My job as an Employment Counsellor brings me into contact with a wide spectrum of people. Whenever I sit down with someone I invariably get around to asking them why they are unemployed; what they see as their barriers standing between them and working. One of the most common things I hear is, “My age might be a problem.”
The question of how old is too old comes up a lot. I’ve met some very active people in their 60’s who can outwork people half their age. By contrast I’ve seen some people in their early 40’s who move and behave like their 80.
I want to admit right upfront that there is a limited amount you can do to change the beliefs, attitude and yes prejudices of an interviewer or company that has determined what they regard as too old to hire. Having said that however, there is a lot you have 100% control over when it comes to the issue of age. It should come as no surprise that some of you reading this post will take my admission that there’s a limited amount you can do as justification for doing nothing. Others will gravitate to the positives; the proactive suggestions which can lead an interviewer or organization to reconsider their original position and extend an offer of employment to an older applicant.
First of all let’s look at what employers are concerned about with respect to aging workers. These may or may not apply to you, but as broad generalizations, some employers concerns with older workers are that they are:
- set in their ways, resistant to learning new methods
- education is dated, ongoing professional development poor
- physical limitations, slowing down; a drain on health benefits
- out of touch with technological advancements
- close to retirement; a weak return as an investment
You may have others you could add to the list above. Please don’t get defensive as we’re just establishing some of the real opinions out there in the real world; whether they apply to you or me personally isn’t at issue. These are broad generalizations that are the realities one might be up against.
Okay, so now what? How does one go about countering the stereotypes of the ‘older’ generation of workers? A good place to start is with an honest look in the mirror. Not seeing what you want to see, but seeing yourself from another’s perspective; that of an employer. From the employer’s point of view, they’re looking for applicants that can join their organization and in as short a time as possible, start contributing.
Companies spend a lot of time building up their reputation. A small company just starting out needs to make money as soon as possible to stay afloat. They have no room to carry workers who don’t make immediate contributions to the bottom line. Larger organizations have already gone through growing pains and made adjustments to how they produce and deliver their services and goods. They need people to come in, assimilate into their workforce and not question how and why they do the things they do; just do the job you’re hired to do. Presuming you know better than the people who are in leadership roles and the existing workforce isn’t a way to stay employed long, unless of course you’re specifically recruited to bring about change.
Where it really starts of course is with you personally. Before you even apply for jobs, some changes might be well-advised. Your wardrobe might be dated; maybe you’re too formally dressed in that shirt, tie and suit jacket when the employees are dressed more casually. Look at your posture too. Are you walking stooped over, your shoulders slouched forward or shuffling your feet instead of walking upright with the energy and focus you had 15 years ago? In other words, if you don’t want to be judged as old, don’t come across as old.
Older workers have big upsides and you might need to remind yourself of this. You’ve got more than just work experience my friend, you’ve got life experience. You might just be the stabilizing force on a team of younger workers; the one who is more level-headed; not too high, not too low. You’re possibly in a place to mentor others while at the same time open to learning from those your junior. Be receptive to learning new ideas, embrace innovation and fight that stereotype of being an old dog who can’t learn new tricks.
A really good suggestion is an easy one; smile. Well, easier said than done for some, but a frowning, bitter face that scowls out at the world and comes across as negative isn’t attractive. Don’t project that the world owes you an income. View this new employer as your ally, your partner, not your enemy.
If you take a few courses and add these to your résumé you’ll be more attractive to employers too. Far too many people of all ages stop learning once they are working and have expired licences and certificates they didn’t bother renewing. Oh and because much of the general population is older, you might point out to an employer that their customer base might just appreciate being served by people who look like them; in other words, you’ll attract business.
Bottom line here? If you want to face the issue of being too old to work, don’t fit that stereotype yourself. Change what’s in your power to control.