Are You to Old to Hire?
Job seekers – all job seekers – have, or at least believe they have, some vulnerability that they feel gets in the way of their ability to get hired. Under qualified, over qualified, too old, too young, too ugly, too pretty, wrong color, wrong name, wrong town – the list goes on. And when the market gets a bit tighter, and searches get longer, a vulnerability feels like it will crush their job search.
The approach I have found works best is a bit different depending on the situation, but it works pretty well:
Understand that bias is at play for all candidates for any job. Yours might be age, for others it is lack of experience. Just understand what yours is and have a strategy to overcome it – in resumes and interviews.
Resumes serve primarily to get applicants screened out. Clean out the bias factors. Two pages is all that is needed for most resumes. There are exceptions but most resumes have far too much information. This means that resumes need to be targeted towards the desired job and do the best to work around your particular vulnerability. For older applicants, the most common error I see is a resume that is a full work history that has a lot of information that screams “irrelevant”. No need to put, year of college graduation or old certifications that so are outdated they belong in technology museums or simply do not apply. The same goes for personal information such as having married children or membership in the “Ancient Mariners Club”. Also, skip the oldest jobs if they are not relevant to the required position. If you think they might be relevant, lump them into a simple “Previous Positions Held” with no dates. Another hint, if your skills are rusty, take a class to close the gap. Even if you are not finished, put it in the resume and indicate your are “Currently Enrolled”
In interviews, think about framing your answers to address the bias. The classic issue with age bias is being interviewed by your potential manager or peer who is younger than you. The issue almost is never about experience or knowledge. The issue is about motivation and fit. The solution is to talk about bosses and peers you have worked for in the past that were younger then you and how well that relationship worked. If that has never occurred because your company did not have any younger people, talk about your preference to work in an organization where there is an infusion of new ideas. Talk about the need to have diversity of opinion to challenge old approaches as well as team commitment once decisions are made. Talk about how over the years how you have discovered the importance of supporting the boss to members of upper management. Sometimes I hear career counselors encourage older applicants to “act energetic” in interviews. This is risky as it can come across as frantic. The funniest story one client told me about age bias was when a young interviewer expressed concern that the applicant was too old for the job. As soon as the interviewer said it he realized it was a mistake. The applicants response, “Tell you what, I won’t hold age against you if you don’t hold it against me.”
Understand that biases and prejudices are desperate attempts by hiring managers to shortcut the selection process. Applying criteria such as age and appearance to the selection process are poor predictors of actual employee performance. Job seekers must take these potential biases into account and we all have them. If you don’t get the job, move on.
Finally, if you rely only on throwing resumes at published jobs, you are seriously limiting your opportunities. Most jobs (and the better jobs) are never published. A search that also targets the hidden job market is a must for the older worker, particularly someone trying to get out of a dying industry or just get a competitive edge.