Age Discrimination, Old Job Seekers, Options

There’s a discussion I think we need to have that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

I’ve been thinking about this for the last year or so, as the job market has gotten worse.

The pink elephant seems to be those who are discriminated against for their age – specifically, the older worker (we can talk about age discrimination for younger workers in a separate post).

Let’s assume a couple of things:

  1. The economy, and the job market, are in the crapper.  Regardless of what strategies and tactics you employ, some of you just won’t find a job. Period.
  2. Older people (what’s the age cutoff?  40?  50?  60?  Or is it a matter of wrinkles and gray(ing) hair?) are passed over for jobs for various reasons.

Put these two together and it can be beyond discouraging.

Yesterday I read a really interesting post titled Silicon Valley’s Dark Secret: It’s All About Age. Of course we knew some of this stuff (or all of it), and it’s not limited to Silicon Valley.  But the post puts certain things into perspective.

The author, Vivek Wadhwa, ends with this:

Finally, I don’t know of any university, including the ones I teach at, that tells its engineering students what to expect in the long term or how to manage their technical careers. Perhaps it is time to let students know what lies ahead.

Interesting… does this mean that what you think your career will look like is what it really will look like?

Maybe, the older we get, the more our career changes?

It’s not that you are getting put out to pasture (excuse the phrase but I know many older, discriminated-against wannabe-employees feel that way), but maybe your role and value prop is simply different.

Maybe you are chasing after the wrong job, wrong level, wrong company.

What are the options… one I’ve heard is “I don’t have to work anymore… I’m trying to figure out if I want to.”  What a nice place to be.  Not many have that option.

What are other options?

Freelancing/consulting seems fun but it is definitely not without stress or problems.

Starting a company is a viable option but, again, not without stress or problems (who’s ready to spend 15 hours a day on a new business??).

Seriously… what are real options for older workers who are not finding any success in finding a job, I mean making ends meet, I mean figuring out where any income will come from??

22 thoughts on “Age Discrimination, Old Job Seekers, Options”

  1. Even though it is rarely spoken of, age discrimination is extremely common. Corporations have always tried to push their older employees out the door younger and younger because they generally have higher salaries, more annual vacation time and their benefits cost more – especially health insurance.

    I consider that a big mistake because experience is the most valuable asset any person can employ to increase their productivity and value. Corporations have also long preferred people just graduating from college who have no experience because they can hire them for less. That, too, is a big mistake is quality is what you seek.

    Every new employee should have a mentor who has practical experience. We would all be better off if we still have apprenticeships instead of colleges that graduate people with few practical skills. As one wise person I know who retired from IBM and started his own ComputerNetworking service replied when people asked to see his certificates, “do you want someone who can pass a test or someone who actually knows how to do what you need done?”.

    The economy is FAR worse than the media is letting on and it is not going to get better any time soon. Any person who has valuable talents – they know how to actually get results and not just put in x hours – should seriously consider freelancing and collaborating. There are existing startups that could use your knowledge and wisdom. There are businesses that are struggling for survival that need assistance.

    There is much work to be done to turn the economy around. The solution is to learn how to market small businesses and communities and to persuade as many people as possible to start supporting them. As they prosper those who support them will create communities where the standard of living gets better instead of worse.

    This consumer “buy it cheap” fad is destroying economies worldwide. It must stop – at least for the few wise enough to “get it” and move in the other direction. The sooner we start the sooner the economy will improve. There are MANY tasks that can be easily learned and immediately used to start earning income. I am happy to train anyone serious about doing it – and no, there is NO COST at all. I am not in the education business – I just do what most needs doing.

  2. Good post, Jason, as usual. I’m kinda coming from a different direction, though, maybe because I’m “older” and have been helping job seekers for 15 years now.

    I agree that there is discrimination, conscious or not, about age, sex, race, national origin, weight, sexual preference, etc. I think that very little of it is “official” policy anywhere. It would be handier if it was public because then it would be easier to avoid working for those employers or to waste time applying for jobs there or to give them any of our business. Save everyone time and energy (and make many attorneys very happy).

    What I do see with many – but definitely NOT all – of the older job seekers that I do talk or correspond with is a willingness to blame their lack of a job on their age. Not on their skills, their accomplishments, their resumes, their grammar, their grooming, etc.

