Employment And The Age Paradox


One’s age is an interesting factor when it comes to finding employment. It can help you or hurt you; disqualify you or land you in the running.  Ironically, it’s something that’s never supposed to be revealed or inquired about in an interview – unless of course age is a legal requirement such as a position serving alcohol.

While age isn’t supposed to be raised verbally, it sure is taken into consideration by the person or people conducting interviews. I mean, it has to be doesn’t it? As soon as you come into visual contact with a representative of the company you are about to interview with, you’re being assessed. That brief look as you move towards each other is taking in all kinds of information; hair colour, skin tone, muscle/fat proportions, walking gait, how hard or easy it seems for you to stand, the speed of your walk, the purity or blotches of your skin, your smile, the health of your teeth, bags or lack thereof under your eyes, thickness or thinning hair, stooping or straight up posture. Whew! That’s a lot to take in over the course of 10 seconds!

Notice how all the above are observations made based completely on non-verbal signals you’ve put out there to the interviewer. Once you open your mouth and speak, more information is available such as the tone, power and volume of your voice, the clarity or not of your words, your vocabulary; your overall energy.

In another 10 seconds, all this information – and more – is sent by you and picked up on by the interviewer. At this point, you’ve now given them enough information – and it’s been about 20 seconds mind – that they’ve formed an opinion of you and compared that to what they’ve settled on as the kind of person they are after. That opening impression if good is something for you to build upon. If that opening impression is a miss, you’ve got the rest of your time together to alter it, and believe me, altering someone’s first impression of you when you only have one meeting with them is much harder than you’d like it to be.

There are many people both young and old who lament the age discrimination. Some who are young feel their age suggests a total lack of work experience, immaturity, little life experience, and a future full of mistakes, errors, poor judgement, lack of responsibility and commitment to a solid work ethic. Older workers worry they are discriminated against because they are judged as set in their ways, slowing down, drawing on health benefits to the extreme, out of date with developments and not interested in any personal development. Oh and let’s not even talk about technology.

The paradox re. age is that younger people sometimes wish they came across as more mature while older workers wish they presented as 10 or 15 years younger. Both groups recognize the advantages of the other. Younger people if we buy in to the stereotypes, are healthier, more energetic, technologically tuned in, are open vessels to teach and they look more vibrant and enthusiastic. Older workers have experience the young lack; both life and work. Older workers also have the benefit of having learned from their mistakes and they make less of them.

Here’s the thing though…we are who we are. If you’re 22, you’re 22. If you’re 56, you’re 56; it’s a given. However, as we all know, there are some 22 year olds who act like their 17 and some who act like they are 28. There are some 56 year olds with the energy and vitality of those in their mid-forties and some 56 year olds who move as if they are picking out their coffins on the weekend. Age alone then, isn’t the definitive factor that we might at first believe it to be. What is essential to recognize what we can control which will in turn help create the first impression we want others to formulate when meeting us.

The clothes we choose to wear send signals. Do the clothes fit properly and are they right for the conversation we are about to have. While it might not be flattering to think about, we have to also take a good look at our bodies because others will. Are you willing to lose or gain weight if you’d appear healthier or your clothes would fit better? Or would maintaining your weight but shifting some fat to muscles create a more vibrant you? If you’re an older fellow with a scruffy beard maybe shaving everyday would immediately take off 5 years? Maybe, maybe not.

This isn’t about pretending to be someone you’re not. This is about projecting a desirable image so that you become attractive to the interviewer – professionally attractive; so they can visualize you as a positive addition to the organization. Lest you think you are somehow selling out to change-up who you are just to impress someone, think again. You’d likely put some effort into your appearance if you knew you were having a date with someone, and if it was at the end of the month, you might do all you could between now and then to come across in the best possible way.

Of course you can ignore all of this advice and just say, “I am who I am and if they don’t like me that’s their problem.” But then again, you’re not investing yourself in this potential relationship now are you?

