The Elephant in the Room
Posted On March 4, 2021
What’s “old”? Some insights (and tips) on DEFLECTING age bias
A vital, intelligent middle-aged woman with much to offer recently told me: “A friend who works in HR said I should plan on this being my last job.”
I’ve also heard this: “I’d like to look for a new job, but I’m worried about companies passing me up because of my age. So I guess I’d better just stay put.” Or, “I’m pushing 50; I need to be careful.”
There’s real fear coming from the 50+ crowd. It’s understandable, given past trends of jobs being outsourced or companies getting rid of tenured workers in favor of younger (read: less-expensive) ones.
So we pull back, not wanting to talk about that elephant in the room, age. Notably, OUR age. We start believing that we need to settle, gratefully accept what we have, sit on the sidelines, be passed up or passed by, lucky just to have a job. Never mind stepping out and looking for a new one ~ with all our experience, we still might not get hired.
is this true?
Not so much: SOME (GOOD) news
According to this article from CNBC, the unemployment rate for 55+ workers is lower than the general unemployment rate by almost a full 1%.
And studies are showing that mental and emotional abilities peak at different times. It’s not like we thought, a burst of brilliance at age 30 followed by the inevitable slow decline. There are plenty of role models for hitting one’s stride later in life: people who changed careers or built businesses and made it big later, celebrities who got a slow start, people who didn’t follow a traditional path (if there still IS one).
The rules have been kicked to the curb. People are marrying + having kids later, living longer, waiting to retire (if they do at all) and reinventing themselves along the way. PLUS there’s a shortage of workers. A pretty rosy picture, all in all.
Still, if you’re “of a certain age”, it pays to be a bit crafty. Be bold, be unapologetic, but be mindful of the possibility of age bias.
In other words, don’t give them any ammo.
- Your resume: avoid phrases that lead with decades of experience (“25+ years”) or long-in-the-tooth descriptors. Instead of “vast”, for example, use “deep” or “extensive” or “rich”. Also, don’t go back for decades with your work history. Especially in tech, the last 10 years or so is plenty. Add a “Prior Roles Include” section if you want to capture relevant earlier titles.
- Address the “older workers are more expensive” conversation (at the appropriate time): seasoned workers may be more expensive, but I’ve also heard it eloquently said, “I’m at a point in my life where money is less important: I’m an empty-nester, my kids are out of college, I have flexibility to choose the work I want to do.” This one can be a little tricky, though. Don’t lead with “I’m inexpensive” — you want to be fairly paid for your expertise.
- Keep learning + adding new skills: find out what the hot ones are, then pick one up that’s relevant. Not just because I told you to. Be interested in it and have some kind of practical application for it. Udemy has skazillions of courses, cheap. There’s also YouTube (free) and all kinds of interesting problems to be solved in the world.
- Mingle with all generations: add younger folks to your network ~ your peers may be retiring. How to find Gen Y’ers / Millennials? Go where they are: mentor, teach what you know, volunteer (find a hackathon or a social engineering opportunity). Bring Genesys Works into your company, get invited to your local high school to give a career presentation, hire college interns. Meetup.com and Evite are full of ideas.
- Be mindful of your appearance: stay reasonably fit + at a healthy weight. Walk with a spring in your step (want to see how you look when you walk? have someone take a quick video). Hold yourself tall. Cultivate a personal style (that suits you) based on current trends. This includes shoes, glasses, hairstyle, makeup for gals, your pearly whites. Strike a balance, though. You’re not trying to look like a Millennial ~ you be the best version of you.
- Listen to yourself: are you talking like a curmudgeon? Steer clear of topics like illness, surgeries, aches and pains, too many stories about the grandkids or decades-old events, how things were “back then” or “we always did things that way”. Your brain is always listening and will faithfully recreate whatever you focus on. The best part: you can reverse it! Don’t do this for them, do it for you. Read this.
- Cultivate a youthful attitude: open-mindedness, focused in NOW, flexibility, curiosity, an appreciation of different perspectives and an interest in new ideas. “Old” is a mindset as much as it is a chronology.
I’ve heard that after age 50, we must choose whether we’ll engage with life or drift toward the sidelines. Even though stepping back might seem appealing, decide to stay interested and relevant, whatever that looks like for you. Put energy into learning, experimenting, and getting outside of your comfort zone regularly. Not just professionally, do this in your life.
Chuck Squires, a 35+ year veteran of Robert Half International, role models this beautifully. He’s retired, but stays connected through mentoring, networking, giving back to the business community. On vacations, he’s off hiking in the Andes or volunteering somewhere. His zest for living is infectious and inspiring.
“There is a fountain of youth: It is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”
— Sophia Loren
At any age, your network is your best professional asset (keep in mind, your network is the people who will help you, not your number of LinkedIn connections). Cultivate it with consistency, and be sure you’re helping others along the way.
A LinkedIn article popped up in my feed recently ~ the topic: could older creatives compete with younger talent? The headline photo: a middle-aged guy with a full gray beard. He was sitting on the ground, MacBook Air atop his thighs. Dressed sharp, wearing Clubmaster shades, muscles faintly visible under his rolled-up sleeves, sockless-in-oxfords-with-tanned-ankles. My god, he looked HOT. Experience and perspective + curiosity and energy are irresistibly intriguing.
You have much to offer: your unique perspective, your experience, your skills, your sensibilities. Stay in the game. We need you here.
I help mid-careerists tune up their professional brand.
Embarking on a job search? Gunning for a promotion? Launching a speaking sideline?
I use my recruiting and writing experience to help you get clear.
Want to connect?
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