I’ve recently seen an uplift in the number of people who say they are experiencing ageism in their job search. To further understand people’s perception of this, I conducted a LinkedIn poll. In it I asked: “To what extent do you think companies consider a candidate's age in the hiring process?”.
Here is how 6954 people answered:
- Age is a big consideration – 40%
- Age might factor in sometimes – 48%
- Companies don't care about age – 12%
Clearly, a person’s age plays a big part when they are applying for jobs and this is experienced at both ends of the spectrum. Younger candidates are frustrated as they are perceived as not having enough experience and older candidates are frustrated as they are perceived to have too much experience. It can feel like unless you are in the optimum age bracket, no-one wants to hire you and it is undoubtedly harder for job seekers who find themselves at the extreme ends of their working life.
In this blog, I want to explore this issue to understand it further. I think it’s important to do this and to go beyond the statement:
“I’m not getting hired because of ageism.”
1. It’s an oversimplification. Ageism covers a wide variety of things and by not defining it further, it’s not clear what actions you can actually take. If you don’t break the issue down into definable parts, it becomes an impossible obstacle to tackle.
2. It’s unlikely to always be the case. Whilst I don’t deny some employers and hiring practices are ageist, I think it can be unhelpful to assume it’s always ageism. Not all companies are ageist, and not all ageist companies are ageist all the time. I think it is more helpful to assume the best intentions until proven otherwise and to ensure you have accurately identified the issue.
3. It takes away your power. If the problem lies totally at the feet of the system, there is nothing you can realistically do. You can spend all your energy fighting or lamenting the current state of things, but they are unlikely to change in the time you need them to. Yes, acknowledge that ageism exists, but be careful that the narrative you are telling doesn’t paralyse you into inaction.
So how should you approach ageism in your job search?
Firstly, I think it’s important to define exactly what you are facing and I believe that most situations fall into one of two categories:
Category 1: Hiring decisions based on age alone
Imagine that there are multiple candidates who all have the same skills, abilities and pay expectations. However, the employer selects a candidate based on a preference for a certain age. Perhaps the candidate they didn’t select is actually better for the role, but it was their age alone that prevented the company extending an offer. As I see it, this is clear and true ageism.
Category 2: Hiring decisions based on preferences for certain skills or attributes that are more prevalent in distinct age groups
In this situation, the company has a legitimate need for a particular type of person, and generally speaking, the attributes they are looking for are widely found within a specific age range. The company may not be against hiring someone outside this age range if they meet the other specifications they are looking for. However, candidates outside the typical age range either don’t have the right skills/experience or aren’t successfully demonstrating they meet the employers’ needs.
Depending on what category you believe you are experiencing, there are different approaches you might want to adopt.
First, let’s consider category 1
The first question you should ask yourself is ‘do you want to work for a company or industry that doesn’t value you for who you are?’. If the company is totally biased in their hiring practices and has a clear preference for hiring within a certain age range, is this the organisation you want to align yourself with? Are you going to be able to enjoy long-term success in such an organisation? Yes, you might be able to get through some stages of the hiring process, but at some point, your age will be evident. If the company is truly ageist, is it worth the effort?
It’s important to establish this and face it head on. There might be a better path for you that you haven’t yet considered. One, where you can bring all of who you are and be valued for that. Take time and consider what that might look like and what those options are. Most of us work for money and some of us, because we enjoy work or need the experience. Whatever the reasons, consider if there are other means to achieve your goal beyond employment with a company. When we move our focus from ‘I need someone to employ me’ to ‘I need to figure out how to generate income’ or ‘I need to find something that stimulates me and that I enjoy’, the available options to us multiply. Consider all the options available to you before deciding to invest your time and energy fighting your way into a system that is set up against you.
You may decide that the other options aren’t attractive and you want to be hired despite clear age bias. If so, you’ll need to double down your efforts in order to land that opportunity.
First, check your CV and resume and eliminate any possibility for bias. You can do this by:
- Removing dates from your education
- Removing or summarising more historic experience. If the experience is irrelevant you can remove it completely. However, if the experience is relevant, then consider adding a ‘select achievements’ or ‘earlier experience highlights’ section where you include your key accomplishments without detailing a full timeline with dates.
- Changing your language to take focus away from years of experience. Often CVs and resumes include phrases such as ‘possessing … years’ experience’. This isn’t needed and draws instant attention to your age. Instead, consider the key requirements of the role and focus on writing about how you meet those requirements, highlighting key achievements that demonstrate the value you will be bring.
- Style your CV based on the job you want, not your personal taste. If you want to appear more youthful, then don’t use the same CV template you had 20 years ago. If you want to show more experience and gravitas, then don’t send a CV that’s super on-trend and is focused on style over substance.
Prepare well for your interview.
The CV or resume is usually the first step to getting into the hiring process and whilst it’s easier to take the focus away from your age here, it’s more difficult once you are in an interview. Be prepared to answer difficult questions and consider beforehand the objections the employer might have about hiring you. Make sure you have a solid case for why they should hire you above the older or younger candidate they have a preference for. Consider that you may need to interview significantly better than your competition to be considered, and prepare accordingly. Yes, this is not fair. But, if you go into the interview believing you are entitled to be hired and that the company simply needs to change, you are not going to convince them to take a chance on you. Instead, focus on what you can do to get yourself into that company and then once you’re hired, be that change that you wanted to see.
Consider other avenues into the company.
Online application and interview selection processes can be particularly difficult means of being hired if you are not the typical type of candidate a company looks for. These processes are based on assessing everyone against the same criteria and this can make it hard to be selected if you are an out-of-the-box candidate. If you are already following all the best practices for CVs and interviews and it isn’t working then you might need a different approach. This might mean shifting all your attention to networking, with the aim of being recommended into the company. You may even decide to take a more creative approach to demonstrate your value to a potential employer. There are endless ways to get noticed beyond the typical application process, so don’t be afraid to try something new.