Archive for discrimination

Busting the Myths of Age in Your Interview

In my previous post, “Three Ways to Avoid Age Discrimination with Your Resume”, I discussed ways to tailor your resume so that employers would not assume you are too old for the job. Those techniques can improve your odds of landing an interview, but it does not completely erase the potential for age discrimination. Once you are face-to-face with a hiring manager, you can’t hide those gray hairs. You must prove to the hiring manager that you have the advantage of experience and NONE of the perceived disadvantages.

Employers fear three primary myths about older workers, and it is up to you to bust those myths in the interview:

  1. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” – Managers often believe that older workers are more set in their ways, and that only younger workers are comfortable learning new skills, particularly technology skills. Unfortunately, many of us DO know older workers who perpetuate that myth every time they say “Oh, my kids understand all that techie stuff, but I could never get the hang of it.” Dispel that myth in the interview by slipping in mention of the social networking sites you are active on, the blog you write, the web site you have created, or some other current technology you have recently learned to use. Be prepared with a recent example of how you quickly mastered a new technology, new process, or new certification.
  2. “Older workers aren’t comfortable taking orders from younger managers” – Prepare an example story of a strong, positive working relationship you have had with a much younger manager or co-worker.  Don’t talk about how you “showed them how it’s done”, but instead focus on the valuable perspectives and respect you exchanged and gained from each other.
  3. “Older workers won’t put in the long hours” – Let’s face it, many companies like hiring younger workers because they seem more ambitious, more energetic, and less encumbered with family commitments. It’s easier to expect them to work those 80-hour weeks. While I would not recommend signing on to a company where 80-hour weeks are the norm, you should let a potential employer know that you are ready, willing, and able to put in extra effort when the need arises. Come prepared with a recent story of a “crunch time” where you had to burn the midnight oil to get the job done.

One other caveat – be careful not to let the conversation inadvertently stray into areas that emphasize your age difference. For example, if the hiring manager talks about expecting a first child, don’t start talking about your grandchildren.

Once you have busted the myths of older workers, then you can emphasize some of the positive attributes – experience, maturity, perspective, and responsibility – that give you an advantage over the younger competition.  Your years of experience are valuable to an employer. Don’t let their myths keep them from seeing your full value.

Three Ways to Avoid Age Discrimination with Your Resume

Over the years, I have worked with many job seekers over the age of 40, who worry that employers will pass them over in favor of younger candidates. While I would love to say that age discrimination doesn’t happen, and that employers all highly value your years of experience, that unfortunately is not the case in the real world. All you have to do is count the grey-haired (or in some cases no-haired) heads at most job clubs to see that the over-40 job seekers are having longer, tougher job searches.

And even though age discrimination in hiring is illegal, it can be extremely difficult to prove in court. The more practical solution is to create a resume that makes it difficult for an employer to make assumptions about your age. That way, you at least have a better chance to land an interview and impress an employer with your qualifications in person. There are three things to do with your resume to reduce the chances of age discrimination:

  • Do not begin your resume by emphasizing your experience – I am amazed at the number of job seekers who worry about age discrimination, but nonetheless begin their resume summary with a phrase like “Veteran Operations Manager with over 30 years of experience in manufacturing …”. That practically screams to an employer “Look at how old I am! I should be retiring soon.”  If you have over ten years of experience in your field, just use the phrase “extensive experience” and leave it at that.  I have seen job postings that ask for “three years of experience”, or five, or even some that ask for as many as ten, but I have practically never seen a posting ask for more than ten years in any field.
  • Only cover the last 10-15 years of your work history – That is likely the only experience that is relevant to your employability anyway. Any skills you used more than 15 years ago, you have hopefully demonstrated at a higher level of competence in your more recent positions. Otherwise, if you haven’t used those skills in the last few years, you can’t credibly claim to still be competent at them. Note also that, even if you have been with the same employer for more than 15 years, you can still list each position within that employer as a separate job title, and only go back 10-15 years.
  • Do not list graduation dates – Employers almost can’t help but do the math when looking at a resume – look at the graduation date, subtract that from the current year, and add it to 22 (for college grads) or 18 (for high school), to guesstimate the applicant’s age. But no law requires you to list graduation dates on your resume. After you interview and have sold the employer on how great an employee you will be, then they can request that additional detail of graduation dates for any needed background checks.

Note that these tips only help ensure that you get the interview, and that your resume does not get screened out prematurely. There are more tips for fighting age discrimination in the interview, but that’s a topic for another column.