    It’s always only about their age. “If I were younger, I’d have a job.”

    Well… Maybe they would, and maybe NOT!

    When I talk with these discriminated-against people, it turns out that often their approach to job hunting is not particularly effective. They spend ALL their effort chasing any job opportunity they see on Monster/CareerBuilder/HotJobs, etc. They don’t have good resumes. They “hate networking.” They “keep [their] options open” and apply for everything they see, whether or not they are a good fit because that feels productive to them.

    But the reason no one hires them is their age – the only reason. Or, at least that’s what they think. I think of them as “the pre-defeated.”

    On the other hand, there are the older workers who have a brighter outlook. They leverage that big network they have accumulated in all those years of living and working to help them connect with jobs. They view themselves as “seasoned” and “experienced” not as “old” or “over-qualified.” Yes, they do still run into hiring managers too dumb, too young, or too short-sighted to see the advantage of hiring them, but they move on with the support of their network.

    I don’t know what experience or personal chemistry makes the difference between the pre-defeated and the undefeated. Maybe it’s the difference between a pessimist and an optimist. Wish I could bottle it and hand it out at state employment offices.

    Meanwhile, I’d sure like to see more posts about successful job seekers over 40! There’s so much bad news available that I don’t want to add to it. Guess I’ll have to add that to my To-Do list.

  3. Interesting question Jason. I agree with what Susan says, our own attitude towards our age matters as much as the job market’s. In the end, it matters what you bring to the table and how you sell it to the potential employer.

    Age does give the benefit of knowing what unemployment means and how it feels and avoiding mistakes one made earlier. Staying aware of the job market and diversifying one’s skill sets is one way. Connecting better with the younger generations through understanding is important too.

  4. Hello again Jason. In NC there are many TV ads on how we need math and science students to save the US economy (go green etc). The audience for these ads includes many older workers (now skilled in math and science) unemployed or underemployed because a corporation sent their job to India. DUH. The children see the same ads and also see their unemployed relatives … not much incentive for study there!

    The economy is beginning the second leg of the dreaded double dip. If the (outsourced) jobs were still here the hoped for economic recovery would likely have been more robust (employed people consume more and we are somewhat constrained by being a consumer based economy, diminished manufacturing base).

    The US is not a democracy, it is a moneyocracy …. money rules (especially the war machine Eisenhower warned about). When the laws are written by lobbyists (for sure at the Federal level) the citizens always lose, only the corporations win. When $ rules, what happens is what you see now when you look around. Its not a pretty picture and its not changing anytime soon.

  5. Jason,
    We spend loads of time taking a resume and “youthenizing” it. We use a combination style resume and create an achievement based documents and label the work history section – “Relevant Professional Experience.” many of our older workers (55+) are getting interviews.

    The temporary employment companies are having their best years ever per Bloomberg News Week mid August edition. I interviewed our local Manpower and Addeco managers and they almost said the same thing about their business cycle. Many employers see the economy as a sputtering engine that may or may not fully start for a while but they are gearing up with high quality experienced workers who are versatile and with up to date skills and when the economy does “catch” they will be ready to then bring on more workers but for now who better to bring on a novice or a person who has a breadth of skills? since they have been through downsizing they elected to go temp agencies and then convert those who are valuable.

    Our customers are prepared with strategies to deal with younger managers. We role play these generational scenarios in our training programs and in our Occupational Affinity Group meetings.

    We are also seeing a trend that employers are recruiting candidates but instead of offering W2 employment they are offering 1099 arrangements and many of our customers are turning them down because they don’t understand the nature of a 1099 arrangement.

    The challenge to the unemployed mature worker is that in many cases they are interviewing with a person who is about the age of a son or daughter and the interviewer may have an expectation that the O.F. they have in front of them may not have what it takes.

    The candidate must be on top of their game, technically and socially meaning they should have current skills and well versed where the occupation/business is going and have positioned themselves with the right training and skills to be one of the drive wheels to help a company advance their customer base. They must also be Social Media savvy.

    Sure there are dinosaur business that are out there they might find jobs with but the better paying jobs go to those who invest in their own R&D to keep up with a fast changing industry and social environment. If you don’t embrace change then how are you going to react to being irrelevant?

