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7 Key Strategies for Overcoming Age Bias in Your Job Search

Overcoming Age Bias in the Job Market

Strategies for “Older” Job Seekers to Land an Interview

Are you worried about, or have you ever experienced, age bias when looking for a job?

At some point in your career, you may start to wonder if the lack of interviews is due to age discrimination. Age discrimination or bias refers to prejudice individuals may face during the hiring process due to their age. While ‘too old’ is a relative term, it typically refers to job seekers aged 40+.

Although a lot of recruiters deny they consciously discriminate based on age, there does seem to be plenty of anecdotal and statistical smoke to the fire.

A recent study by career training non-profit organization Generation, for example, discovered that anywhere between 40% - 70% of long-term unemployed professionals (out of work for >1 year) are aged 45 and older.

Another study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco tested the response to 40,000 dummy job applications. Despite similar qualifications, resumes representing those aged 64-65 got 35% fewer callbacks than those aged 29-31.

What does age bias look like in the recruitment process?

Age discrimination in the workplace is not directly based on one’s age as such, but rather the perceived cons of hiring someone of a certain age.

This attitude is a hangover from a time when people tended to stay at the same company for the long-term (if not for life). If an organization was going to invest in someone, they wanted to ensure a long term ROI. The older the hire, the less ROI in theory.

However, we still see this attitude playing out today, despite job hopping every 2-3 years is quite common.

Age discrimination is most prevalent during the resume assessment stage, when the recruiter is looking for ideal candidates. It can also happen during the interview stage as well, especially when making a final decision about which candidate to offer the job to.

But first, if we want to tackle these perceptions, we must first look at the reasons for age bias through a recruiter’s eyes:

Stereotypes and assumptions: There are widespread stereotypes and assumptions about ‘older workers’, such as being less adaptable to change, resistant to new technologies, or lacking energy and ambition. These biases can lead recruiters to overlook or undervalue the skills and experiences that more seasoned candidates bring to the table

Perception of productivity and potential: Some employers may believe that younger candidates are more productive or have greater potential for growth and development compared to older peers. This bias can lead to a preference for younger candidates, particularly for positions requiring long-term commitment or career progression

Cultural emphasis on youthfulness: Society often places a strong emphasis on youthfulness, associating it with vitality, innovation, and modernity. As such, older candidates may be seen as less desirable, even though they may possess the extensive knowledge, expertise, and stability the company needs

Cost considerations: Hiring managers may perceive older workers as being more expensive due to higher salary expectations, increased benefits, or potential healthcare costs. This financial concern can influence recruitment decisions, favoring younger candidates who are often viewed as more cost-effective

Technological proficiency: The rapid pace of technical innovations can create a perception that older individuals may struggle to adapt to new tools and platforms (we’ve all got our favorite joke about a parent or grandparent and their lack of technical skills). This assumption can lead to age bias, particularly in industries that heavily rely on technology or digital skills

Workplace dynamics and team cohesion: Some hiring managers may believe that older candidates may not integrate as well into a predominantly young workforce or might have difficulties collaborating with younger colleagues. This perception can therefore lead to age bias, favoring younger candidates who are seen as a better social and cultural fit for the team

Unconscious bias: Recruiters, like all individuals, can possess unconscious biases based on age. These may lead to unintentional discrimination during the recruitment process, where older candidates are systematically disadvantaged due to implicit assumptions or preferences

7 tips for job seekers to protect themselves against age bias

1 Remove earlier experiences from your resume

These days, resumes tend to focus on specific areas of someone’s expertise, particular as career pivots are so common. Older workers can take advantage of this trend to lop off earlier experiences, thus placing emphasis on more recent experiences. This gives the impression of a ‘younger’ job seeker, while not detracting in any way from your actual experience. A good rule of thumb is to go back no further than 10-15 years (and you can safely remove job descriptions for jobs going back 7-10 years, if you’ve held a few roles in that period).

2 Remove graduation years from any degrees or professional qualifications

What’s important here is the knowledge you gained, not when. It’s common practice to remove the graduation year to avoid the qualification (and thus the individual) becoming dated in the hiring company’s eyes.

3 Don’t mention your marital or parental status in your resume or cover letter

This one goes almost without saying, but in many countries these days it’s highly advised to not mention your marital or parental status in your application documents. Although anti-discrimination legislation can be fairly robust, it is still a good idea to avoid potential discrimination related to age, gender, family status, sexual orientation, and so on by not referring to these in your resume or cover letter (unless it’s specifically related to the job).

