The Age Issue

by | March 10, 2009

  • My Vault
We've received many questions over the years about age and job search. One recent entry asked, "Do you have any advice for handling age discrimination? I'm a 59-year old professional who has worked over 20 years in my field. I have been unemployed for 12 months and have sent out over 250 resumes for jobs for which I am qualified, and get "overqualified" or "blow off" letters in response."

There are so many faulty assumptions in that particular question; addressing this one reader's issues might be a good way to introduce this complex subject.

Most importantly, conducting a search by "sending out resumes" is not only reactive, but statistically a basic job search error. According to nearly every survey that I've seen all of the major outplacement firms, and the United States Bureau of Labor Department of Statistics ads account for only around 8-10% of the total jobs available. Therefore, why would anyone base an entire search on that small a number?

This person was basing a search, as do many job seekers, by sending out 250 resumes in a year, which in itself would predict a failed search. There's so much more to do, and all proactive - job seekers can take charge, and not feel like someone reading a resume is going to decide that one's age is a sole determining factor.

The first thing the job seeker should do is develop a list of target organizations, define the exact job/level/geographic area, learn specific direct mail marketing technique, research target areas, and, most importantly, develop relationship building skills. Perhaps a niche area can be determined as a result of the research and network building. Or maybe a couple of consulting assignments could lead to more permanent employment, if that's the goal. Someone with years of experience should find many opportunities - particularly in this nearly full-employment economy. But not with only sending out resumes!

Regarding the age discrimination issue itself, yes, it exists. Our experience has shown that large corporations and some others tend not to hire people whom they would probably consider "expensive," even though you haven't had the chance to discuss that issue. Or they simply are interested in who they would consider to be more "youthful" or "energetic" people - who will give their all (and more) to the company. They know, and are probably right in some cases, that older workers are usually more interested in quality of life issues and balance. What they don't realize, of course, is that experience really does mean more and adds value. Have you communicated that to anyone? Have you defined what that experience entails?

Have you also considered that you might not want to work for the people who think that age is a detriment? What would you have in common with someone who thinks like that?

So what's the answer? The best approach would be to carefully rethink your target and emphasize smaller companies who might be more interested in your overall experience. In an economy where the demographics are now showing that older employers have better odds going for them than maybe 5-10 years ago, you need to capitalize on those odds by utilizing a wide variety of job search techniques. You must start to think of this process as a numbers game. And, by the way, one of those numbers is 35 hours a week devoted to the search!

One last thing: How's your appearance and energy level? Are you using any of your time to possibly walk or run, or maybe join a gym? We're not suggesting that looking 59 is a negative, but that being an energetic, fit 59 will help your search campaign enormously.

Filed Under: Job Search

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