When you are twenty-six but look nineteen, your youthful looks can be a detriment to finding meaningful employment. Oh sure it becomes relatively easy to get some entry-level jobs, but the real career jobs are harder to come by because few take you seriously believing you too young to grasp the responsibilities.
At the other end of the employment spectrum, there are people who wish they looked to others to be in their late forties instead of being in their mid-fifties. Feeling that they are being dismissed because of their greying hair, these people often need employment and all it means. But if we are to believe many reports, we’ve got an aging population upon us whom over the next five-year period will represent a rather large majority of the overall population.
Now all those older people in their sixties are either not working nor interested, working still and about to retire in their near future, or be out of work and looking for employment. I have found in the last two years a most curious thing in that people younger than me are listing old age as a personal barrier to employment. Really? Does hitting a specific birthday define one as old, or does it really come down to both self-perception and how others perceive us?
Now me personally at 55 years old, I’m don’t find myself thinking about age a great deal. I guess it’s because I’m working and – no wait – it’s about HOW I’m going about working. You see I could do what the younger generations are stereotyping older workers of doing; slowing down, getting in a rut, playing out the string, talking of retirement that’s still years away for me, but I don’t.
You see, I’m one of the older people on my team at work. However, I’m extremely creative and always looking for different ways to communicate job searching tips and tools to clients. I’m the one called upon by others to write-up teaching manuals and hand-outs. I’m the one who is often putting in the extra effort with clients not just to make a resume for example, but to make a resume that is rich and stands out. My attendance is either perfect in the case of last year, or I’ve missed a single day which is good enough to win an excellent attendance award which I’ve done for the last seven years or so. I hardly have the health concerns then that younger people think the older workers have.
And that’s at the crux of this whole age issue; whitewashing an entire population where every individual must have the characteristics of the majority in that group. It’s saying that all workers near their sixties are in bad health, work slower, don’t pick up technology quickly and take afternoon naps at work. And this is about as accurate as saying all Human Resource Department people in their thirties and forties are prejudiced against hiring older workers; neither are truisms.
I do believe one thing most vehemently however and that is if you yourself buy in to feeling old and discriminated against because of it, you will be thought of that way by others too. After all, if you feel your age is a barrier to employment it’s easier to agree with you then it is to change your opinion by pointing out reasons you’re not. And to be honest, I often think that when an older person starts feeling discriminated against because of their age, perhaps that is because when they themselves were 20 years younger, they too had prejudicial opinions about older workers but have become one!
First and foremost I encourage you as an chronologically older person to think about what you have control over. You may not be able to control the number of candles on the cake, but you can re-master much. For starters walk with purpose instead of sauntering. People who walk with purpose and some jump in their steps ooze energy. Don’t move as if you are trying not to disturb the cobwebs between your legs. You can also control your hair style and colour.
When you talk to people; co-workers, employers, interviewers, recruiters or employment advisors, sound energetic. Be enthusiastic, smile, shake hands with some strength. You’ve probably had many years of experience so you should be able to relate much of that experience to the jobs you are going for now. If you are changing careers because the work you performed was too physical to do now, you should still be able to identify and promote the transferable skills you have.
You are in a better place to promote yourself for good or ill than anyone else. And so if like I say, you believe you are over the hill, why would you expect others to see you any differently? If you challenge others perceptions of being an older person by how you act and what you are capable of in addition to what you say, then you have a good chance of being perceived as still capable of making a valuable contribution.
You may have only so many years of employment left to go, but you can still market yourself to your advantage. Be positive, act confident, be friendly, take pride in your appearance, get active, be visible and network. Finding or keeping employment is a full-time job no matter your age. Like Ringo Starr sang, “It don’t come easy!”