"I'm 58 years old, out of work… and I'm not ready or financially able to retire. My age is really making it difficult to find a job," laments a job hunter.
Sound familiar? An AARP June poll reveals that more than 25 percent of Massachusetts residents age 50 and older report that they or someone they know has experienced age discrimination. Despite the fact that it is illegal, it is nonetheless very real.
As an older worker, you can't eliminate age discrimination. But you can learn what lies behind it and take steps to differentiate yourself from stereotypes. By doing so, you increase your chances of receiving serious consideration. Here's how:
1. There is a natural inclination to believe that older workers aren't up-to-date with their skill sets. Tip: Don't be stuck in the past, and keep up-to-date with all things in your field. Show off recent training courses, certifications, or other credentials. If you aren't up to speed in your area of expertise, understand that employer rejection may be about your knowledge and skill sets, not your physical age. You can't go back to being 28, but you can continue to learn no matter how old you are. Also, be sure to delete references to outdated resources like DOS and WordPerfect 5.0 from your resume.
2. Younger managers may feel awkward hiring people who are about as old as their parents. Tip: Be aware of the unstated messages you convey. Imagine a 30-something hiring manager reading your resume that begins, "Twenty-eight years of experience doing X." You may intend to show longstanding experience and expertise. But the resume reader may imagine you saying, like a parent might: "I've been doing this since you were in diapers." If you don't want to call attention to your age, don't lead with age-related language. Instead, start with something like: "In my most recent role at Widget Company, I provided value by doing A, B, and C."
3. Hiring authorities fear that older workers are slowing down. Tip: Remain active, and show it. A Personal Interest resume section that references significant physical activity displays that you remain energetic and in shape. Community volunteerism and participation is another way to display that you do more than just what's expected.
4. Resume readers focus on what you have done for the last eight to 12 years. Tip: Remember that the purpose of a resume is to demonstrate your skills and relevant work experience. You don't need to list every job going back to the lemonade stand that you put in front of your house when you were age 5. It is perfectly reasonable to limit your resume to positions dating back 10 to 15 years, provided that you include this line: "Details of prior professional experience available upon request." This way, you acknowledge a longer history honestly, but recognize that you aren't relying on things you did early in your career to land a job today.
Get rid of your functional resume that focuses on skills rather than providing a chronological description of your professional path. Employers have figured out that older workers use them to obscure their age. Resume readers legitimately need to learn what you did quickly, along with where and when you did it. When you don't provide dates, you wave a red flag and invite the reader to conclude that you are both evasive and old. Provide the facts in an easy-to-follow format, which will lead to the inevitable conclusion: "This person is the answer to our needs."
Remember: Reality is what it is. If you're 58, Botox isn't likely to make anyone see you as 32. Nonetheless, you do have the power to fashion your image as an energetic, with-it person. And when you do, you level the playing field between yourself and your younger competition.
Arnie Fertig is the head coach of JOBHUNTERCOACH.COM, where he utilizes his extensive background in HR Staffing and as owner of a recruiting company to help mid-career job-hunters land their next job. Arnie provides one-to-one coaching services to individuals throughout the U.S. in all aspects of the job hunt, including: resume writing, personal branding, utilizing social media, enhancing networking skills, preparing for interviews, and negotiating compensation.