Ageism is a serious issue that we often see and hear in the workplace that I really want to address. I’ve heard candidates tell me that they sometimes feel too young or underqualified for roles that they know that they can step into. However, most of the time I encounter job seekers in their 50’s and 60’s concerned that they’ll be overlooked because of their age. If you fall on either side of this spectrum, you can read along with today’s article while I break down strategies and tips to help combat or overcome ageism. Or you can watch the video below!
How to Overcome Ageism in the Workplace
Why Does Workplace Ageism Exist?
Typically, concerns within ageism can involve a candidate’s:
- Affordability. if you are going in for a role where you’re bringing over 20 years of experience, but they’re looking for somebody who maybe has three years of experience, the salary expectations are going to be drastically different.
- Experience compared to others on the team. Unfortunately, with hiring, a lot of individual bias comes into play. You may have a hiring manager who feels threatened by you due to their own biases. Due to your wealth of experience and knowledge, they may worry about looking like they’re inexperienced or underqualified for the role that they’re in.
- Ability to keep up and adapt to technology. You might come across some hiring managers who have faulty judgment around whether or not you’re able to keep up with technology or maintain their expected pace of growth.
These are just generalizations of what typically happens when ageism is a part of the hiring process. But on the brighter side, when you are aware of these various obstacles, you can position yourself to combat those objections right off the bat.
The Employer/Employee Relationship is a Two-Way Street
I cannot emphasize the importance of understanding that the employer and employee relationship is a two-way street. If you ever come across anyone with these biases, they probably feel threatened or intimidated. It is better to avoid these types of employers to begin with. You’re much better off finding an employer that respects you as much as you respect them. Believe that you will find the right employer who will see you as a person who adds value and brings a wealth of information and experience. It is so liberating to believe that an opportunity closely aligned with what you’re seeking is out there for you.
Setting aside optimism, let’s talk about job seekers who are legitimately facing ageism and have not gotten as many interviews. I’ve examined the job search process of those who I’ve worked with and dug into what they’re trying to aim for or align themselves to. What I found, more often than not, is that these people started to lower their standards and expectations because they weren’t getting successful interviews or offers. For instance, I had a client who was previously a department director but was now aiming for manager positions to cast a wider net. In this case, I always ask these questions when I’m working with these type of clients:
Where are you currently at?
What are you truly qualified for?
What is an acceptable role for you that will elevate your career versus bring you further back in your career?
Employers Don’t Want to Hire an Overqualified Candidate
Many job seekers grow frustrated by being told that they are overqualified for roles. However, I want to emphasize that this is a valid reason not to be hired! A lot of employers are not willing to hire somebody who’s overqualified for a role for several understandable reasons. First off, an overqualified employee is more likely to grow bored, unsatisfied, and unchallenged. Their previous role could have required more responsibility, presented more complex problems to solve, or involved more team members to manage – just to name a few examples. Next, an overqualified employee is more likely to jump ship when the next right opportunity comes along. If the role isn’t right for them, they’ll always be looking for another role or at least considering it in the back of their head. Their long-term plans probably don’t involve staying in a role that they are overqualified for. Finally, an overqualified candidate may be too expensive for the position. These circumstances show that being overqualified poses to be a true concern. Candidates need to reorient themselves to where they actually need to be in their career in order to feel fulfilled and challenged at the same time.
The client I set as an example earlier eventually landed a job. We worked together for two months and targeted VP roles. We crafted everything from his narrative, to his personal brand, resume, and LinkedIn. We brought out the message he was trying to evoke and started getting a lot of interviews and offers. When he came to me, he was applying to management roles, but he ended up accepting a VP position within two months after job searching for a year without any results or success. Everything boils down to how you’re orienting yourself and how you’re positioning yourself to get to where you actually want to be in your career.
Let Go of Past Experiences
Another big mistake I see a lot of job seekers make when they are going through their job search is that they’re really afraid to let go of their past experiences. They end up having multiple-page resumes outlining everything they’ve done over the past decades. But the most recent things you’ve done or at least what you’ve done for the past ten years would be much more relevant for recruiters. There can be caveats to this when sometimes it is helpful to emphasize something you’ve done in the past, but in general, your resume shouldn’t be about highlighting everything that you’ve done. Share more about your recent successes while highlighting specifically what you’ve done in the past decade that has aligned you towards that one position that you think is the right fit for you.
One of the questions I often get is, “Do I need to include my graduation year on my resume?”. The answer to that is no. If you are only focused on the past 10 years of work experience, but you graduated before then, you do not need to put your graduation date unless it’s serving a certain purpose. But generally, employers just want to know what kind of degree you have and what university you’ve attended.
Highlight Only What’s Relevant to Your Target Role
During an interview, it’s critically important to position yourself as the candidate that is the best fit for the position, regardless of your age. Think about how to align yourself to the role and demonstrate that you understand exactly what this role entails. Let them feel that this is the perfect position for you, and show what you can do for the organization. This advice might not be for those who feel underqualified such as people who are going for a management role, but never really had management experience. But what’s really important to demonstrate is the fact that you are ready for this next management opportunity. Showcase all the things that you’ve been doing to learn about leadership or your efforts to gain that experience towards being a natural leader in all of the organizations that you’ve joined in the past.
There are always ways to align yourself with the position. Take as an example someone in a senior leadership role, but now wanting to be an individual contributor. It’s important to share and showcase that you understand this is a senior individual contributor role, and that’s actually perfect for you at this time in your life because of XYZ. And at the same time, you’re going to bring a lot of value to the employer because you can bring forth all of these levels of expertise and knowledge and experience that you have acquired throughout the years. So again, it’s all about just aligning yourself. What is it that the company is looking for? Where are you at? How do you meet them in the middle so that they can understand why you’re applying to this position and why you believe it’s a perfect fit for you.
If you can do these things, you will combat objections for anything that revolves around age. Unless again, they have bias and prejudice – which if that’s the case, trust me when I say you’re dodging a bullet. Have you experienced ageism in the workplace? Let me know in the comments below!