Part of a new series on Helping Professionals Over 50 Thrive
If you follow my Forbes blog, you know that I’ve written over 150 posts around careers, job search, leadership, networking, women’s professional issues and more. One issue that I find extremely hard to nail down and address effectively, however, is age bias. We all know it exists, and many (dare I say virtually all) of us over 50 have faced it head on. The critical question isn’t “Is there age bias?” but “How should I handle it when I experience it?’
For this series, I’ve reached out to a number of fellow experts and contributors on Forbes and beyond to help me tackle this critical, yet elusive issue. Today’s post features the insights of Kerry Hannon, who is AARP’s jobs expert, and award-winning author of What’s Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond. Kerry has spent more than 25 years covering all aspects of personal finance, career transitions and retirement for the nation’s leading media companies, including Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today. Her latest book is Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy…and Pays the Bills.
Kerry shares her take on age bias and how to address it.
Kathy Caprino: Kerry, how rampant do you think age bias and age discrimination are today in preventing job seekers over 50 from being hired?
Kerry Hannon: Age discrimination is alive and well in the workplace. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. And it’s not just younger bosses and hiring managers who are discriminating. Those in the 50-plus set discriminate against their peers as well. It’s a tricky thing to prove, of course. And it’s still taboo to discuss openly. But it lurks. I’ve heard so many stories of workers over 50 sitting down for an interview and just getting that gut feeling that the person interviewing them is not really listening to what they have to offer, but rather seeing their expiration date.
Some stats you might find interesting:
According to the EEOC, age discrimination complaints have risen from 15,785 in 1997 to 21,396 in 2013, the date of the most recent statistics.
People in each age group from 40 up see discrimination against other workers or job seekers their age. Nearly half of job seekers blame age discrimination as the reason they were not hired. (AARP: 2013 Ahead of the Curve.)
And, of course, while the unemployment rate for the aged 55 and older population was down to 4.4 percent earlier this summer, the average duration of unemployment for those 55+ was 48.1 weeks vs 28.5 weeks for those under age 55.
Caprino: What is the best, straight-talking advice you can give to people who are legitimately facing age bias and can’t get work?
Hannon: Here’s the real deal: What worries employers about hiring older workers is this:
1. They worry that you aren’t up for the job. You don’t have the stamina.
Tip: My best advice is to get physically fit. When you’re fit, you exude the energy, positive attitude, and enthusiasm to demonstrate that’s not the case. People want to be around you. And you look better. Sure, if Botox or dying your hair make you feel more confident, go for it. But, in my opinion, when you are in shape and eat healthy, it goes a long way to showing you have what it takes stamina-wise to handle a new job. I’m not talking about running a super-fast mile or bench pressing your weight, but a fitness regime, be it walking or swimming a few times a week, can work magic.
2. They worry that you aren’t up to speed with technology.
Look at yourself honestly. You may be out of step. You can’t afford to be a luddite – passive and resisting where technology is taking the world.
Tip: Sign up for classes at the community college near you, workshops at local libraries, tap your nieces, nephews, grandkids, the 20-something who lives down the street and ask for their help. I love calling my 16-year old niece with quickie questions. Make sure you have any computer-oriented certifications required for the job you’re applying for. Look at the job descriptions. Do you have the tech skills necessary? Can you add them via a certification/workshop at a community college or industry association?
If you have a great, up-to-date LinkedIn profile and are active in LinkedIn groups, and are visible on Facebook, Twitter, etc. it shows that you are comfortable with social media. This is non-negotiable these days. Paper resumes aren’t passé exactly, but your online resume is truly your calling card. An employer will check you out online immediately. They want to know all about your social media footprint.
3. They worry you are set in your ways and won’t be willing to try new ways of doing things.
4. They worry you won’t play nicely with younger workers.
5. They are concerned you want too much money and would be insulted by a lower salary than you had in your last job.
These are all issues you can address in your interview and through your actions and behaviors, with examples of why these concerns aren’t relevant. There is no one-size fits all solution to these last three worries; it will differ from one person to the next. I advise workers to think these through challenges and come up with their own, authentic way to address these employer fears. Develop a strategy to fight back. It is rough out there, but there are ways you can rise above it. It takes persistence and courage, but you can do it.
Caprino: What are the best and most important tools and resources people can turn to when they feel that the age factor is preventing them from gaining employment?
Hannon: Age discrimination is terribly hard to prove. The best resources are within yourself. Get the training you need. Look great. Check out smaller businesses and nonprofits that tend to value the experience and know-how that comes with age. They want grown-ups in the workplace. A hoodie can’t step in and do the job right now that an older worker typically can.
Plus, employers love the loyalty and ‘been there’ calm you bring to the workplace. They also know they benefit from the extensive network that an older worker can bring to the job. There is simply not as much ramping up necessary. And when an employer is short staffed, they will opt for the proven vs. the green worker.
Get involved with LinkedIn. Network with everyone you know. Skip the big jobs boards. Employers hire people they know or people whom their colleagues and peers know. You can find all sorts of connections online via Facebook, LinkedIn, who know you and can make introductions to get you in the door for an interview. Get out and go to alumni gatherings, industry group functions.
Get your mojo on. Be proactive. Don’t sit home and wait for the phone to ring. Go and do something. Blasting resumes out online is tough sledding when it comes to finding a job when you’re over 50. It really does come down to the personal touch.
I always advise unemployed older workers to volunteer. You never know who you might meet, and it keeps your resume alive. You can frame it up on your resume and in interviews by giving it a business-oriented spin – that you served as a project manager, fundraiser etc. And often, if it’s a nonprofit that speaks to your heart, you just might volunteer your way to a job. It happens all the time. They get a chance to check you out, and you can check them out.
Caprino: When does it make sense to stop looking for corporate work, and explore other avenues (solopreneurship, private practice, consulting, etc.)
Hannon: This kind of work is really the future for the 50-plus worker. Not everyone has the temperament or motivation, or is in a field that lends itself to being in business for oneself, but it works for me and many others I know who are 50-plus. For many workers over 50, frustrated with the roadblocks to a full-time job, this is increasingly the default. But it takes some time to get up to speed and build a client base, and certainly you need to have savings or a partner who is still working who can provide ballast (and health insurance perhaps) while you start off on your own.
That said, consulting and part-time work is a great way to stay in the game if you’re looking for a permanent position. You might string these together and find you make more than you ever did in-house with one employer. Or again, it could lead to a full-time position.
Kathy Caprino Contributor