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Defeat Ageism at Work

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Want to stay employed once you’re over 40? Then you can’t afford to seem dated.

We may want to believe age discrimination doesn’t exist, but it does. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 21,396 age-related claims in 2013.

The good news: People over age 45 are doing pretty well at holding onto their jobs. With their unemployment rate at 4.6%, they are actually faring better than 25 to 34-year-olds, whose unemployment rate is now 6.7%. Unfortunately, when people over 50 lose their jobs, they are more likely to join the long-term unemployed than younger people.

One reason is failing to adapt. “It’s a revolutionary workplace. The world that existed a few years ago isn’t the world that exists now,” says Ira S. Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions, which does pre-employment testing of job applicants for employers, and author of the books Perfect Labor Storm 2.0 and Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization.

So how do you insulate yourself from obsolescence if you do happen to be old enough to remember the day the Beatles broke up? Dressing like an urban lumberjack or going for the Katy Perry look obviously won’t help you avoid that fate. Nor will using a 10-year-old LinkedIn photo if you’re job hunting.

Here are some strategies for showing you’re current, without resorting to plastic surgery, subjecting yourself to office ribbing or making the people around you cringe.

Get tech help on your own time.

Don’t cast millennial colleagues in the the role of your personal tech tutor, even if they do know more about Twitter or the office scanner than you do. Doing so puts you in the same camp as their parents.

If the company asks you to learn a new technology and you’re stumped, block out some time that evening to figure it out in the privacy of your home. Sites like WyzAnt offer tutors who can help you if you’re struggling. Or ask a local design or tech school to point you to tutors you can hire. Showing you can dive into a new technology immediately—and aren’t clinging to ways of doing your job that are going extinct—tells your bosses you’re not sweating the digital age.

In most fields, “there are many people that have the knowledge and experience to do the job, but if you aren’t comfortable with tech, you’re a dinosaur,” says Wolfe.

Remind them (subtly) of your energy.

If someone asks about your weekend and you happened to go on a 50-mile bike ride, mention it, like one Boomer executive I know. Or schedule some of your workouts at lunchtime or right after closing time—and bring your gear to work. That (fresh) gym bag in the corner of your office delivers a clear message: I can make it to midnight.

Use a crib sheet.

Content aggregators like Buzzfeed may not be filled with the articles you normally read, but skimming the home page once in a while is a good way to keep in touch with pop culture. Just resist the temptation to start forwarding stories like “Which Orange Is The New Black Inmate Are You?” to any office buddies. It’s worse than sending them ringtones.

About the Author

Elaine Pofeldt is an independent journalist who specializes in writing about entrepreneurship and careers. She was a senior editor for Fortune Small Business magazine, and her work has appeared in Fortune, Money,, Inc. and Crain's New York Business, among others.