Dealing With Age Prejudices And Preferences


Is your age negatively affecting your ability to get a job? Whether you’re a young-looking 25 or a spry 60-year-old, you’re experiencing age discrimination and don’t know how to position yourself as a serious job applicant in the eyes of the interviewer(s). They take one look at you when you show up and appear to dismiss you before you’ve even had a chance to make your case.

This is a – wait for it – ‘growing’ problem (groan) in society for two reasons: we have a large number of older workers who unlike generations of the past are healthier and wanting or needing to work longer. Secondly, some young people are maturing much faster at earlier ages, and when they just happen to look 18 instead of 25, they are dismissed as also having the habits and behaviours of 18 year olds; generally inappropriate to being taking seriously for real work.

This is a major hurdle to overcome because in both ends of the age spectrum, what we’re really talking about is overcoming the age biases, preferences and prejudices decision-makers hold who can advance or terminate your chance at employment. So the real challenge is what can one do to persuade the interviewer or company representative that you should be a) taken seriously as a job applicant and b) judged for your skills, experience and abilities not your age.

Okay so let’s start with one truism; interviewers are just like everybody else when it comes to sizing up people when they first meet, which is why the first impression is of critical importance. Whether it’s meeting your daughter’s boyfriend for the first time, your blind date, your new boss or co-worker or even your child’s daycare provider, we all form initial impressions; and these first impressions are where we start our interaction with a person. These first impressions we make are in part based on our past experiences with other people who look similar to the person before us.

It’s like we’ve got this massive library in our brains of people we’ve dealt with in the past. When we see someone for the first time, our brains work incredibly fast, accessing memory files of other people we’ve dealt with that have brown hair and eyes that were 18 years old, were about the same height and had that same cute or dopey look. We recall the intelligence level, our experience for good or bad with those previous people, and then unfairly perhaps, we transfer the sum attributes of those past people to the person standing before us – all in 3 or 4 seconds. Is that fair? Maybe, maybe not; but it’s also a survival mechanism that helps us determine how to react to this new person. This is why we instantly get a good or bad ‘vibe’ about someone, and we trust our instincts if they suggest we either get away quickly or can get to know the person better.

So when someone meets us who is in a position to hire, they too access their memory files, and base their first impression on how we look and behave. When we engage in both non-verbal and verbal communication, the person we are meeting adds this new information to their first impression, and this either confirms their initial impression or gives them reason to adjust their initial view of us. This is why someone feeling dismissed too early often asks for a chance to prove themselves; they’re really asking for a chance to change the persons first impression by giving them new information to process that will change the person’s point of view. In other words, what you’re attempting to do is get past a person’s biases, preferences and biases.

It is essential for a job applicant; young or old, to get a look at the workforce you want to become part of. Size up how they dress for starters. Does your choice of clothing date you as matronly and remind them of their grandmothers or is does your taste in clothes make you appear more a teenager than a mid-20’s professional? Do an assessment of your hairstyle; makeup for the ladies, facial hair for the men. Check your posture both as you sit and walk. Are you sluggish, walk slightly bent over, or appear to be disguising a limp due to age? Any of these will give the interviewer more information to add to their assessment of you for good or ill.

Another thing you simply have to do is anticipate this age liability and prepare your defence. Whether openly discussed or not, you and I both know their eyes and ears are taking in information which the brain will use to evaluate your potential as an employee.

Whether you’re young or old, consider the pros and cons of your age as age relates to the job you want. You may want to go on the offensive – especially if you feel yourself being dismissed without a legitimate shot at this job – and lay out your argument for being taken seriously.

So a young person might want to point out their maturity, stability, skill with technology and respect for the wisdom of older co-workers they can learn from. An older applicant might stress their good health, energy, life and work experience, and open attitude for learning new technology.

Seek out specific advice with respect to your situation; time well spent!

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One thought on “Dealing With Age Prejudices And Preferences

  1. These are all good points. Thank you for not suggesting older women color their hair or get plastic surgery. Be careful with those latest styles, though. If most of the people who are working for the employer are young, remember those trendy styles may look good on young people but not on someone say in their 60’s. I have seen young women in offices wearing things that I would look ridiculous wearing.

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