3 Tips to Get Around Ageism in Your Job Search

John Krautzel
Posted by in Career Advice


Ageism may be illegal, but that doesn't mean older workers don't suffer from age-based prejudice during a job search. Although you can't change your age, there are a few things you can do to fight employer ageism. Here are three tips to make yourself an attractive hire at any stage in life.

1. Don't Focus on Your Age

As an older worker, it's best not to mention your age during the interview. Instead, focus on your skills and accomplishments, bringing up examples of times when you've successfully delivered results. You can also put a positive spin on your age without mentioning it directly by briefly discussing the good qualities that come with age, such as maturity and experience.

Avoid making any statements that draw attention to your age. For example, instead of mentioning years and dates when talking about past jobs, just mention the employer names. Never state that your methods of performing certain tasks are outdated or that you haven't worked with a certain tool in many years.

2. Predict Possible Concerns

Even when age itself isn't an issue, older workers tend to provoke certain objections in potential employers. Employers may question your required salary given your years in the workforce or your willingness to work for a higher-risk startup as opposed to a stable employer. They may also wonder why an older worker with years of experience isn't applying for a management role.

Before the interview, place yourself in the employer's shoes, and brainstorm possible objections. Make a list of the objections you come up with, and address any of these concerns early in the interview if they apply to your situation. If the interviewer asks you to say a bit about yourself, use this opportunity to provide explanations and calm any valid worries.

3. Mesh With the Company's Values and Culture

Older workers shouldn't try to act or speak like their younger potential coworkers, but they should be able to blend in and mesh with the office culture. Study the organization's core values before the interview, and align yourself with these values without directly mentioning them during interview. For example, if one core value is customer focus, discuss a situation when you went above and beyond for a customer.

If possible, find an opportunity to speak with a current employee before the interview to get a feel for the office culture. Find parallels between your personal work style and the office culture, and mention them during interview. For instance, mention that you're happy to see that the workplace is a collaborative environment because you've always performed well in teams. If the office culture is vastly different from your previous work environment but you're flexible and open to make changes, let the interviewer know.

Employer ageism may put older workers up against unfair odds, but there's still plenty of hope. By focusing on your skills and accomplishments, predicting employer concerns and aligning with the company culture, you can increase your chances of scoring the job.


Photo courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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  • sheila e.
    sheila e.

    so sad younger folks do not know what I know with my background and people hiring are fools.

  • Rhonda S.
    Rhonda S.

    I truly understand what everyone is saying. I hold three degrees and still cannot locate work. It does get frustrating. I just pray about my situation.

  • Rick DeTavernier
    Rick DeTavernier

    I'm 50 but fell younger

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Michael M. thanks for your comment. I have to say I am surprised that a company would fly you in for an interview without first knowing everything they can find out about you. Needless to say, they would have already done a background check and would know your age. In today's world, a company is not going to spend precious dollars flying potential candidates to their location without this. I am thinking that it might be something else. Do they do a complete interview? Walk you around and introduce you? Or do they just say thanks - you can go ahead and fly home now? Do they cover your expenses? I am struggling here to figure out why a company would go this distance only to turn you away? Anyone else have this experience? If so, please comment here.

  • Michael M.
    Michael M.

    I have experienced ageism, repeatedly, have watched it's progress as I age. I have en-devoured to keep current skills in high demand in my industry and this always worked to get companies reaching out to me, interviewing me on the phone, and flying me to wherever they may be, only to see the process die at that point when they discover i'm about 20 years older than they visualized in their mind. I have had the time to adjust my looks, die my hair, grow it, shorten, dress formal, informal, young, but i cannot cover up the reality of the age difference and there is NOTHING in the job discussion that will affect the impact of that. If you have some advice to jump the chasm of the ageism shock that occurs at the first F2F please god let us know.

  • viola Q.
    viola Q.

    Seasoned Nurses are always tossed aside, the employer never seems to think "hey they are better skilled and grounded".Totally Prejudice!!

