How Job Seekers Can Overcome Age Discrimination

Gil Farnsworth had seen enough.

After interviewing for the fourth time in a week for a position as a part time driver with a bus company, he decided to take the young interviewer in front of him apart. Gil figured he had nothing to lose. As a semi-retired man of nearly 61 years, he had a long time left to work until he wanted to retire. He suspected he was getting nowhere in his job search because the people he was talking to simply did not give him an opportunity because of his age.

“I spent 30 years handling large equipment this idiot had probably never heard of.” Gil said. “And he’s not even giving me the opportunity to talk about it.” Gil was certain the mere look of a man with grey hair and skin gone wrinkled from years of toiling in the sun was working against him. “Nobody wants to hire an old man.”

There’s no sugar coating it. Age discrimination is a real hiring problem. At a recent industry gathering of Human Resource professionals, many of them hiring managers, a speaker recognized that for all the laws forbidding age discrimination in the land it still happens in a big way. All any one has to do is ask someone in Gil’s position.

~ It Can’t Go On ~

Somehow it has to stop. And it will stop. There is simply no way for companies to stay staffed within the next 30 years without taking into account workers over the age of 45. According to Department of Labor statistics, workers aged 45 and over will increase (and retire) by more than 50 percent within the next ten years.

Meanwhile, the number of workers under age 35 will DECREASE by 9 percent in the same time period. They just won’t have enough bodies to fill the jobs. In increasing numbers employers are having to seek out job candidates with plenty of expertise who just are not ready to leave the workforce.

~ What to Say When You Suspect Your Age is a Problem ~

Gil’s experience is all too common.

He “retired” as a job foreman on a paving work crew, at the height of the union pay scale. He was tired of the physical demands of the work and felt sufficiently prepared financially to make the move. The only problem was that he did not know what to do with his time. He felt he had a lot more to contribute. And while he didn’t want as physically demanding a position as he had held Gil felt physically capable of handling a variety of other types of work.

So he hit the job search trail – and a brick wall. Everywhere he went, it seemed, interviewers would go cold when meeting him for the first time and follow-up phone calls would never be returned. Gil simply did not know of a polite way to deal with it.

For Gil, and others like him, the best strategy is to address the issue head-on.

Employers cannot ask about age in an interview because of age discrimination laws. And because they cannot ask your age, they generally stay away from the topic all together.

Remove the burden by asking them directly if they have any concerns about it. Use words such as “Now that we’ve had a chance to meet, I’m sure you must have some concerns about hiring me. Would you mind sharing those with me?” This gives the employer an opportunity to get any lingering issues on the table. As long as you address their issues without anger or defensiveness, the conversation will be a positive.

One thing to realize is that often age itself is not the issue – rather, the issue is what employers think age represents. For example, employers may question whether or not you can maintain the level of commitment necessary to do the job. They wonder if you have the chemistry to fit within a team. And they worry about habits you possess that cannot be changed in new work environments that demand constant renewal of skills – these are all issues related to age in the eyes of some employers. The burden on the job seeker is to get down to the real issue and diffuse it.

~ Old Wine, New Bottles ~

The traditional job search can be especially devastating to older jobseekers. A resume too easily conveys age and blindly responding to advertisements will yield precious few results for jobs where over-qualification is an issue. Simply put, there has to be a better way. And there is:

? Talk to people. Employers would much rather offer a job to someone they know than to advertise for help off the street. It saves them time and money, and generally yields better job candidates. By asking people who they know and where jobs might be found, the larger and less effective part of job seeking is left behind.

? Set up connecting meetings. If you identify a job you want but are uncertain of how to get it, consider contacting the hiring manager and setting up a meeting. These meetings are not designed to ask for a job; they are designed to ask for information that will lead to jobs. Make them aware that you seek only information and advice – not a job. This removes the burden of responsibility from them and will yield very valuable information

? Experience is great, but stay focused on the job at hand. The hardest part of interviewing for any job is resisting the urge to talk about anything and everything about you. The good intentions of building a better impression of you can backfire. Speak only of experience relevant to the job being applied for.

For Gil Farnsworth, the answer came from taking the job search bull by the horns. “I felt a little brave jumping out there with a comment about my age.” he said. “But I know I got the job because of it.” Today Gil is in his fifth year driving part time for the bus company. And his boss considers him one of the most valuable hires he has ever made.

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