Many job searching Americans over 40 often encounter something they weren't looking for: a "gray ceiling." It's the career advancement barrier that many older workers face in a workplace seemingly dominated by young people.
Despite laws prohibiting it, polls show that more than 70% of executives believe age discrimination in the workplace has increased during the past five years. Yet, there are ways to make age an asset, not an obstacle, in your search.
Make Age an Asset
- Don't use age as a crutch. Often job seekers don’t try as hard as they should because even before they apply for the job or go for the interview, they're already resigned to not getting the offer because of age. With age sometimes comes cynicism, but don't let it take over the process. Focus on the things you can control, such as how well you're selling yourself for the specific opportunity and how passionate you are about the position you're pursuing.
- Anticipate stereotypes and prepare to counter them. Older workers can get a bad rap about their unwillingness or inability to adapt to change, as if they're stuck in their ways. Make it clear in your cover letter and interviews that you're willing and able to adapt and that you look forward to following the company's protocols. Confidence is key, but cockiness can work against you.
- Get tech savvy. There's often a perception that older workers aren't comfortable with the latest technology. If you aren't familiar with Excel and PowerPoint and you know your technical skills aren't up to par, take a course to master the technology.
- Focus on experience, not age. Older people often hear that they're “over-qualified” and the interviewer is quick to point out that they'll get bored quickly. Have a response for this: “I thought about that very issue before I applied. I realized that because I'm committed to this line of work, my experience would be a tremendous asset.” Similarly, be proud of your achievements, maturity, wisdom and real-world experience. “I have 20 years of experience in this industry. I'd love to apply that insight to solving problems and creating successes for this company and mentoring other people.”
- Avoid using all dates. If you graduated from college in the 1970s, you shouldn't list every position you've held since then on your résumé. Focus on the most relevant experience of the last 10 to 20 years - summarizing successes, not necessarily listing every position in chronological order. Leave off the year of graduation.
- Consider consulting and small businesses. Instead of applying online for full-time jobs where there's enormous competition, offer yourself up as a consultant to companies of all sizes, especially small businesses, even those outside of your most recent industry. Small businesses routinely hire consultants to work on projects where they can take advantage of their expertise, but could not have afforded them on a full-time basis.