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Margaret Lamb thanks for your comment. It could be true that some companies filter out resumes based upon things like graduation dates as well as years of experience. Sadly there isn't much that we can do about that. But I feel that sooner or later, companies are going to realize that they were wrong because they won't be getting the talent and skills that they need because of their filters. Do your best in disguising your age and beef up your skills and qualifications. Make sure that you are taking keywords from the posting and incorporating them into your resume the best that you can. Don't forget out networking. Sometimes it's not what you know but who you know. If you can find a contact, try to get him/her to push your resume through. I know I will get hit for saying that but I am living proof that it can work. Wishing you all the best.

  • Margaret Lamb
    Margaret Lamb

    Your comments, while very helpful, address the interview phase. I'm not even getting that far. I'm starting to think that certain companies simply "weed out" based on things like years of experience and graduation year from college.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @M.D. thanks for your comment. Yes they sure do try, any legal way they can, to determine your age - especially if you only include the past 10 years on your resume and remove grad dates. I know that many applications ask for HS grad date and won't proceed without it. Can't do much about that one, unfortunately, except to try to be the best interview they have where they just can't turn you down. No I don't think that you could get them for age discrimination since they didn't really ask for your age. On to the next one! All the best.

  • M D.
    M D.

    Had an initial phone interview with a placement agency a while back, with a clever but obvious attempt to determine my age. The interviewer asked “how long do you intend to stay in nursing?” I told her that, honestly, nursing is my forever career and I intend to “die with my boots on.” Though that is the truth, it was my way to sidestep the obvious illegal age question by not quantifying how many years I think I have left before I might retire. That pretty much shut down the interview. Since they really didn’t have anything I was interested in, I didn’t care. Unfortunately, since the age question was approached so obliquely, I don’t suppose I can report them for violating age discrimination laws.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Samson K you are absolutely correct. Make sure that the "keywords" are coming from the job posting though. That's what the ATS is set up for -keywords from the job posting. If you don't have them, you won't get far.

  • Samson k.
    Samson k.

    While a background check is important,i totally agree that past performance ,rate of adaptability and leadership qualities are key words the employer needs to consider

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @renee m. thanks for your comment. I sure do hear you and so do others who are in your same boat. Then you hear that the unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in years! That's because so many have just quit looking. They, too, are caught in that "age" bracket and just can't break through. I wish I had the answers but I just don't know what it's going to take. I totally agree with you about the age question. All of my life, asking for your age on a job application was taboo. Now most places will get around it by asking what year did you graduate from HS. Also agree about the job hopping. Most of the more "senior" job seekers would love to just have a position where they could hold their head up and pay their bills - keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table. No one is asking to be rich - just comfortable. It used to be if you were over 50, you might have a bit of a struggle finding a job but you could find one. Now the new "senior" age is 40! I don't know who decided that but you see it everywhere. I know that I have watched my sister's struggles to find and keep a job. She is 52 and is considered to be relatively obsolete. The only positions she can find are in stores like Family Dollar or in childcare facilities. Sadly those positions don't allow her to make enough money to live on. They don't want fulltime employees - only part-time. That way they don't have to worry about paying benefits. The only advice I can offer is to keep trying. Make sure you are networking. Check out some local temp agencies or even find a recruiter in your industry of choice. Wishing you all the best.

  • renee m.
    renee m.

    I'm over 40 and my friend we are both women she is 52, there is definitely age descrimination! Every job application on line and at recruiting services has a question where it asks are 40 and over or under or 39 and under, when did this become a legal question? I was a human resource manager 8 years ago and there wasn't ever a question like that on applications. Who decided the magic number of 40?? We are so frustrated this should not be legal! We both have college education and years of very qualified experience and we can't get hired at a decent job let alone a hobby lobby or restaurant what do we do?? Are they wanting to just do away with older people? We have the skills and just want job stability and a livable wage why is that to much to ask? Employers complain of high turnover because young kids leave for school or other jobs, I think most of us did that when we were young, so quit your wining employers and start hiring your older skilled stable employees again!!