    I see that this is going to be a protracted recovery. I recently read a Trends reports that stated – business is sitting on 1.9 trillion dollars in cash and we are seeing the highest levels of companies buying back their own stocks since the Carter administration. My staff and I are recommitting to run as many programs as possible to enable our “mature” workers to compete in the labor market during a recession.

    Where there are challenges – there are opportunities.

  6. I agree with Susan Joyce about “the pre-defeated” attitude – that negative attitude does more to ruin a job search than the economy or discrimination of any sort. For those who use discrimination as the “excuse” for an unproductive job search, that attitude enables them to continue to be a victim (and there are payoffs for being a victim).

    On the other hand, job seekers with a healthy, positive attitude view possible discrimination as a reason to ramp up with more effective job search techniques like personal branding, online identity SEO, networking, social media connections, and powerful, branded self-marketing documents (online and offline). A proactive attitude is crucial to successful career management – for anyone!

  7. I can’t resist a comment Jason, thanks for the initiating this thread.

    I’ve been self-employed since my employer downsized in 1989. I’m a designer. Over the following years I job-hunted and I did well at interview but they always said I was “too experienced”. Hmm. I was in my mid thirties: they meant “too old”. Or they wanted to pay minimum wage to a novice. When it got to the point that I was being interviewed by guys young enough to be my own children I threw in the towel and called myself an entrepreneur. It didn’t improve the scratchy income but at least I felt better.

    I’m now officially dinosaurish in design world terms. They didn’t have computers when I was at art school. But I’ve been using a Mac every day for over 22 years and I’ve never stopped learning, researching and creating. Every day I have new ideas and inspirations.

    The great thing is that if you work in the virtual world you don’t have to make a big thing about your age. It’s how you’re perceived that counts …and that comes from being young at heart, open to new ideas, flexible (in mind and body), inquisitive and in touch. The same is surely true in the job market.

    I get speculative job applications from recent design graduates addressed to “Dear Sir” and they go downhill from there. If on the other hand a 50 something approached me – it’s never happened but who knows? – and they could demonstrate they’d done their research, could spell and punctuate, had a shred of creative flair and some solid skills I’d like to meet them. They’d be streaks ahead of the 20 somethings.

    If there’s one thing I regret, it’s that when I was young I didn’t know what I know now. 🙂

  8. Hi Jason,

    As a coach, a niche of mine is the over 50 professional.
    Basically I recommend that they stop making full time employment the top priority.

    My advice has been the following:
    (1) Make sure their personal brand is relevant to what works in today’s economy
    (2) Seek the strategic relationship (decision maker) first and build on it
    (3) If the decision maker can use the client’s help, then they decide with them (then and only then) if it manifests full time. part time or 1099
    (4) If nothing comes of the meeting regarding work, they always ask who else should you be talking to.

    I also found that introducing the concept of multiple revenue streams (portfolio career) has been well received by the over 50 crowd.

    One final comment: Resumes really do more harm than good in the networking process for the over 50 professional. A one page summary supporting the brand works quite well in the context above.

  9. Jason,

    I agree with Susan on the Pre-Defeated. I’ve often said that each of us is our own worst enemy and we could each do anything we wanted if we’d just learn to get out of our own way.

    A few years ago the Wall Street Journal posted a story headlined: Botox For The Resume, One Woman’s Image Makeover. I checked and it’s still available at the following Link:×3532215

    I made professional looking copies as handouts and passed them around several JOB CLUB Meetings. Quite a few of the Pre-Defeated identified themselves immediately with comments toward the negative side….like “you don’t expect me to dress like my granddaughter do you?”

    However several did get the message that it is mostly about your attitude and marketing yourself in every way possible to the potential buyer who quite often will be of a younger generation.

    This is just the same as when we have to coach the youth about dress/tattoos/body piercings. They don’t feel they need to change – even temporarily. It was a real eye opener to hear the same thing coming from the elderly.

    Changing one’s appearance, no matter how slight can often be a moral booster, spirit lifter too. Most importantly, it is something that is totally within our power to do yet we stubbornly refuse to exercise that power. I guess it’s easier to find blame elsewhere.

