How to Beat Ageism and Get Hired

Ageism — age discrimination — in the job search is a reality that’s hitting both ends of the spectrum. As a job seeker, it’s pretty easy to fall prey to it (especially when you don’t get the job you’re after) if you don’t have the right attitude.

: Elderly employee leaving behind his younger colleagues

Can you guess which generation I’m describing?

  1. Old school. Stodgy. Unwilling to change.
  2. Lazy. Entitled. Selfish.
  3. Pessimistic. Disillusioned. Skeptical.

Unfortunately, stereotypes are pretty prevalent, and my guess is most of you had no problem identifying A as Baby Boomers, B as Millennials or C as Generation X.

Ageism — age discrimination — in the job search is a reality that’s hitting both ends of the spectrum. As a job seeker, it’s pretty easy to fall prey to it (especially when you don’t get the job you’re after) if you don’t have the right attitude.

A friend of mine — a young-looking 55 year-old — is coming up on the two-year anniversary of being in transition. He has had lots of interviews and been the second choice a couple times, so clearly he’s able to generate interest. However, when you ask him why he can’t seem to land the offer, he’ll tell you it’s because of his age.

Do you believe he’s right? I don’t.

You will experience ageism in your job search, but it’s not the cause of everything going wrong in your job search. Once you accept that it will be an obstacle you can’t control and change your focus to things you can control — your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, interviewing skills — you will no doubt land faster.

Avoid Looking Your Age on Paper

Whether it’s your LinkedIn profile, cover letter or resume, chances are hiring managers or recruiters will first meet you on paper (or online). A Millennial, GenXer or Baby Boomer “star” will either sizzle or fizzle with how they present themselves in writing.

Star Millennials will pounce on the opportunity to showcase their writing ability in their cover letter. It makes an impact because, unfortunately, most people don’t even bother writing one. It’s also a good way to debunk the myth that Millennials are only able to text and cannot write in complete sentences.

A star Millennial’s resume WILL NOT include the following:

  • Lists of tasks: Just because you’re a doer by the nature of a lower-level role, doesn’t mean you didn’t make an impact to your employer. What results did you help achieve?
  • Smugness: No jokes, irony, Millennial buzzwords or exaggerations. Just professional in tone and presentation.
  • Language errors and typos: “Your” and “you’re,” “there” and “their.” You get the point. No mistakes!
  • GPAs: Anyone that’s been out of school more than three years needs to scrap it from their resume.
  • Self-centered summaries: You need to focus on what you can do for the company, not what the company can do for you.

Gen Xers are in the middle of their careers — and in the middle of the workforce, so one strategy to take in your cover letter is to indicate how you serve as a bridge between Millennials and Baby Boomers. It can appeal to a hiring manager who may be older or younger than you.

When it comes to your resume, Gen Xers should quantify achievements with numbers and results. Many members of this generation have had managerial experience, so it’s great to highlight any organizational results here as well. A star Gen Xer’s resume WILL NOT include:

  • Overdone, meaningless cliché’s: “Results-oriented,” “passionate” and “guru” should be deleted.
  • Basic technical skills: Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint are assumed skills and should be left off the resume.
  • References: “References Available Upon Request” should be left off because it’s assumed and having it there, just dates you.

When it comes to a star Baby Boomer’s cover letter, clearly illustrate how you’re willing to embrace new things and how you can help mentor younger employees. Highlight your unique qualifications and recent accomplishments (not from 10+ years ago). You might even tackle difficult issues here — things like resume gaps or why you’re coming back to a corporate environment after running your own business.

A star Baby Boomer’s resume WILL NOT include:

  • Volumes of your life story: Keep it under two pages at the most, focusing on your most recent 10 to 15 years. Anything prior to this can be included in a summary paragraph with dates left out.
  • TMI: Every single job you’ve had does not need to be clearly described and listed. Only relevant ones to the position you’re offering.
  • Descriptions of outdated skills: Outdated technology and skills should be simply documented as part of a job.

Avoid Appearing Your Age in Person

Now that we’ve got you looking good on paper, the next step is to look good in person – the interview. According to a survey of 2000 bosses, 33 percent claimed that they know within the first 90 seconds of an interview whether they will hire someone. That means first impressions really count.

Author: Michelle Robin

The toughest marketing challenge of all is marketing you, and the purpose of this blog is to help marketing superstars, like you, conquer that challenge and excel in your career.

Passionate about direct marketing and helping people find jobs, Michelle Robin has translated her extensive B-to-B marketing background into a career focused on her true love: creating powerful career marketing documents that lead to interviews at her clients’ target organizations. As Chief Career Brand Officer at Brand Your Career, she works with executive-level sales and marketing professionals across the U.S., and helps them discover their personal brand and fast track their job search.

An award-winning and dual-certified resume writer (NCRW and PARW), Michelle’s work has been published in the book, Modernize Your Resume: Get Noticed...Get Hired.

Need help discovering your personal brand? Download Michelle’s free Personal Branding Workbook. Just launching your job search? Get 26 action-packed tips to accelerate your marketing job search. You can also connect with Michelle on Twitter, LinkedIn, or email.

6 thoughts on “How to Beat Ageism and Get Hired”

  1. At age 59 I moved to Fort Lauderdale. Still 8-10 years from retirement, I needed a full-time job. As a Baby Boomer, I shortened my resume to the last 15 years, but even so, I had 5 positions listed. My only choice, I felt, was to emphasize my versatility. I’ve done it all, adapted to technologies, know the ropes. It took three months, but I was hired because the hiring manager recognized that I could back up every other worker on her staff.

  2. Good advice, Michelle. I was on the job-hunting trail at 55 and then again in my early 60s. I believe “Demonstrate Your Energy” is very good advice but I want to expand on it: SHOW your energy in the job interview. I’m talking about speaking energetically, using hand and arm movements for emphasis and — if the opportunity arises — even rise from your chair to make a point. Like it or not, your job in the interview is to prove beyond a doubt you’re not a tired old man/woman looking to sunset his/her career at the interviewing company’s expense.

    1. Love it, Gle2n! Body language has a ton of influence on how you’re perceived. I would also suggest viewing Amy Cuddy’s TED talk to for some other tips to boost your confidence and energy before an interview.

  3. Very helpful article. My take as a boomer (age 55) is that once you get to 50+, you should really be thinking about going out on your own. I can’t think of anything more depressing than being 50+ pounding the pavement for a “job” (remember JOB stands for “just over broke”…). I realize that not everyone believes they can do this or wants to do this but I think it’s essential.

    Another thing to consider when companies are looking at hiring has less to do with the qualifications of boomers but more with the “costs” of a boomer. Specifically around health insurance costs. Boomers are seen as “expensive” while younger workers less so. The irony here is that workers of child bearing ages can be very expensive for a company once they start having children.

    I’m employed in a sales job now but came about via a long time contact who needed a sales person. I was in the right place at the right time and it is an area where I wanted to improve and it’s an industry that’s growing.

    But overall my take is that boomers should try to exit jobs and enter consulting or other pursuits to make a living as opposed to trying to win jobs from hiring managers that are barely older than my 20 something children 🙂

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I love your acronym for JOB.

      The costs of hiring to me is relative. I think Boomers can get a company where it wants to go, faster because they already know a lot about what works and what doesn’t. They don’t waste time experimenting. To me that is worth the investment in hiring a Boomer. Get the company where they want to go faster, and it’s a positive return on investment.

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