When is Someone Old? - Part 1: Language
Half Century of Crossing Generations

Help for Elder Job Seekers

category_bug_ageism.gif Back in January, I told you about my appearance on an employment radio show out of Texas, Everything Employment. It is hosted by my friend, Rick Gillis, and you can listen to that broadcast as a podcast here.

Ricksbook Rick’s recently published book, Really Useful Job Search Tactics, is packed with – well, really useful information for all age groups seeking work while trying to navigate the 21st century job market which is a dramatically different place from even five years ago.

Because of the success of the internet, writes Rick,

“It does not matter if a position is posted on one of the national job sites or a local job board, the result is the same: overwhelming response to job offerings due to the worldwide nature of the web resulting in hundred, even thousands of resumes…”

To deal with the onslaught of job candidates, computer programs known as Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have been written to categorize and track resumes and applicants through the entire process of hiring within a company or agency. Rick demystifies the ATS and teaches you how to create a resume that will leap to the top of the electronic pile.

No one like the job search ordeal, but Rick walks readers through every step of the way together with advice and sample resumes for difficult situations like entry level applicants, mothers returning to workforce and, of course, the “mature job seeker.”

Rick and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on tactics for older workers. I don’t believe we elders should be required to “handle” younger managers, hide our age on our resumes or be told to show up neatly dressed, but Rick has been in the employment business for two decades and is undoubtedly more of a realist than I am.

Where we agree, however, is on what to do if, during a job interview, you realize there is some age discrimination going on. We have discussed that moment in the past here at TGB as “a veil” coming down over the interviewer’s eyes. Here is how Rick puts it in his book:

“The recruiter is superficially polite and usually careful not to cross the line into illegality, but may rush through the interview or not engage in seriously conversation…

“I call this instant the ‘moment the window drops’. You can still see what is on the other side but you know that ‘something’ has come between you and your interviewer and you know you haven’t a chance of being hired because of your age.”

It is wrong. It is illegal. It happens more than employers, recruiters and employment experts are willing to admit. And it is almost impossible to prove in a court of law.

So when it happens to you, you’ve got nothing to lose and may as well use a technique I suggested to Rick. It gives you control of the interchange and can help make you feel better about yourself. From Rick’s book again:

“…when you know all chance of getting the job is gone and it’s all about your age…Look your interviewer straight in the eye, don’t blink and in your most pleasant, professional voice, ask:
  • Does this company maintain a mixed-age workplace?
  • How do you weight the skills of younger and older workers in deciding whom to hire?
  • How do you train young managers in dealing with subordinates who are old enough to be their parents and grandparents?
  • Is my age an impediment to being hired at this company?”

These are reasonable questions and using any or all of them in the situation Rick describes puts the interviewer and the company on notice that judging your experience and skills by your age is an unacceptable practice. There is even a slight chance the hiring manager will rethink ignoring such a straight-forward person as you.

Really Useful Job Search Tactics is the best of the plethora of such books that I’ve ever seen. It is innovative, up to the minute, down to earth, short, easy to read and really, really useful. You can buy it here and find out more about Rick here.


and in the 1970s, those of us who (gasp)took time out to have children, get another degree, heard advice similar to rick's. don't put the date of college graduation or earlier employment on resume. emphasize being at home as management skills.

as a woman, as a jew, as married, divorced, overqualified, i've experienced so many varieties of job discrimination--all before i was forty! my experience is shared by many other women, so my question is: why have we been so reluctant to support a strong women's movement? happy women's history month!

I too don't think we should be required to play such games as leaving dates off our resumes, but Rick is correct in that there isn't time to make a political or social point when the bills need to be paid and you need a job now.

We can take that on after we're employed.

I'd like to make clear that age discrimination is not a women's issue - it is a people issue: just as many men are subject to it as women. Stay-at-home dads have just as much trouble re-entering the workforce as women. And although age discrimination may hit some women as early as 35, it starts for men at around 40 - either age is way too young.

Hard to believe all this age discrimination continues. I was aware 50 years ago of how rampant it was. I recall a group called "40 Plus" starting up, primarily for white collar jobs, mostly men, but don't know if they're active or current with the market now.

The big book that first came out at that time was "What Color Is Your Parachute?" which became a bible for many.

This book of your friend, Rick's, sounds like it's the book for these tech times. I'll certainly refer it to some I know who have to go through that seeking employment process.

I’ve tried to hide from this post for two days now…..

I guess we are talking different strokes for different folks but I could never leave my age off a resume….under any condition. If age were to be an issue with the particular employer, getting to the door might be easy enough by intentionally omitting that little tidbit of information but once he or she sees me, the jig is up! The assumption that once in the door I can razzle and dazzle them or perhaps put them on the defensive with regard to age discrimination is a little too much for me personally. Besides, the fact is with me personally that if the employer is too damn stupid to realize the ability and experience they are getting with an older potential employee, he or she has already proved to me they’re an idiot and I probably wouldn’t like working there anyway.

I appreciate the satisfaction one might gain by evoking Rick’s “quote” on dressing-down a potential employer if I perceive my age as a hindrance to securing a position but common sense prevailing, if I am really interested in securing a job, I don’t think the dressing-down of the potential employer under any circumstance is prudent. And in the long run it gains me little or nothing. If there are grounds for some further action and I am not just suffering from hurt feelings and rejection, I might consider writing a letter to the Human Resources Manager or equivalent individual if some action is appropriate in the case of my denial of the position or ageism was running amuck during my interview. (Notice I said letter and not email)

Actually I found myself looking for a position at age fifty but fortunately by choice. I was even pursuing a new career field with no real experience. And yes, I probably had about twice as many interviews as I would have had were I thirty but….integrity and ability will always win the day in my opinion.

With regard to men in general and I am speaking with regard to my experience in the matter, I felt it was much harder to secure a position when I was in my early twenties as compared to being in my early fifties. And I do think that just the opposite is the case with women – generally speaking again of course. It seems that fifty-year old women are given little credit for their ability and experience contrary to that of men. But twenty-year old men are given little to no credit for their abilities, while twenty-year old women with little ability have little to fear from potential employers. Of course I am being a bit facetious with that last comment, but therein does lay some measure of truth as you know.

Both ends of the employment curve are skewed to one degree or another. I suppose the ideal potential employee would be about thirty-five with some ten to fifteen years experience in their field.

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