How to Overcome Five Stereotypes about Older Workers, with Debbie Lipton

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 255:

How to Overcome Five Stereotypes about Older Workers, with Debbie Lipton

Airdate: August 5, 2020

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Our show is brought to you by TopResume.

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Go to macslist.org/topresume.

Ageism in hiring is illegal. It’s also a fact of life.

Debbie Lipton is here today to talk about five stereotypes about older candidates and how you can overcome them.

Debbie is the founder and owner of Lipton Career Management. Before starting her company, she worked as a career counselor, hiring manager, trainer, and staffing specialist.

Debbie joins us today from Norwood, Massachusetts.

Now, Debbie, we’re going to talk about 5 stereotypes about older workers and how to overcome them, but here’s where I want to start: ageism in hiring is a big problem, isn’t it?

Debbie Lipton:

Yeah, it is. Many people…well, first of all, ageism exists. There are negative stereotypes about older workers but the good news is that if older workers know what they may be facing ahead of time, they can get ahead of it and still come across as a viable and desirable candidate.

Mac Prichard:

We’re going to talk about older workers today but the strategy that you’re suggesting about how to overcome these misconceptions about an age group, they could be used by any generation, millennials, Gen Xers, isn’t that right?

Debbie Lipton:

Yeah, I think that the mindset of thinking, “Well, what are the stereotypes that people have about my generation, and how do I learn how to counter that?” is something that’s going to help you, regardless of what generation you’re in.

Mac Prichard:

Now, I know this is obvious but I just want to affirm, discriminating against someone in hiring because of their age, it’s against the law, isn’t it, Debbie?

Debbie Lipton:

Yes, so actually there’s a federal legislation that was passed in 1967 called the “Age Discrimination in Employment Act,” because there was a great deal of age discrimination happening at that time. But interestingly the protected class was for people from 40 and older, and in 1967, 40 looked a whole lot different than it looks now. People are living a lot longer, we’re a lot healthier, many of us want to continue to work longer. So, another important point is that, at the time when the legislation was passed, it was on the shoulders of the hiring organizations to prove that they were not discriminating, but over the years, it has gone back to the job seeker or people who are working and maybe being laid-off to prove age discrimination, in fact, has happened.

Mac Prichard:

That law you mentioned, it passed more than 50 years ago. Why is this still happening?

Debbie Lipton:

Why do I think it’s still happening? That’s a really good question. I think what’s happening is that recruiters and hiring managers may be trying to categorize the candidates that are coming through the door. And unfortunately, many of us slip into a shorthand of stereotypes in order to understand a social group that we don’t understand ourselves. So, there’s actually a great deal of discrimination based on age, based on gender, sexuality, marital status, ethnicity, and these shortcuts, unfortunately, really do a disservice to the job seeker because unless they’re ready to push against those stereotypes, they may get dismissed out of hand and unfairly.

Mac Prichard:

Do you recommend that someone who has been discriminated against, or believes they have, because of their age for a job turn to the law and sue, or is that simply impractical?

Debbie Lipton:

I would say if you’re looking for a job and you feel that you’ve been discriminated against, if getting a job is your primary need, I would stay away from the lawsuit. But, on the other hand, I always urge people to be reading the newspaper every day, because you may see something about that particular employer that may just…you may have other company of people that have just found that they have been discriminated against but I wouldn’t do it during an active job search.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s go through these 5 common stereotypes; you’ve got a list of 5. Number one on your list is, “Older workers have outdated technical skills.” What’s the concern here? Is this one you see a lot?

Debbie Lipton:

Oh my goodness, absolutely, and it’s not hard to get there. What happens is many job seekers do have some technical skills but they’re not understanding how they’re coming across in the virtual world, shall we say. It goes in 2 ways when talking about the technical skills. For instance, if you have an email address that’s “thesmithfamily@aol.com,” you’re telling them that you don’t know how to create a professional email and you’re saying that you’re outdated because you’re using an AOL address. That immediately puts you into a category of, “Mm, we’re not sure.” That’s number one.

Number two, humans don’t get the resumes first. It’s not like the old days where you put it in the envelope and it would land in the hand of the recruiter. These days, resumes are being evaluated by Applicant Tracking Systems, which is Artificial Intelligence which is evaluating a resume against a job description and putting on point values, et cetera. If you don’t know how to create an ATS, Applicant Tracking System, friendly resume, you may never get in front of the eyes of the recruiter.

