Racial and gender discrimination are rightfully under examination at many workplaces, as employers strive for diversity in hiring. However, another bias is impacting companies as well: ageism. Job seekers of every age are encountering obstacles due to the pandemic, and more seasoned professionals, those over the age of 50, are not immune, according to one workplace authority.
“The traditional retirement age is a thing of the past. Many older workers, whether driven by the desire to work or the need for health care coverage, opt to stay in the labor force. Job seekers in this age bracket run into biases that keep them from landing positions for which they are not only qualified, but in which they would greatly benefit the company,” said Andrew Challenger, Senior Vice President of global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.
There are about 73 million Baby Boomers in the U.S. – people born between 1946 and 1964, who are now between the ages of 56 and 74. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20% of Americans over the age of 65 were employed or actively looking for employment in 2019. Two decades earlier, it was less than 12%.
According to The New School’s Retirement Equity Lab, nearly 5 million older workers lost their jobs between March and June. Many may never return to the working world – 2.4 million left the labor force entirely (which is 7% of all workers ages 55-70). The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that the youngest workers (21 to 30 years old) and the oldest (over 60) saw the largest employment declines in the first two months of the recession.
Younger workers have seen their employment recover more significantly between late April and late June. Workers between the ages of 21 and 60 have an employment level that is about 10 percentage points below February’s numbers, according to the Bureau of Economic Research, while workers over 60 have an employment level that is 15 percentage points below February.
“Job opportunities have dried up, just as they have for all workers. Plus, older people face the added disadvantage that they are more at risk for severe illness should they contract COVID-19, so they are voluntarily not going to work if it is too risky,” said Challenger.
“This can be economically devastating for members of this group. It can lead to financial hardship for many, forcing older people to begin receiving Social Security benefits earlier or depleting savings, 401(k)s, and/or IRAs,” he added.
Those determined to find new work opportunities also encounter ageism, even though it has been 53 years since the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) went into effect, enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The National Bureau of Economic Research reports workers over age 40 are about half as likely to get a job offer as younger workers if their age is known.
“Although discrimination because of a person’s age is, of course, illegal, it is widespread across many industries,” said Challenger. “Many of these people have been let go or forced into retirement, although it can be difficult to prove that the reason was their age.”
“Often unfairly, older workers are thought to be burdens because they demand higher salaries, or they haven’t kept up with new technology, or they will be bored taking a lesser role than their previous positions,” said Challenger. “These are untrue most of the time, but the onus is on the workers to prove otherwise.”
Challenger suggests the following ideas for older job seekers:
- Update your resume. Be sure your resume is up to date, but emphasizes the accomplishments you achieved in your most recent positions. Do not go into great detail about things you did more than 10 or 15 years ago. Those experiences will seem irrelevant. Let your expertise shine, but trim the resume to keep it to two or three pages. Consider leaving off your earliest positions if they are no longer relevant or if they give away your age.
- Acknowledge the truth. Never be untruthful about how old you are, and don’t apologize for it. Be confident and have a positive attitude about all you have to offer. Your age reflects years of valuable experience that can translate into impactful contributions to a company.
- Stay current. Make sure technology has not passed you by. Do you know what software is being used in your field? Are you comfortable using video platforms for interviews or meetings? If not, learn. Take courses. Seek out tutoring. Practice. Gain new credentials and list them on your resume. Read job descriptions to find out what employers are seeking. Get a new personal, professional email address (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org versus ChessAce1@aol.com).
- Embrace LinkedIn. Once you update your resume, be sure to put the same information on your LinkedIn profile. Learn how to use LinkedIn to network and to learn about job opportunities. Add a professional headshot.
- Be active on social media. Your social media presence will be checked by recruiters and potential employers. What image are you portraying? Being active on social media shows you are current. This is a way to market your brand. You may be “older,” but if your online presence shows you as active, vibrant, and healthy (cycling on Facebook, running a 5K on Instagram), it helps counteract any preconceived negative notions of how “older” is defined.
- Check your attitude. Even if you have to stifle it, do not come across as annoyed by being interviewed by someone half your age. Do not be condescending. Do not be a know-it-all.
- Leverage your expertise. Let it be known that you have a lot to offer. Stress your finest qualities when you are lucky enough to get an interview. Describe them in a cover letter. Anticipate what others might be thinking. Explain what appeals to you about the role to counteract being considered overqualified for it. Discuss how you have mentored many younger colleagues along the way to suggest how you will contribute to the workplace. Emphasize that you can be more flexible in your work schedule than, say, someone with childcare demands. Stress your proudest accomplishments – using metrics when possible. Offer examples that best illustrate your innovative character.
- Network. Reach out to those who know and admire you. They know how much you have to offer. They don’t think of you as over the hill. Let them help spread the word that you are ready, willing, and able to find a new role.
- Be open. Consider startups that may not appeal to younger people looking for more stability. Explore positions that may offer less money and a lower title than in your past. Think about safer roles during the pandemic, such as jobs you can do online from your home. Send out lots of resumes and applications, and then send more.
“It may take longer to find a job, especially in the current environment. People have to combat frustration with the process,” said Challenger. “Employers should be willing to consider older job candidates and not dismiss them outright. They can offer valuable experience and expertise to an organization.”