4 Update your job title

Occasionally, we may have outdated job titles in our resume. For example, Y2K Technician (an IT person involved in upgrading computer software ahead of the Year 2000 bug). These can be age giveaways. Instead, modernize the title to avoid any potential discrimination (e.g. Software Programmer).

5 Use an ATS-friendly resume template

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have become hugely common in recruitment over the past 15 years. These tend to favor a clean, simple, single-column resume style to avoid parsing errors. Younger job seekers seem more aware of these than older job seekers, hence why the latter may use an older resume style and attract potential age bias. While creative resumes are also becoming popular, these aren’t always ATS-friendly (and not everyone has good taste in template style). We recommend avoiding these as well.

6 Use a modern font

Unless you’re in academia or publishing, Times New Roman screams 1990s. Stick with a clean, modern font such as Calibri or Arial to avoid giving an old-fashioned impression.

7 Remove obsolete knowledge from your resume

This one’s self-explanatory. While you may have been brilliant at Microsoft FrontPage or Lotus Notes, including obsolete skills in your resume will instantly date your resume. Check your listed technology and other skills and remove anything that is no longer used.

While it’s not always possible to avoid age discrimination when you’re looking for a job, there are several things you can do to minimize it (although, it might be argued that a company which discriminates against you based on age is a major red flag, and is doing you a favor if they do show bias towards your application).

Key Takeaways

  • Age bias is where ‘older’ workers (generally, those aged 40+) are unfavorably considered in the recruitment process compared to younger workers.
  • Age discrimination is often based on outdated stereotypes and assumptions from a time when people worked for the same company for life, and were seen through the lens of long-term ROI.
  • Age bias in the recruitment process can be conscious or unconscious. Recruiters may not even be aware that they’re doing it.
  • While it’s not possible to avoid age bias entirely, there are several tactics you can use to minimize it in your application. For example, remove earlier experience (>10-15 years) and graduation years, don’t mention family status, give modern job titles, use an ATS-friendly style and modern font, and don’t include obsolete skills.
  • If you choose not to adapt your application to avoid age discrimination, some job seekers deliberately use this as a red flag screening too: if a company discriminates, the job seeker avoids working for a company that participates in these practices.

Video: Overcoming Age Bias in Your Job Search: 7 Key Strategies

Are you feeling sidelined in your job search due to age bias?

You’re not alone. Despite denials from hiring managers, evidence of age discrimination in recruitment is hard to ignore. This video dives deep into the reality of age bias in hiring, exposing the stereotypes and assumptions that unfairly judge candidates based on age. From the myth that older workers can’t adapt to technology, to the misconception that younger candidates are inherently more productive, we uncover the truth behind age discrimination and offer practical, actionable strategies to combat it.

Whether you’re perceived as too old or too young, our 7 strategies will empower you to tailor your resume, adjust your application, and present your experience in a way that transcends age. We’ll guide you through modernizing your job titles, choosing the right template and fonts for your resume, and eliminating outdated skills to make your application stand out for the right reasons.

Age bias in the job market is a challenge, but it’s one you can overcome with the right approach. Implementing these strategies not only enhances your job search but also helps you identify companies that value diversity and experience over stereotypes. If you encounter age discrimination, remember, it’s a reflection of the company’s values, not your worth.

For more insights, tips and strategies related to this topic, be sure to read our other articles: Cracking the Code of ATS - 10 Tips to Optimize Your Resume & 13 Powerful Strategies to Fight Age Bias During Job Application

Related questions

How can older job seekers effectively use social media and online platforms to enhance their job search?

Older job seekers should first ensure their profiles on sites like LinkedIn are up-to-date, showcasing their professional experiences, skills, and accomplishments. Engaging with content related to their industry, sharing insightful articles, and participating in relevant discussions can demonstrate an active involvement in their field. Creating content that reflects their expertise and perspectives on current developments can further establish their thought leadership and digital savviness.

What specific steps can older professionals take to negotiate salary and benefits?

To negotiate salary and benefits, older professionals should research standard compensation for their role in their industry and region. Emphasizing experience, skills, and results can counteract biases employers might have. Practicing negotiation conversations with mentors or peers can also boost confidence, allowing them to articulate their value proposition more effectively during actual discussions.

What industries are the least likely to practice ageism?

Sectors like consultancy, education, and certain areas of healthcare value experience and maturity, making them less affected by age bias. Job seekers can consider pivoting towards these areas where their experience offers an advantage. Networking, attending workshops, and engaging in volunteer work can provide a pathway into a new career while minimizing the impact of age bias.

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