Also, a huge game-changer in the last 10 years, but especially in the last few, a long time, is LinkedIn.com. LinkedIn has more than 690 million job seeker profiles on it. It’s the resource that 95% of recruiters go to to find candidates for positions, perhaps even before the positions are posted. I’ve heard many older workers, or workers that aren’t as comfortable with the technology, feel that, “I’ll do this without LinkedIn.” But what many employers will say is, “If you’re not on LinkedIn you don’t exist.”

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned AOL as a sign that someone might be out of date or have no technical skills; are there other domain names that you recommend workers avoid when picking an email address?

Debbie Lipton:

I would suggest that they…actually if you’re working on a PC, a Gmail account is a very safe account. I would actually stay away from those of the internet service providers, cause let’s say you have ComCast.net, but you decide to switch from Comcast, your information is out there with a Comcast email address. So, Gmail is typically a very good one to use. If you are using a Mac or iPhone, using me.com is very good, using live.com, and also for both, outlook.com is very good.

Mac Prichard:

How about getting started on LinkedIn, Debbie? What advice do you have for an older worker who just doesn’t know what the first step is?

Debbie Lipton:

There are so many videos on YouTube, there are videos on LinkedIn. What you want to do is just get yourself comfortable with, ”What is LinkedIn, anyway, what is this all about? What is it supposed to do for me?” There are also really good job search websites that can also introduce you to LinkedIn and what it’s all about.

At the end of the day, regardless of your age, you want a complete LinkedIn profile, which means having a profile picture, having a headline, having a summary section, and then having a work history similar to your resume, going back, typically, 15 to 20 years.

Mac Prichard:

Almost every professional has a section that lists skills and education as well. What advice do you have for overcoming that stereotype that an older worker’s skills are outdated? How should someone talk about their skills, and if they need to brush them up, what can they do?

Debbie Lipton:

Okay, so it really depends on the kind of work that you’re looking for, and in a way it doesn’t matter, but it is your responsibility to know how the work is done. For instance, I’m thinking about going into a higher-end, fast-food restaurant where you order on a screen, for instance, or you go to a…during the non-COVID days when we went to restaurants, you may have noticed that waiters and waitresses were taking orders on a tablet. So, if that’s the type of work that you do, you need to know how to use a tablet.

If you’re an administrative assistant, if you haven’t updated your Microsoft Office skills, this is the time to do it, and there are many free resources out there that would allow you to do that. Actually, lynda.com is a resource of thousands of different types of training programs and modules in many different areas. And if you have a local library that has a subscription, you can go on there, and say, “Okay, I need to upgrade my Microsoft office skills. Where do I want to get started?”

Then, there are individuals that we see in the Boston area a lot who are software developers or perhaps doing other types of technical work, and it’s very possible that you may be able to find courses, again, on lynda.com or there may be other resources, such as, General Assembly or other online courses that you can take that aren’t too expensive.

By taking the initiative to upgrade your skills, to match the skill level that is required based on the job descriptions that you’ve seen, that is going to tell the employer that you get it around your technical skills, and that you’ve taken the initiative to upgrade them, and that’s what’s looked for in an employee.

Mac Prichard:

Number 2 on your list of 5 stereotypes about older workers is that they can’t work with the younger generation. Why is it important to show Debbie, that you’ve worked with multiple generations?

Debbie Lipton:

Frankly, most of the workplaces that we’re in right now are made up of many generations. In my office alone, I know we have about 4 different generations and we’re all learning how to work with each other. And frankly, it makes for a more dynamic work environment, and I think it’s rarer when you’re working with people that just come from one generation.

Mac Prichard:

How do you recommend a candidate document that? Show that employer that, “I am indeed working with multiple generations.” Or have done so.

Debbie Lipton:

Have stories available. Career counselors like myself are always encouraging job seekers to be ready with their PAR stories or CAR stories, Problems, Actions, Results, or Situation, Action, Result, and what you want to do is have stories ready of how you’ve partnered with people from diverse age groups in order to solve a workplace problem.

Mac Prichard:

I want to take a quick break, Debbie, and when we come back, I want to go to item number 3 on your list, which is one I hear a lot from older workers but people who are mid-career too, and that is that they’re not getting interviews and offers because employers are telling them they’re overqualified.

Debbie Lipton:

Okay.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, and I want to get your advice about that when we come back, so stay with us.

Debbie Lipton will continue to share how to overcome stereotypes about older workers.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Debbie Lipton. She’s the founder and owner of Lipton Career Management.

Before starting her company, Debbie worked as career counselor, hiring manager, trainer, and staffing specialist.

Now, Debbie, before the break, we were working our way through your list of 5 common stereotypes about older workers, and the third one on your list is one that I hear a lot, and that is that older workers are being told that they’re overqualified. What’s the issue here, Debbie?

