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How to Avoid Age Discrimination in the Job Search

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Nearly half of all baby boomers say they’ve experienced age discrimination, and new evidence indicates they’re probably right. Some employers begin filtering out candidates who are 40 years and older based on the language that’s used in job listings. For example, they might use phrases in a job description—like “digital native” and “high-energy”—that discourage older candidates from applying.

The most common type of age discrimination experienced by older workers surveyed by AARP is not getting hired. Therefore, when you’re applying for a new job, you should have a plan to get ahead of age discrimination. Here are several ways you can do that before and during an interview. 

12 Tips for Avoiding Ageism in the Job Search

1. Overhaul Your Resume

It’s a good idea to keep your resume down to one or two pages, and only include the last 10 years of relevant work experience. Highlight your computer skills and keep them up-to-date. Mention the types of software you use, and ensure that these applications are still the industry standard. If you find that newer programs are becoming more popular, consider enrolling in an online course or take a class to brush up your skills.

2. Share Your Digital Portfolio

Next, add links to your resume that direct the reader to your social media accounts. It’s perfectly acceptable to only include links to your LinkedIn profile and no other platform—but if you’re active on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook and use those accounts to promote your work, you might want to consider adding links to those pages as well. In this case, make sure your privacy settings are set to “public,” so the hiring manager can view the content there.

Job search3. Manage Your Online Reputation

Before you make your social media accounts public, look at the pages from an employer’s perspective. Do your accounts project a positive first impression and focus on your professional image? Your online presence should reflect your expertise and engagement within the industry—otherwise, they won’t add value to your job application. Screen your online presence for anything controversial or offensive and remove it. You should also use a search engine to review the webpages that are associated with your name.

4. Select an Engaging Profile Image

When you’re selecting a profile image, use a professional-looking headshot. It’s okay to use an earlier photo of yourself, as long as the attire, hairstyle, and photo processing look modern. The goal at this point is to get your foot in the door—you don’t need to choose a photo that accurately represents how you look on an average day. Don’t lie about your age, but you also don’t have to disclose how old you are in your application materials or online presence. 

5. Don’t Overshare

If you aren’t active on social media (posting at least once a week), or if your social media accounts aren’t relevant to your career, then leave that information off your resume. There’s no reason to distract from other points that are more relevant to your candidacy. But even if you don’t include that information on your application, you should still review your online presence and make those settings public. According to a 2018 study, up to 70% of employers use social media to screen job applicants.

6. Counter Myths About Aging

To counter the myth that older people aren’t tech-savvy, make sure it’s apparent that you are. In addition to including your LinkedIn profile on your resume, try referring to the employer’s online presence during the interview. For example, mention an interesting post you found on the employer’s Twitter feed. This insight demonstrates that you’ve invested time into researching the company and also know where to find information about the company’s user interactions.

7. Demonstrate Your Collaborative Nature

Sometimes a hiring manager won’t offer the job to an older individual because they believe they’re overqualified. If this could be the case for the role you’re applying to, address their concerns. Make it clear that you’re receptive to feedback, even if it comes from people with less professional experience than you. Cultivate a sense of curiosity and keep an open mind.

8. Be Passionate About Your Work

According to a 2015 study by Aon Hewitt, workers over the age of 55 are more engaged than younger employees. Employee engagement translates into increased productivity, reduced employee turnover, and fewer unplanned PTO days. Show that you’re passionate and engaged with your work by communicating your excitement about the subject material during the interview. Research the company and their mission, deliver a presentation on what you will do to support the business, and then follow up with a thank-you note and additional resources for the company, like a link to a relevant article.

9. Set Clear Expectations

Be upfront about your expectations for the position. If you’re applying to a lateral role or stepping down from a job with a higher title, explain your motivation for seeking employment with a new company. Do you want more scheduling flexibility, for example, and are you willing to trade in a higher salary for more vacation days? Sometimes hiring managers are worried about offering competitive compensation for an experienced employee. Talk about your priorities, but try to avoid discussing specific salary expectations until you receive an offer—you don’t want to undersell your value.

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10. Look for Unconventional Opportunities

Some workers avoid age discrimination by making a career change. Moving into a new industry can sidestep the compensation issue. It makes sense to employers that someone with less experience in a particular field will work for less—which counters the perception that older, more experienced workers demand higher salaries.

11. Take Advantage of Contract Work

You can also explore consulting or contract work. Many older workers pursue this route because there seems to be less discrimination in the part-time, temporary, project-based, and seasonal job hiring arenas.  

12. Consider Working for a Non-Profit

Smaller organizations and nonprofits typically operate with a lean staff. They depend on an employee to be a jack-of-all-trades. Often, this level of expertise only comes with experience—which is a selling point for most job seekers who are more advanced in their careers. 

Identifying the Right Job Opportunities

Don’t buy into stereotypes about aging. You have a lot to bring to the table, and there’s no substitute for firsthand experience. With the right strategies and an optimistic approach, you’ll find an opportunity that matches your professional caliber and interests. 

For help narrowing your job search, look at Ivy Exec’s curated job board. We’ve included thousands of updated job listings that are hand-selected for mid- to senior-level professionals, from senior executives to directors and managing consultants. We also publish employee reviews for consulting firms across the country and internationally, and organize those results into an employer ranking each year.


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About the Author

Jessica Rohloff is a freelance writer and marketing strategist who helps companies reach their target audience with quality content. Her work has been published in Alaska Business Monthly, TripSavvy, and Bus and Motorcoach News. For consulting inquiries, please contact her via LinkedIn.