If you are over 50 and looking for a new job, you have probably at times felt that your age goes against you. If you are over 40 and looking for a new job, you may have also discovered that potential employers can be ageist. Discrimination, while illegal, still exists and is hard to overcome. Too often, people don’t even realise they are ageist, sexist or racist.
Recruiters do make many cruel assumptions about job candidates. They tend to dismiss people under 25 years as not having enough experience and do not give people over 50 a look because they assume older people do not have enough energy. Another assumption is that over-50s are not tech savvy. They can’t download Apps, tweet, make videos or build websites. Hey, I can’t do any of those things but I know there are a lot of switched on over 50s who excel at that stuff.
Overcoming age is a challenge
How do you convince a potential recruiter that you are not too old – that you’re not past it? Let me tell you the truth, it is not easy to get over age bias but it is not impossible. Too many bosses have a picture in their mind of who they want to employ. They may have even decided they would prefer a woman to a man, or a particular age bracket.
Overcoming unconscious bias in someone’s mind is challenging because bias is deeply rooted in the human brain. Also in small companies people do not strictly adhere to the recruiting process of selecting someone against the best match to the job criteria. Instead they go on “gut instincts” and often pick someone they like on the day. Of course down the road they discover that the individual is not a great operator, but that is cold comfort to you, who has missed out on a great job!
Often employers look for ‘younger versions’ of themselves, and then search for facts on the person’s cv to justify their choice. I often think of the ‘Austin Powers’ movies and Dr Evil with his Mini-Me. Too often that is who the recruiter wants – a Mini-Me!
You need a smoking-hot CV and cover letter
We have established that age can work against you, that means you have to be brilliant in other areas. First your CV and cover letter must be nothing short of stunning. Make sure your capabilities and skills are strongly presented in your CV and cover letter. Do you know what managers tell me about the difference between men and women’s CVs? Men state outright that they have skills and talents, for example a man will claim, “I have outstanding interpersonal skills having managed relationships with all key stakeholders on the project over two years.” Meanwhile women tend to be more modest and their CVs read more like a list of tasks, rather than a list of talents. Women tend to write. “In terms of interpersonal skills, I managed relationships with all key stakeholders on the project over two years.” A woman is reluctant to come right out and say “I have outstanding interpersonal skills”, that is at least according to managers I know who review CVs!
My advice to you is to get some professional help to prepare your CV and cover letter, but don’t just contact the first company you find on the internet. If possible look at samples of their work online. It would also be good if you could ask someone else in your industry for advice on preparing a CV.
One thing you want to watch for is an overly long CV, and of course our employment history expands with age! Recruiters do not want to read a 10-page CV. You should not list a job you have had since high school. It’s too much and it advertises your age.
Your past employment history should only run for two pages and that may mean that reverse chronological format isn’t right for you. Instead, you could consider listing previous jobs under “Experience Highlights” so you can pick and choose the most relevant to this job. Focus on the jobs you have held in the past 10 years, and summarise the other positions into one liners at the bottom.
Your CV should have at the top, education, awards and a synopsis. Here you can pre-empt questions about yourself. For example, if you’ve been out of the workforce raising children, say how excited you are to get back to work and how you’ve kept your skills up to date (a short course). Keep it concise — two sentences max.
At the interview, state the advantages of your age
Once you are at the interview, the recruiter will notice you are older. Don’t do something silly, like dressing younger or applying too much make-up in the hope of losing those years. Instead you need to acknowledge your age and state how it will benefit the organisation. Say that you have a lot of experience, you have accumulated many skills over time and you are extremely dependable. I also recommend talking up your multimedia skills. Do not allow people to make the assumption that you are not tech savvy. By doing so you’re telling the employer that your value to the organisation is greater than their unconscious bias against your age.
Let them know how this job fits into your long-term career plans and how your experience gives you an advantage. Also be mindful that if you are downgrading jobs, interviewers might worry the job won’t be enough for you. Tell them why you want this role. Make sure you tell them why you like their company and why you want to work there. Put yourself in their shoes. You have two candidates. One candidate tells you they want the job because it is close to home, the other candidate says they want the job because they are inspired by the results the company is producing and believe in this work. Who are you going to hire? Again, explain why the organisation appeals to you. Research the organisation extensively prior to the interview. Also read about your potential boss on LinkedIn.
How to use your age as a positive not a negative
Basically you need to put the focus on what you can do, not what you are. Have lots of examples of your successes ready. You need to convince them that you are great value for money. You need to explain that you have a fantastic skill set.
I suggest again getting some professional advice to help you prepare for interviews or at least ask an industry friend if they could help you by asking you questions that may come up in the interview.
When speaking about your reliability, you can also say that you are in great physical health and talk about how you contributed to your previous team – when you went above and beyond duty. You might also want to tell your potential employer about new learnings. Employers too often assume that older people don’t upskill. To stay relevant to the job market, you do need to keep on learning and be prepared to speak about what you learnt recently and how you can use it at this organisation. Finally, persevere. You might get a dozen knockbacks but hang in there. Eventually someone will realise how brilliant you a