Editor’s Note: This blog is a modified excerpt from professional “headhunter” and bestselling author Skip Freeman’s next book in the “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets series of job-hunting books, Career Stalled? Publication is scheduled for late fall.
Let me get this out of the way right up front: I know—and firmly believe!—that, when it comes to hiring practices, unfairly—and illegally!—discriminating against a job applicant on the basis of age is professionally (and personally) reprehensible and morally bankrupt. Nonetheless, age discrimination in hiring continues to exist and to be subtlety practiced in some sectors of the labor market today.
I am pleased to report, however, that, according to a recent report by a highly respected outplacement consulting firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, age discrimination in hiring appears to have become far less prevalent in recent years than perhaps many might suppose or fear.
In a mid-year 2012 report, Challenger et al. noted that nearly 3 million—75%!—of the 4.3 million jobs created since 2009 have been snagged by people over the age of 55. The unemployment rate, while still high overall, actually drops rather sharply for those over the age of 44 and remains comparatively low even for those who are a decade older. The unemployment rate for those 44 and older was about 6.5%, while for those workers 20 to 24 it was near 13% and for those 24 to 34, about 8%.
To be sure, while age discrimination in employment certainly remains an important issue in today’s job market—arguably, if it affects just one person it still is unacceptable—its overall negative impact seems to be abating. So, if you are currently employed and have been—or are—reluctant to “test the waters” in today’s job market because of the fear of being automatically excluded on the basis of your age, you might want to seriously reconsider.
Your Professional Brand Far More Important Than Your Age
From my professional perspective, it is abundantly clear to me that how well and how effectively you brand yourself professionally is by far the most important criterion for landing one of the really good jobs in today’s (or any other!) job market. Your age, although still somewhat of a (hidden) consideration by some hiring professionals, usually, though admittedly not always, ends up being merely coincidental.
Regardless of your age—young, “old” or anywhere in between!—in broad, general terms, here is what you absolutely, positively must do if you want to be seriously considered for the top jobs in today’s job market:
You must effectively brand yourself as someone who . . .
- Has current and relevant experience and expertise in the position under consideration.
- Can present documented (using dollars and percentages) evidence of significant professional achievements/accomplishments.
- Can make a company money, save a company money, or both.
- Can “hit the deck running,” i.e., can immediately step into the job and start performing in an exceptional manner.
- Is a good cultural fit for the company.
Long gone are the days when even a reasonably qualified candidate could simply “throw his or her hat into the ring” and expect to get at least some consideration for a given position. Today, to be seriously considered for any of the top jobs, a candidate must be able to prove (or at least thoroughly convince a potential employer) that he or she is indeed worthy of serious consideration.
None of what I’ve said in this blog, of course, is intended to downplay either the prevalence or severity of age discrimination in hiring. Nor am I trying to mitigate, in any way, the devastating, humiliating effects it can have on any man or woman who has experienced—or will experience—it during a job search. As is the case will all of the negative “isms,” e.g., racism, sexism, etc., only strict and diligent enforcement of applicable labor/human rights laws, as well as a drastic change in the mindset of those who still practice it, can ever hope to completely eliminate age discrimination in hiring. And with the multitude of problems and challenges already existing in the current job market, I honestly—and unfortunately—don’t anticipate this happening any time soon; you shouldn’t either.
Don’t Let Fear of Age Discrimination Keep You Out of the Job Market!
The principal point I want you to take away from this blog is this: Don’t let the mere anticipation, the fear, of possibly being unfairly discriminated against because of your age keep you from aggressively pursuing your next career opportunity! As we’ve seen, age apparently is becoming far less of a factor in determining who has actually been landing the jobs over the last several years—and who continues to land the open jobs.
Contrary to what you may read, see or hear in the media, which consistently tend to focus exclusively on “new jobs created” each month, thereby overlooking the “big picture” in the job market, the fact is, real companies are right now attempting to fill real jobs in today’s job market. And let me assure you again, in the strongest possible terms, that the principal criterion for selection is NOT a candidate’s age—it’s the quality of the brand the professional brings to the table.
My best advice: If you haven’t yet positioned yourself, branded yourself, as a candidate who is clearly and unmistakably among the best of the best, the crème de la crème, then you need to start doing that TODAY! How? At a minimum, you need to . . .
- Make sure that your résumé accurately and comprehensively reflects (again, using dollars and percentages) your significant professional achievements and accomplishments.
- Make sure that your LinkedIn profile (and other online presence) is complete and comprehensive, and that it contains keywords and phrases that you know (or should know) “headhunters,” hiring managers and Human Resources professionals will include in their searches when they go looking for exceptional candidates to fill open positions.
- Make sure that you can actually be contacted by a hiring professional if a suitable opportunity should arise. (You might be both surprised and amazed at how difficult, if not downright impossible, some candidates can make it to contact them!)
Based upon the evidence and hard, irrefutable facts, if you’re not exactly a “kid” anymore (and I personally can relate to being in that category!), I strongly suggest that you don’t allow yourself to get bogged down or unduly distracted in a new job search by being overly concerned about the mere possibility of encountering age discrimination. If you do, you do. Just move on to the next career opportunity and count your blessings that you won’t ever have to work for a company that tolerates and practices such mindless prejudice. Keep your eyes on the ball, get yourself prepared to effectively compete in today’s job market—and stay prepared. If you do this, not only can you succeed in today’s job market, you can actually prevail—no matter how “old” you may be!
Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.