Defy the Older Worker Stereotype

“You’ve come a long way, baby.” If you remember this Virginia Slims commercial from the 60s and 70s, chances are you’re a seasoned mid- to late-career professional, with many accomplishments to show for your years of work.

Unfortunately, not everything since those days has made such great strides. Ageism is alive and well in the workplace, and you may have even experienced your share of it.

Despite advancements in anti-discrimination laws and well-established benefits of hiring older workers, negative stereotypes persist. These stubborn ideas about the boomer generation have the potential to keep you from landing that next job—unless you know how to identify and alleviate the employer’s concerns.

Common Perceptions of Older Workers

First, let’s examine some stereotypical objections that many employers have about more senior workers—and then we’ll address head-on how you can bust the myths, allay their fears, and get the job!

More expensive

You’ve undoubtedly heard this one before. Employers are worried that your salary requirements are going to break the budget or price you out of the competition. Fair or not, they often figure they can pay younger workers to do the same job for less.

Not technologically savvy

Again, this is an oft-heard refrain. While many workers of a certain age have become quite adept at learning new technology, the theory remains that they won’t be able to keep up.

Stuck in old ways

This is the classic “old dog/new tricks” stereotype. Employers are afraid that workers with a lot of work experience under their belt will be stuck in their own ways of doing things and averse to learning new things and/or doing things the employer’s way.

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Can’t take direction from younger managers

Doesn’t “play well with others?” It may be entirely unfounded, but many employers secretly fear that you won’t be willing to report to someone many years your junior. Chances are good that your interviewer might even be one of them.

Less productive

Slower. Uses more sick time. Not enough energy or stamina. However you want to slice it, these objections are all just variations on a theme—the employer is worried that you just won’t be up to the demands of the job.

Overcoming the Stereotypes

Now that we’ve examined these negative (and largely untrue!) stereotypes, let’s get straight to the heart of what you can do about them. If an interviewer is determined to pigeonhole you into a category based solely on your years, well, you can’t help that. Fortunately, though, there is so much you can control to influence the outcome in your favor.

Embrace your experience

That’s right. You can try to hide your age with so-called resume tricks, but why downplay one of your signature strengths? The best way to circumvent age-related bias is to confront it head-on. Your experience is an asset, so own it. Do the self-assessment work so you can clearly articulate what you have to offer an employer.

Get up to speed on technology

Don’t have a LinkedIn profile? Simple online tutorials will show you how to create this necessary job-search tool. Not familiar with Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or other social media? Again, classes, tools, and resources abound for learning how to create the online presence that employers expect.

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Learn new skills

Do the types of jobs you’re seeking want a particular credential, certification, or training that you’re lacking? Get yourself to the classroom!Even if it’s not a job requirement, show employers that you’re an avid lifelong learner by developing new skill sets. Countless learning opportunities exist, both online and traditional.

Show you’re a team player

Look for ways to demonstrate that you can work well in a team environment with colleagues of all ages. Do you have examples of working successfully in a multigenerational workplace? Make sure you weave that into the interview.

Use your contacts

One of the considerable advantages of having worked for many years is that you’ve probably built up your personal and professional networks. Done well, job hunting is a relationship business.So maximize your contacts. Go on informational interviews. And don’t be afraid to tell people that you’re looking for your next opportunity.

Take advantage of resources

Certain organizations and resources exist solely to assist older job seekers find employment, from launching a second career to reinvigorating your current one. You can find help on how to upload your resume, do an informational interview, attend a job fair, and land an internship.

Here are a few other resources to check out:

Get involved

While this advice applies to job seekers of any age, experienced workers have potentially even more to gain from volunteering their time and expertise. Getting engaged in conferences, committees, trade associations, and the like can introduce you to valuable contacts and put you in touch with decision makers in your field.

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Join a job-hunting group or hire a coach

Looking for a job can be a daunting and draining experience, especially the longer it takes. You need support, structure, and accountability—and you can’t always count on your friends or family. Hiring a coach or joining a job-hunting group can provide the outside perspective you need, while helping you keep up your spirits and confidence.

Don’t get stuck in the past

Sometimes it’s hard not to look back over your shoulder at the opportunities of the past, but resist the temptation to become mired in that moment. Be flexible—about potential fields of work, about salary expectations, about your future. Once you shed rigid ideas about what is supposed to happen, new possibilities can present themselves.