  10. I am so glad you started this conversation, Jason. I am especially keen on learning how some career professionals will respond to your challenge – what are the specific options and strategies that have worked for older clients?

    I like Susan’s post about the pre-defeated – regardless of how bad the outlook is, no pity parties should be enabled. A lot of ink has been spilled talking in generalities – the value of contract employment, the need to build an authentic brand and market it, the need to craft a contemporary and forward-thinking image. Have you found some specific strategies to help these “change resisters,” turn into “change advocates – change evangelists?”

    One strategy that I like to recommend is pairing traditional personal marketing tools, e.g. writing letters to decision-makers and mailing them by USPS, with more innovative tools, e.g. reading and commenting on industry-related blogs and articles. I think it is important to affirm some of the traditional strategies that still work, while at the same time, facilitating a move toward more current thinking. In all cases, our honesty is appreciated by older clients, who don’t want to be patronized.

    What about sharing some success stories among the group? I have a few…

  11. Yes, age discrimination is alive and well with hiring managers, executives and human resources! It’s the real world. What have we done to look younger?: physically, resume, learning and our public profiles?

    Jason asked, “what are other options?”
    While no magic bullet, consider doing a JasonAlba. Could this be a new Google term? SMILE.
    “JasonAlba, a term used to describe multiple revenue streams as it relates to personal income.”

    My personal experience includes being out 24 months myself.

    a. Do you have the background and the discipline to do it?
    b. Create resume, biz card that looks and says same.
    c.Have you researched market and know a “fair” rate? It’s most likely less than you think, but it’s higher than minimum wage.

    2. Starting a company-What’s the big idea? Is it unique? Write a plan first and show others, including financial projections. Do you have the financial resources to launch? Is it possible that consulting and freelance leads to this?

    3.Keep networking and applying for jobs. But update marketing plan, resume and cover letter.
    a.The BIG questions are: (a) Where is the marketing plan- current target list of companies (b) why isn’t resume working (not getting interviews) and (c) what have you been doing since last job? Is there BIG black hole in your resume suggesting you’ve done nothing since your last job? (Add, Volunteering, helping family member, leading networking group, project work, working part time survival jobs, continual learning, something)

    4. Survival Jobs-Making a single page resume and securing more than one survival job as needed to keep from going under water.

    5.Liquidate personal property.-Don’t wait, sell off personal property or down size as needed

    6.Seek assistance and resources from organizations. And volunteer with same.

    Keep positive attitude and take action. If things are not working, doing the same thing does not make sense.

  12. As a business owner who has been in the employment industry for over 15 years – interviewing over 13,000 people in various industries and functional roles – I must say that for the majority of job seekers age 45-65 agism in the workplace just might be deserved.

    For instance, how many friends do you have in that age group who constantly remind you how many months, days or hours they have left to work? How many people have you interviewed in that age group who seem to communicate that they have “paid their dues”, i.e. so why do they need to work as hard anymore?

    Put your business owner’s hat on. Have empathy for them – imagine trying to make a decision on who to hire and be comfortable putting someone in place that could alter the future of their company and yet that person is simply trying to convince them that they just want to do the same job, in the same industry (where their previous employer didn’t see the value). Highlighting to your potential employer that you have 10, 20 or 30 years of experience does not imply that it was good experience nor does it make a compelling case that it’s something you really want to continue to do. Businesses and employees both need to understand that it’s not how long you have done something, or where you have done it, but simply that you have done it.

    When job seekers and owners start seeing the difference between functional experience and industry experience – and separate the two – we will start having older workers doing what they want to do, which increases productivity for everyone.

    Many business owners will even take out a second mortgage on their homes, work 12 hours a day, seven days a week to nurture and grow their product, service or cause because they believe it is important enough to take that risk and put that work effort in. Take it from me and thousands of other business owners I have talked to – if we could find someone who cared as much as we did about the success of our company, we would not only be ecstatic, but our companies would meet the success we had envisioned.

    The point is if the job seekers would choose what they wanted to do, and where they wanted to do it, and communicated with conviction that they want the same thing as that business owner, they would be hired.

    I don’t believe anyone out there is so unique that there is not another person that wants the same thing that the employer does. The problem? You don’t know where they are – and they don’t know where you are – because we only apply to job openings that make us do more of the same.

