, Tip #7: Be Confident

Being confident is “a simple piece of advice but often hard to follow,” Abril notes. But when applying or interviewing for a job, it’s worthwhile to work at striking a balance between confidence and cockiness, especially since overconfidence is a stereotype faced by both older and younger workers. And younger workers may have to work a bit harder to combat the idea that they are self-centered and entitled.

“There’s a fine line between a know-it-all and demonstrating confidence,” Wallen says. “It’s the ability to show interest in the other and be authentic.”

Fighting Ageism, Tip #8: Seek feedback

Remaining teachable at every age is hugely beneficial, and one way to maintain that malleability is to seek feedback from people of various ages and industries during your job search.

Wallen says, “You can start by recording yourself answering questions to fix unintentional fidgets, bad posture, filler words or eye contact. Then broaden it to include mock interviews with others outside your age group who can give you their feedback. You may also want to have them review your résumé or cover letter.”

The more feedback you can get, the better, to make sure you’re not losing opportunities. Freeman’s words end the article: “If you have just your own voice and view without a gut check, you could be missing out.”

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(originally reported at

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