Debbie Lipton:

I think that when job seekers hear that, they need to get more clarity on what it is that the employer is concerned about. Sometimes you can’t do that right during the interview, so you may want to go in anticipating that an employer might say, “You’re overqualified.” And overqualified might point to a few things.

First of all, they may be worried that you want too much money. So, overqualified means that you’re older, you’re used to having a higher salary, “We don’t want to get into that with you.” A way to combat that is to do your homework ahead of time. Find out what the salary range is for the type of position that you’re looking for and then come in, and so when the question of salary comes up, you’re ready to talk about your understanding of the market value, and asking them if that was the range that they were looking at.

Mac Prichard:

Let me pause there; sometimes I’ve met older workers who, because of their circumstances, are willing to accept less pay than they’ve made in the past. How do you recommend an older worker talk about that if that is, in fact, the case?

Debbie Lipton:

I have a perfect example. I was working a few years ago with a senior software developer who was about 60 years old, and she found an organization and a job that she was very excited about. But they needed a software engineer and not a senior software engineer. But she was really excited about this job, and this was also in 2013, where we were still feeling the ripple effects of the 2008 downturn. What she did was, number one, before she even interviewed with them, because this is how she did it, she had already upgraded her tech skills, she was already finding out what the gap was, between where she was and where she wanted to go.

Number two, during the interview, they asked her, “Well, why would you want to take a more junior position?” And she was ready with her response which was, literally, “The mortgages are paid and the kids are out of the house. I’m in a position right now to choose the work that I want to do and this is the job that I want, with this organization, and why.” And she was hired for the position, and not only that, they trained her once she was hired.

Mac Prichard:

What would you say to a candidate who might be in an interview where that is an issue but the hiring manager, for whatever reason, doesn’t ask that question? Should the candidate volunteer that information?

Debbie Lipton:

I think it probably depends on the interview itself. I think older workers want to be thinking about the energy that they’re putting across. What is the energy they’re putting behind their job search, and what is the energy they’re putting across in the way that they look, the way that they speak? Are they focused? Are they knowledgeable? Did they take the time to do the research about the employer? Did they take the time to do a deep dive on the job description to make sure that they had stories to tell that were related to each of the qualifications that were listed in the job description?

By being prepared, by doing that homework, you’re demonstrating that you’re the type of candidate that an employer would want to speak to.

Mac Prichard:

Do you find in your work with candidates, Debbie, that some older workers don’t do that preparation? Instead, they walk into interviews thinking, “Well, my qualifications should speak for themselves.”

Debbie Lipton:

Then they wonder why they’re not getting any offers.

Similarly, going back to the technical issue, if you don’t know how to make a resume applicant tracking system friendly, that can kick you out and some people will say, “Well, it was age.” When in fact, no, it was because your resume wasn’t formatted properly. One other thing is that you, this is a very, very big point, you have to customize your resume for each and every job. And I hear, and I have clients right now who tell me, “I sent out a hundred resumes a week and I didn’t get anything back.”

“Did you customize the resume?”

“No.”

There’s your story.

Mac Prichard:

That’s good advice for any age group. One thing that I want to touch on, when we’re talking about candidates that are being told that they’re overqualified or perhaps are viewed that way by a hiring manager, you mentioned salary is an issue, what about length of service? Is that also a concern?

Debbie Lipton:

Yes, I think it definitely is. If you’ve been with one organization for a long time and…it depends, 10 years these days is a long time, but I’ve seen people who have been with one organization for 40 years, many individuals who haven’t looked for a job in a long time don’t realize that they’re not coming across with the energy and with the preparation that the employer is looking for. So,  they really need to embrace learning the 2020 job search in order to be considered a viable candidate. If you try to rest on your laurels, it’s not going to take you anywhere.

Mac Prichard:

Your fourth misconception about older workers is that hiring managers or future colleagues might view them as a parent or grandparent. What’s the concern here, Debbie?

Debbie Lipton:

It’s interesting, some people do come out of work environments where it was a family environment and you may have had the role of a mom or a dad or a grandparent. But if you…and you dress the part and you behave the part, but if you’re going into an environment that doesn’t value that, that’s going to be held against you. Again, it goes back to how are you dressing, what is the energy that’s coming across, did you take the time to understand what the job requires of you? You have to prove yourself all over again, but as an adult, not in a familial role.

Mac Prichard:

How do you recommend people do that? Especially in interviews.