  • Sheronda H.
    Sheronda H.

    Do the bedt job i can do

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Burnett D thanks for your comment. It is true that once you answer "what year did you graduate from HS", they know your age. Yes that is how some companies get around the age question. It's unfortunate because these companies are missing out on some great talent, skills and experience all the while they are hollering that they can't find qualified workers! Thanks for your service @Burnett D. I know what you mean about checking the disabled Veteran's box as I, too, am a disabled Vet. I have to wonder about that, though. Are you actually following up with any of these companies and asked why you weren't considered? Maybe 10 out of 200 will actually answer but it might be helpful to know. If it's because of age - well, sadly there's not much we can do. But, if it's due to your disability - you have a case. If you believe that's the case, you should try to find a lawyer who specializes in this and go after the company. You might even be able to get some help from your local Vet Center. We wish you all the best.

  • Burnett D.
    Burnett D.

    I've noticed that while age discrimination is somewhat illegal, the math is unavoidable when you have to sate what year you graduated from high school despite holding two masters degrees. Providing a work history on a sometimes required company application with dates is a give-away as to age, even in the best of circumstances. Additionally, under Veterans with disabilities, most companies don't want to select some one who is knowingly and admittedly disabled. That alone has ruled me out of over 200 or more application submittals for management positions in the same industry I retired from. John, thanks for shedding some light on this problem. Any additional guidance appreciated and welcomed!

  • Marcin Nowacz
    Marcin Nowacz

    Really nice article. I like yours text

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @John Kelly thanks for your comment. Goes to show that all things come in a full circle! I think, if he is qualified for the position, that he should be hired. The past is just that - past. If he is the best candidate, yes he should be hired and I would bet that he would be the most loyal employee!

  • john kelley
    john kelley

    All very true age discrimination has muted our country's growth. My solution was to start my own company. After a number of successful subcontracts I competed and won a contract and took it away from a firm where I got as far as the interview but the message to me was to enjoy retirement and my grand kids - just too old for the job. So tomorrow I interview the guy who interviewed me for that job I was just too old to fill. I wonder if he will get the job?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Todd M thanks for your comment. I know it can be frustrating. The rule of thumb, today, is that you only show the last ten years of your work history and only if it's relevant to the position for which you are applying. Does get confusing and frustrating. But, talking to companies, this is what they want. They only want what is relevant. They don't want to see skills that are outdated, either. All you can do is your best. Write up your resume for the position. Make sure that you are using keyword from the posting. What I will typically do is find a few like job descriptions and see what words are common in them. Then I can insert them into the resume that I am using and send it off. You do know that your resume will go through an applicant tracking software (ATS)? Most companies use this technology now because it eliminates all of those resumes that are not applicable to the position. That narrows down what a human has to read through. So whether you include 10 years of pertinent information or every single job that you have ever had, if you do not have the keywords they are looking for, your resume goes into the round file. So keep that in mind, too. And just do your best.

  • Todd M.
    Todd M.

    Interesting perspective, however; this appears to assume that one should not the years of work on there resume. Rather stress how many viable and word related years of experience one has gained.

  • Carl D.
    Carl D.

    I'm sorry; this article is like saying you play the flute by blowing into one end and moving your fingers up and down the outside. Not wrong, exactly; just not a lot of useful, actionable information.

  • Roque M.
    Roque M.

    Asking for my age? I would rather say: Guess what? This interview would turn into clairvoyance and palm reading session! Lol

  • Cindy G.
    Cindy G.

    Nobody can help their age. Gone are the days when you followed all the rules and could count on your salary/income growing as you progress in your career. Now in my late 50s and have to be willing to take a job at whatever salary is offered because nobody is irreplaceable. For young hiring managers out there now, just remember, that if you're lucky, you too will one day be "old", so just mentally put that shoe on the other foot for a moment! You will reap what you sow.

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