  13. I believe that Mr. Garrett just proved discrimination is alive and well because for his business, if you’re over 45, “you’re counting the days until retirement.” He certainly implies, no one over 45 should apply to jobs he is hiring for.

    Are there individuals who don’t keep their skills up to date and are not willing to learn? Absolutely! But I have found there is no age barrier here for having the “I quit learning attitude.”

    Small business in America employees about 95% of all employees. It’s where economic growth comes from and certainly as business owners, there are MANY issues to deal with, one is employees.

    One of the great things about America is that we can share our voice or opinions, knowing we don’t have to agree. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Garrett and I have always hired the “best qualified” for the budget allowed. And age is NOT a factor.

    I would rather have a very talented person a short amount of time that can help meet and exceed goals than a pain in the ass forever.

    Mr. Alba’s question was……..what real options are there for people to generate an income?
    Not, how do you see candidates over 45.

  14. Jason,

    The average age of ExecuNet members is 50, so you can imagine that this is a topic that is not new to us, and as others have commented here, neither is discrimination be it on the basis of age, sex, race, etc.

    Point being that people have had to try and fight their way through these issues for generations as we all know. Our experience is that the age issues is around all the time only it tends to surface much more visibly in recession, and certainly we have seen it in spades this time too.

    When I talk with members I usually suggest that when it comes to discrimination (no matter what the issue) you are essentially dealing with a spectrum of intensity. On the far right are those whose minds you will never change no matter what. On the other end, people whose minds are open and indeed who are likely to do all they can to help. Most of us are somewhere between the two and while we may have biases, we are influence able.

    For sure the frustration and anger that discrimination generates is certainly understandable, but as with anything else in life, once you get past the anger stage, you have to decide how you are going to move forward

    That said, there are tactics and strategies that can help to people to break through the potential barriers some of which have been commented on by others here an certainly there more, but like everything else in job search, one size does not fit all.

  15. Jason,

    The average age of ExecuNet members is 50, so you can imagine that this is a topic that is not new to us, and as others have commented here, neither is discrimination be it on the basis of age, sex, race, etc.

    Point being that people have had to try and fight their way through these issues for generations as we all know. Our experience is that the age issue is around all the time only it tends to surface much more visibly in recessions, and certainly we have seen it in spades this time too.

    When I talk with members I usually suggest that when it comes to discrimination (no matter what the issue) you are essentially dealing with a spectrum of intensity. On the far right are those whose minds you will never change no matter what. On the other end, people whose minds are open and indeed who are likely to do all they can to help. Most of us are somewhere between the two and while we may have biases, we can be influenced.

    For sure the frustration and anger that discrimination generates is understandable, but as with anything else in life, once you get past the anger stage, you have to decide how you are going to move forward

    That said, there are tactics and strategies that can help to people to break through the potential barriers some of which have been commented on by others here an certainly there are more, but like everything else in job search, one size does not fit all.

  16. Thanks, Jason. This is a great discussion.

    And thanks, Susan, for the term “pre-defeated.” It’s a useful angle for approaching older job seekers who fit your description. My concern for the pre-defeated is that the accompanying anger and frustration saps a job seeker’s ability to present him/herself in a way that will inspire people to hire them. I’ve encountered quite a few with this attitude, but also many who embrace the new challenges and opportunities of today’s job market.

    There are a number of resources geared to helping older job seekers. I’ve pulled together a list of some of them:

    And, definitely, the more positive stories, the better.

  17. I agree with Mr. Garrett that agism in the workplace – real or percieved – is often well deserved (and believe Mike has missed his point).

    Older workers often tout their 20-30+ years of experience (without regard to whether their experience was GOOD experience, or functionally relevant) rather than providing business owners or management with a resonating reason as to why they want to be a part of that company and what kind of return on investment they are able to provide.

    Many older workers approach their job search through a very narrow scope – “well, I’ve done this for 30 years so surely someone will hire me to do more of the same.”

    This is NOT a compelling reason to hire someone.

  18. Mark, how did I miss read Mr. Garrett comment of “majority of job seekers?”

    My feelings are you and others are defending why age discrimination happens still today

    Like others who defend this practice, you don’t offer solutions to the question asked by Mr Albania

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