People of all ages find me on LinkedIn or by reading my blog posts and randomly reach out to ask for advice on how to use social media in a job search, how to interview better, or how to improve their resume. However, a most prevalent inquiry I get is from older job seekers, and by older I mean 35-65 years old, wanting to know if there’s a way to overcome real or perceived age discrimination in hiring processes.
Their stories are much the same; they apply to jobs they’re qualified for with limited results, and if they are lucky enough to land an interview they rarely turn into good job offers. They are frustrated, don’t know why this is happening to them, and want to know if I can tell them what they can do to reverse the trend.
This is a tricky question and I’ll admit I don’t have a magic elixir to solve this dilemma. However, I believe a partial answer may come from looking at the question from the other side of the desk.
In talking to older job seekers, I’ve found most of them approach preparing a resume and conducting a job interview with a single-minded methodology of focusing only on identifying their greatest strengths and value for a new employer and how to sell it. I do not believe this is the wrong thing to do, however I think there is a very important first step missing in this approach.
When I started as an executive recruiter, the first thing I was taught by my mentors was the art of “closing on objections.” This was how I became good at getting interviews for my candidates and closing offers for my clients. I continued to teach this line of attack to the people I hired and mentored as recruiters over the years and most went on to become successful as well.
The premise is simple, it is more important to focus initially on knowing why people won’t hire you than on why they should. When you have the answers to “why not” you can then find ways to preempt these perceived negatives and even turn them into positives. This can be done in both a resume and a face-to-face interview.
With this in mind, figure out in your case why age may play a factor in employer’s decisions on who to hire. Understanding the point of view on the other side of the desk you can now make targeted adjustments to change their mind on why you don’t fit the mold of the so-called older employee or executive they don’t want to hire.
This past week I took the subway to meet a client in Manhattan and brought an old copy of Fortune magazine to read on the ride. In it was a feature article about Wolfgang Puck and one of the things he said is why he prefers to hire younger people rather than those who may be more experienced. It struck a chord with me especially since it reflects a Talmudic statement I first learned in my youth. Rabbi Akiva, a great scholar, said “I learned much from my teacher’s, even more from my colleagues; but I learned the most from my students.”
The thought here is similar to what Wolfgang Puck said in the article. He felt that young people want to push the limits, they want to create something new and they are, within reason, willing to take chances. Older people he felt were more prone to live in the past, prefer to play it safe and look to duplicate past success, and are afraid or intimidated to learn from someone 10-25 younger who has a new perspective on how to get things done. Furthermore, he feels younger people have all the questions while older people think they have all the answers. Young people want to learn and teach others, while many older workers often consider themselves to be too busy, or at a level above the need to teach and learn from others.
If this sounds like you, for some, maybe it’s time to change adjust your attitude and adapt to a younger person’s approach.
Here are some other perceived objections I saw from US News & World Report on why older workers find it hard to get a new job:
1: High salary expectations. 2: Younger bosses. 3: Out of date skills. 4: The need for family health benefits. 5: Reaching retirement is more important than extending 100% effort. 6: And the real intangible killer – visible frustration from a long-term job search.
Now that you know some of the challenges around age discrimination in hiring and the objections employers may have against men and women of a certain age, see what you can do in your resume and during an interview to start to overcome or dispel these objections about why you should not be interviewed and hired. People‘s qualifications naturally stand out while employer objections that are not overcome lessen their value and drag you down.
As a courtesy to all readers, I am happy to offer a no cost / no obligation resume critique if you forward it along to me at firstname.lastname@example.org