The law says employers are not permitted to discriminate because they deem someone too old, yet employers do so every single day. How can they get away with it? The answer is, by thinking it but never talking about it or documenting it. When questioned, their answer is, It was not a good fit.
There are many reasons people who are no longer young are associated with certain preconceived ideas—for example, poor physical appearance. In some cases, it’s true, and a candidate should show concern and responsibility for improving such an image. Easily said and challenging to reverse but often can be improved through, say, physical fitness, a more contemporary eyeglass frame, better-looking and better-fitting clothing, and proper grooming can make a huge difference. Another example is the expectation that an older and more experienced person is expecting—and needs—more money. In many cases, this is not true. While everybody wants more money of course, there are many situations in which the person has already built a nest egg, and money is a secondary or tertiary concern. Going out and working, regaining identity, contributing, and just being with other people often outweigh everything else. One more example is the preconception that younger people are more tech savvy. Yes, that’s often the case, but I can easily argue that an electronics engineer with years of experience and who’s gone through the technology evolution has a profound understanding and a big-picture point of view, which could be major assets. And how about the notion that older folks have low energy, often have a so-called corporate mentality, and a lack of flexibility? Again, some of those might be true in some cases, but from the examples I’ve presented here, it’s easy to see that each case must be judged independently and weighed on demonstrated facts.
How can a candidate mitigate often-false prejudices? First, a candidate must be careful about social media presence. Ninety plus percent of employers check out candidates prior to making a first contact. Why this practice? Because it’s simple, quick, and free. The way candidates do the same by checking out the company and, possibly, everything they can about those they’re going to interview with at the company. It’s called due diligence on both sides. As a job candidate, you should check out your own social media score starting with LinkedIn and then socialmention.com. The latter Web site takes a holistic approach, including videos.
Second, if you’re not clear on how the potential interviewer might view you, a session with a career coach can surface and reveal all your doubts. In fact, if the career coach is in the habit of using a video camera, you could see it for yourself. In addition, do not be embarrassed to initiate a conversation on this subject with your spouse and your good friends and possibly do a mutual exchange of opinions with other job seekers.
Third, get into the frame of mind that says that as an older person, you possess a special asset: experience. Practically speaking, that means that all of the past mistakes were made on some other employer’s account and would not be repeated. How about your problem-solving skills, which are by now well developed? And how about the fact that you’re already in the habit of practicing good judgment and have good work habits. After all, you come from the old school.