Managing Age Discrimination

It’s not at all unusual to see written or hear oral descriptions from job seekers giving their pitch for why they should be hired with phrases like, “…with over thirty years experience in…”, “…over two decades of dedicated service in…”, or “I am a Systems and Network Administrator with over 25+ years.” Naturally, these references to long-term experience devoted to a particular career are meant to convey expertise, commitment, and reliability. There is also a strong dose of pride in being able to make the claim that one’s chosen career has been focused on building significant levels of knowledge and talent. The mature diligent career oriented worker deserves to feel esteemed for such an undertaking. Unfortunately, these claims of longevity can be job search killers for the older workforce cohort. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that age discrimination does exist. And announcing that you are relatively old does place you at a disadvantage when it comes to career or job shifting later in life.

The stumbling block of age discrimination comes at a particularly inconvenient time. Part of the recessionary fall-out is that older workers are having to delay full-time retirement. And even without the down economy this generation of workers have come to believe that leveraging honed skills over many years would better position them for encore careers of their choice. For many, the choice is staying with what work you have or finding something else. Not surprisingly, many, including older workers, have been laid-off or have had their workloads increased to make up for those who were recently laid-off. The decision-making and negotiating power they thought they would have at this time of life is not there.

Yes, there does exist the federal Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) designed to protect workers aged 40+ from discrimination in hiring and other employment related situations in workplaces with at least twenty employees. Many states have laws covering discrimination in workplaces with fewer than twenty employees. Specifically, the ADEA:

– Prohibits job advertising from mentioning age.

– Prevents age limits from being set for training & development programs.

– Restricts retaliation against workers filing violation claims.

– Prohibits employers from forcing early retirements. But is not too difficult for the company who wants to shun older workers from doing so. Job descriptions can be written in ways that are within the letter of the law, but which include items that make it difficult for the older worker to comply.

So, why does this age discrimination exist? In a way it seems counterintuitive to discriminate against the older worker. It’s not hard to identify advantages to having more mature employees. They tend to have a proven work ethic, aren’t as concerned about work/life balance such as younger workers are, and have deeper levels of wisdom and expertise. From the point of view of younger recruiters and hiring managers, however older workers conjure some unflattering images like:

– old school thinking and lacking innovation

– working at a slower pace

– more costly in salaries and benefits

– not having future long-term viability

– not as tech savvy

The list goes on. It’s enough to make the plus 50 workers’ blood boil. I can hear them saying, “We’ve earned the right to be hired! We’ve paid our dues!”

Nevertheless, if you’re older and looking for work you need to update the resume, write new cover letters, and refine the way in which you describe your value to hiring personnel. So face facts. You may have earned respect, but you haven’t earned that new position any more than any else has. You still have to make the case for why you are the best candidate. If you’re truly at the top of your game, then show it in your value proposition. Know what that company is looking for and convince them that you are their guy or gal. They are going to be looking for the greatest value at the lower cost. Present yourself with that in mind. Resting on past laurels won’t get you that new job. Attaining it will.

William W. Ryan is a Concord, New Hampshire based career consultant specializing in customized career coaching, resume and cover letter writing, and personality assessments.

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