Will You Admit You’re Biased, Have Preferences And Discriminate?


Discrimination: the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.

Discrimination: the ability to discern what is of high quality; good judgment or taste.

Sure you discriminate; so do I for that matter. You and I we have our preferences and they are revealed when we pick up one brand over another in a shopping trip. Why sometimes we’ll pay more for something we see as having higher value. We might stand in a longer line than another if we feel we’ll have a better experience dealing with the ticket taker, the Airport Security or the Cashier at the check out. Why to be a discriminating buyer is a compliment isn’t it; you don’t just, ‘settle’ for things, you have impeccable taste and exercise discriminating judgement. So can we both agree that you and I discriminate? I think so.

Ah but then there’s our first definition of discrimination up there at the top of this piece. This is the definition of discrimination we are likely to want to distance ourselves from; well most of us. We could argue that someone like the current President of the United States is discriminating when he puts forward an, “America first” agenda, or proposes legislation that bans people of certain countries from flying and of course there is his plan to build a wall separating his country from Mexico. Discrimination? Absolutely, yet there he is at the very pinnacle of power and influence. So holding such a polarizing view can get you to the top and apparently allow you to stay there too; at least for a while.

Like you I hope, I’m not in favour of discriminating on the basis of race, age or sex. This being said, there are situations where I do agree one should. Take for example the staff who work in a safe house for women who have been abused. I could be the most empathetic, kind and supportive Crisis Counselling Support Worker out there, but for some woman who has just fled an abusive relationship, all she might see upon entering that safe domain is a male in a position of authority and that could trigger fear, alarm and prevent her from even wanting to be accepted in. No, I agree there are jobs that should still discriminate based on gender.

Now some jobs that in the past were exclusively reserved for one gender or the other have or are in the process of opening up. Nursing used to be a female-only dominated profession. Now of course we see male nurses and I applaud the men who have committed to the profession and aren’t necessarily angling to become Doctor’s; who have reached their goal of working in the medical health field and perform their work with skill and dedication.

Soldiers used to be exclusively male; women were once limited to working in factories to support the war effort, or as I say in the health care field, treating the wounded and dying. Now we’ve reached the point in many countries where women have the option to serve. If that is their wish, and presuming they can match and pass the standards that have been set to keep soldiers trained and ready for battle, than why not?

But it’s this other blatant discrimination that gets most people upset and rebelling against. You know, the employer who denies employment because their skin is of a certain colour, the applicant is too young or old, has no experience at all or is overly qualified. Maybe it’s a person’s sexual preferences, their lifestyle, religious denomination or faith, choice of clothing, height, weight, health etc. There are any number of things we find and hear about where someone is certain they’ve been discriminated against.

We hear hateful discrimination in comments like, “Why don’t you go back where you came from!”, and not only is it hateful, it’s hurtful. Ironically, the victim of such comments isn’t even from a foreign country as the person talking suspects.

Collectively, I believe we have to do better. Isn’t it all about inclusion and not exclusion? Isn’t what we’re striving for really is to be better at choosing to hire people based on their skills and experience? And as for experience, how do people acquire that valuable experience unless somewhere along the line someone gives them that first break; that first opportunity to gain the experience we’ve come to value?

Yet, I know as I suspect you do, that there are employers who favour local experience over experience gained elsewhere. While that can mean a Canadian employer prefers Canadian experience, on a micro level, it can mean an employer prefers to hire someone with work experience in the same city, town or who went the to same school they did. We often hear that people like to hire people who look like them, talk like them, act like them.

Be careful though I say; there is a risk that some excellent people with different backgrounds and different experiences could bring an infusion of energy, better ideas, more innovative methods and practices. If you or I discriminate against these same people, then the opportunities are lost.

So think before we speak, consider before we reject, pause before we act, and make sure we treat others as we’d wish to be treated ourselves.

That’s how I see it anyhow.

 

Is It Time To Add A Photo To A Resume?


With the widespread use of websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook where people are freely posting photographs of themselves, is it time to start including a headshot on resumes?

It’s common practice for many organizations to search job candidates names after having received their applications. While they may be intending to learn more about what people are saying about a candidate, and pick up more information than what is only included on a résumé, there’s no doubt that they are going to also see one or multiple photographs if they are part of the persons profiles.

This opens up the dialogue and discussion of preferences, biases, subjective opinions on what an organization might find, ‘the right fit’ with their corporate reputation etc. Once again, the ‘beautiful people’ of the world would probably have an advantage over those who are not; and in this case, we’re only talking outward physical attraction, as interviewer and applicant will not have met at this stage.

There are many organizations these days working to become more diverse and inclusive of many cultures and races too. In their efforts to add more minority groups, people who are physically challenged etc., a photo could strengthen an applicants chances of receiving an interview. This is a touchy subject; one that many would rather not be on the leading edge of discussing for fear of coming out wrong on the side of public opinion.

Some would argue that organizations are actually trying to move in the complete opposite direction than identifying an applicant by race, colour, gender, name, height, religion etc. In fact, there are some who upon receiving a résumé, will remove an applicants name and other identifying information before handing it on to those making decisions on whom to interview. By removing these features, the thought is that the most qualified on paper get through on merit alone, and personal biases are taken out of the equation.

Of course once the people come in for an interview, their age, skin colour, accent, mobility, height, gender all become immediately apparent. So any bias or preferences do come into play, the only difference is that the interviewers know they have before them a person whom impressed them solely on qualifications alone. In other words, all that’s really happened is the possibility of declining to interview someone based on subjective prejudices and / or preferences has just moved to another level; the physical introductions. It doesn’t entirely remove them completely from the hiring process.

Photographs one could argue, like any other piece of information provided, can be valuable. Looking at Facebook and LinkedIn, there’s a fundamental difference in the two platforms. On LinkedIn, members are more thoughtful about what they choose to include as their image. Great thought and care is taken to ensuring the headshot (for that is often what the best photographs are) is clear, the clothing worn is in sync with the image the person is striving to achieve. People will also put care into their grooming; hair brushed and neat, posture good and typically a nice smile looking into the camera and out to ones audience.

Facebook on the other hand might show multiple photographs; everything from headshots to bikinis, from birthday parties to backyard barbeques, wine tasting events to micro brewery tours. There could be pictures of someone with their babies, glimpses of their home and the condition of its cleanliness. While we’re at it there could be shots of tattoos, rants about an unfair speeding ticket or face painted in the colours of their favourite sports team. You might not have wanted or expected that a potential employer would look up such things, but if it’s there, it’s there for public viewing.

The point is the photographs and pictures of potential employees are there for the looking in many cases. Including one on a résumé could be helpful or hurt ones chances. It’s not a level playing field, and when it comes down to it, we know it never has been, nor is it likely to be. I applied for a job many years ago in the men’s clothing department in a shop in the town of Fenelon Falls Ontario. Having shopped there often, I observed all the employees were female. When the owner of the store called me to invite me in for an interview, she asked for Kelly. “Speaking” I said, and this caught her off guard. “Oh!”, she said, “I’m sorry, we only hire women and I thought Kelly was a female.” Leaving the discrimination aside for the time being, this wouldn’t have happened had they a picture to see that indeed, I am Kelly – a male!

On the other hand, when I applied to work in Toronto, the employer there was looking for a workforce that looked like the population of people it served. They were actually short on white men at the time, which goes against what you hear often in the media today. A photograph might have enhanced my chances of landing that interview, which I got by the way and was hired based on merit, not only skin colour and gender.

So what’s your opinion? Include or omit photographs? I imagine the less courageous among employers will take to commenting for fear of controversy. On the other hand, this is an excellent opportunity for organizations to state their stand on the subject. So stand up and be counted.

Discriminated Against For Being Older?


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.

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!

60, Visible Minority, MBA, Unemployed


Yesterday I sat down with a man for an hour and half and we talked about his employment goals and employment barriers. Now he wasn’t completely unknown to me as we’d just spent the previous week together as he took part in a class I was co-facilitating pertaining to knowing yourself and finding a job / career that would match.

So who is this man? Well as the title suggests, he’s a 60 year-old, originally from India where he obtained his Masters degree. He’s been in Canada now for 20 years and is a Canadian citizen. He’s worked professionally in Sales and Marketing, once starting on the front line in a company and rising all the way up to be the company CEO. He’s in good health, speaks multiple languages, has a good sense of humour, excellent communication skills – and oh yes he’s unemployed and on social assistance.

Last year he and his wife moved from the west side of Canada to Oshawa, Ontario to move in with their adult son. This way the son gets some rental income, helps out his parents, and they in turn have a stable home and the extended family support they want. The difficulty is of course that they begin anew employment-wise.

When we talked of barriers I threw the prejudice against age and race issues right out there instead of dancing around them to maximize the value of our time together. Yes, both are possibilities he conceded and he has felt dismissed too abruptly for jobs he is well qualified on paper to do. In a move that is sure to offend some but be completely understandable by others, I asked if he’d ever considered submitting some resumes using a pseudonym or nickname. Both his first and last name you see might suggest he is a person from a visible minority with origins offshore.

Yes, sadly, there are still some employers who are prejudiced against people who don’t look like them or their other employees, and worry about everything from a lack of Canadian experience to traditionally spicy foods in the microwave. It’s true. They don’t want to risk alienating their customers or some other such silliness and so they blindly dismiss any application from a person not like themselves.

Then again, it might be his age with all that grey hair (same as my hair colour). At 60, the sands of time are falling much too quickly and employers might look him up and down and see someone slowing down, rising health issues, afternoon naps, inflexibility, out-of-date training and experience. Very real possibilities.

“But can they really do that?” he asked me. “I mean can they not hire me just because I am old or because of my name?” Well honestly discrimination is against the law on the basis of age, gender, sex, religion, ethnicity etc. However, people being people, some poor employers do discriminate they just don’t always openly share their prejudices with applicants.

“If I used a nickname would that not make me seem fraudulent?” This is a great question and one that people will argue for or against with compelling points. The object of a resume and cover letter however are to do but a single thing; get an interview. Once the interview is obtained, it falls to the applicant to sell themselves in the interview, marketing their strengths and values as benefits to be desired leading to being hired. Good thing he’s in Sales and Marketing.

Now by his figures, since January, he has applied for 1,000 jobs. (Is that even possible over 4 1/2 months?) As hardly any interviews have transpired, it would be interesting for ‘Peter Sharpe’ to send out a few resumes and see if he gets any increase in interviews. And supposing that with his new nickname he did land more interviews, he’d have eliminated one barrier to employment.

But what about when they see him and the colour of his skin and the lines on his face – the colour of his hair? He’s in Sales and Marketing remember. So my advice to him was to immediately hijack the interview at the first sign of being dismissed if that happens. After all, if he feels a job is lost that he is qualified for, there is nothing to lose but something to gain. So it could go like this…

“I’m not sure you’re what we’re looking for after all Peter. We’ll let you know though if we can use you.”

“That’s a good strategy of yours, I like it! Dismissing me early to see whether or not I get up and leave or persevere and make my best sales pitch. You are playing the customer who doesn’t want your product. Let me tell you then that I am internationally trained and have full fluency in 4 languages. That means your multicultural clients will readily identify with me. I have worked both on the front-line, at the top and everywhere in between so I can speak with customers at their level. I’m energetic, in good health, have a great sense of humour and meet all your requirements. I even adopted a nickname to increase my chances of obtaining this interview by improving the attraction of the product – me; and you bought it. I am fortunate to have met an employer who understands Sales and Marketing and can detect value when it sits across from them.”

And wouldn’t it be ironic if Bob the interview was sitting on his wallet containing his birth certificate identifying him as William?

Bazinga!

 

 

Old Age: Barrier To Employment?


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!”

Discrimination Of Applicants


Go with your first gut reaction to this scenario. Four applications for employment are sitting on your desk. Without knowing anything but their names, what is your reaction to these names of the applicants: Chandra Singh, Abdul Mohammed, Sandra Allan and Cheung Wong Lo. Do you have any bias/preference towards any of the applicants? Would it matter to you at all if you knew the job they were applying for?

Here’s why I ask the question. A gentleman I knew a short time ago had a distinctly ethic name. He appeared well qualified to work in the field of his choice, having both the educational and demonstrated work experience called for in the posting. He spoke fluent English and was perplexed as to why he was not being interviewed for positions he was applying to. He even showed me a position that was still being advertised two weeks after he had applied for the job and after the deadline for submissions had passed the first time around. So what was the issue?

As an experiment, he shortened both his last name and his first name to a more, “North American” version, and submitted the exact same resume. One day after submitting his resume he got an email asking him to call and arrange an interview.

In a similar vein, there is a residential area a client I am working with lives in that is known to have a large number of residents who are in receipt of social assistance. This person asked me if putting the street address was absolutely a requirement on the resume. As it’s not written in stone, it was removed from the resume, and submitted with only the name of the City resided in. Within a period of two weeks time, the person was called and asked to come in to two interviews with different employers, after having gone for several months without any interest at all. The change to the resume in other respects was negligible.

The above two situations would suggest that with at least some employers, there is a blatant preference or bias for or against some applicants based on where they live or the stereotypes held for or against a population of people. So if an IT position comes up, involving an intimate knowledge of cutting-edge technology, do you favour people from certain ethnic backgrounds over others? Is that fair if you do? If the job is picking fruits and vegetables on a farm for relatively low wages, who do you picture in your head working in those fields?

Sometimes of course blatant discrimination is stated up front and most of the population understands the rationale behind it. This might be the case in hiring staff to work in an abused women’s shelter where even the presence of a man would cause anxiety, fear and emotional stress. And in the news constantly, there are discussions about how women are not overly represented in the most senior of positions in the corporate world.

There are however many organizations that have recognized inequalities and go out of their way to hire future staff in order to better reflect the communities they serve. So you may have a workforce for a Municipality come out and state that they have a short-term preference for disabled applicants or people from visible minorities. That sounds great of course unless you are an out-of-work applicant from the majority in which case it feels like reverse discrimination. Tough call that one.

Another situation that comes up from time-to-time is for example in a unionized setting, where an employee is not performing well in one environment due to a physical impediment, and the job they are assigned to do is no longer possible given their limitation. In these cases, you may find that this person has to be accommodated in some way, and is therefore interviewed and hired for some other position that they did not train for and must be re-trained. Good for them personally of course, but what of the other applicants who are very qualified and set out to make a career in that position and have to be passed over based on accommodating an existing employee with fewer qualifications? That seems entirely fair or not based on who you might be in that situation.

In a perfect world, there would be no discrimination whatsoever based on colour of skin, language, body size, sex, religion, age, etc. – or maybe not. Is discrimination sometimes justified and a desired thing in a perfect world? I make no assumptions on this.

Walk up to three or four people and you’re considering one to ask out on a date with a longer-term relationship a possibility; no doubt based solely on appearance, you’ve already got a preference or bias based on skin or hair colour, height, body language; is that discrimination? Like a certain vintage of wines, clothing brands, furniture or artwork and you may be said to have a discriminating taste. That is usually a good thing.

In the world of employment, is discrimination ever justified? Ever been discriminated for or against yourself? Weigh in on a conversation.