Debbie Lipton:

Find out, what is appropriate dress for an interview these days? That changes over time, and again, there are many wonderful job search advice websites, I think you may have some interesting information on this, as well, so that you go in prepared to put yourself across as a professional. In fact, what was a given for women going into business in the 90s as professionals isn’t necessarily how you would dress appropriately now, same for men.

Mac Prichard:

What advice would you have for someone who is walking into an interview, and their future boss or potential boss is 10, 15, or even 20 years younger than they are? How do you recommend an older person relate to that person and address one of the unspoken concerns in the room? That the older worker might have difficulty working for someone who is old enough to be a son or a daughter.

Debbie Lipton:

I think the first thing to do is to anticipate ahead of time that that’s in fact, the person that you’re going to end up talking to. And then you have to examine what your own stereotypes are about age. What are the negative stereotypes you might have of people who are younger than you? Because if you bring in a negative state of mind toward someone who’s half your age you’re not doing yourself any favors during the interview. Remember that if they’re doing that job, give them credit for the fact that they were hired to do that job because they’re good at what they’re doing, and give them the respect that they deserve because they’re there.

Also, think about it this way, recruiters, at any given time, are handling 25 to 35 open requisitions at any given time. They want you to be the right candidate so that they can move you forward and get onto the next rec. So, come in ready and open to talk to somebody who may be a little bit younger or very much younger than you but give them the credit that they know what they’re doing, and then think about that you want them to give you that very same credit. That way you’re creating that sense of cooperation and perhaps some comfort with each other.

Mac Prichard:

Debbie, your fifth and final misconception about older workers is that they’re focused on retirement. Why should someone’s retirement date matter at all to a hiring manager?

Debbie Lipton:

The hiring manager is looking at the cost of hiring you. If your plan is to only stick around for a year or two, that may not be as good an investment to make in a hire than someone who’s planning to stay longer. Now, it’s none of their business when you’re planning to retire, so if this is a job that you feel good about, that you’re excited about, in an organization that you want to be part of, focus on that. Redirect the person who’s asking about retirement to the point of your saying, “Retirement’s not in my plan right now. This is why I want to be working for you and this is what I can bring to the position.”

Mac Prichard:

Well, Debbie, it’s been a terrific conversation. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Debbie Lipton:

Well, I am actually a counselor at one of the one-stop career centers. It’s one of the most hidden resources in the United States. There are many, many hundreds of career centers around the country, and there, we provide services to help people return to work. Say for the older worker, where they can learn how to become an ideal candidate, how to deal with applicant tracking systems, how to create a LinkedIn profile.

Sometimes we get assigned clients that we get to work with long-term as they make a career change and come out the other end with a job that they feel very happy about. And sometimes there’s even money available for upscaling or retraining if that’s what you need in order to be employable.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I know people can learn more about your own practice by visiting liptoncm.com and, Debbie, I’m just curious, if someone wanted to learn about the career centers, as you say it’s a national network and ours is a national show, is there a website that you’d recommend they visit?

Debbie Lipton:

I would say that they could Google, America’s Job Centers and that should come up with a list of states that you should click on and go through, or Google, One-Stop Career Center.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific.

Now, Debbie, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to overcome these stereotypes about older workers?

Debbie Lipton:

The most important thing, I think, is to think about, what is the value that you bring to an organization based on the experience that you have? Employers are looking for people with highly developed soft skills, people who know how to take on leadership, people who stay calm in the middle of a storm, people who are reliable, who will step up, who won’t job hop. All of these are descriptors of older workers. Think about how they apply to you and be ready to internalize that and to bring that out during the interview as it’s appropriate.

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Ian Yee. He’s the safety and employment coordinator for Janus Youth Programs.  It’s a non-profit that changes the lives of young people in Oregon and Washington.

You may switch careers several times. And to do this, you need to show employers that your previous experience applies to the new field you’ve chosen.

Ian will share his advice about how to talk about your transferable skills.

I hope you’ll join us. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

Regardless of your age, you could face discrimination in your job search. Is ageism illegal? Yes, but that doesn’t mean it no longer exists. The good news is there are practical steps you can take to overcome the stereotypes about older workers. Updating your technical skills should be your first priority, says Find Your Dream Job guest Debbie Lipton. Ditch the AOL email address, update your LinkedIn profile, and use online training sites for specific skills. Debbie also recommends showing how you can work well with colleagues of any age, and why you want the job you’re applying for. 

About Our Guest: 

Debbie Lipton is the founder and owner of Lipton Career Management. Before starting her company, she worked as a career counselor, hiring manager, trainer, and staffing specialist. 

Resources in This Episode: