Aging is of course a natural process we all go through. Whether we live a brief or long time on this planet, we start aging right from the moment we’re conceived. When we’re very young, we don’t think all that much about aging, but we do record the passage of time by the grade we’re in at school, the birthdays we celebrate with our family and friends, being old enough to date.
Into our teens we may actually look forward to getting older so we can drive a car, finish high school, perhaps come of legal drinking age. Soon we’re marking time by our College / University graduation dates, entering the world of employment full-time, maybe starting a family, setting up our first home away from mom and dad.
Now time is measured by the quality of our lives. We assess how we’re doing with our careers and our relationships. We contemplate how to make it better, and for the first time many actually start thinking of Registered Retirement Savings Plans, getting our wills together. We’re no longer whispering about doing things while we’re young enough, because we’re hearing it everywhere we go. If we feel the grass is greener, we change employers, maybe even return to school or take some courses to put ourselves in stead to take on new challenges in completely different lines of work.
We eventually settle in somewhat, start evaluating where we’ve been and what might lie ahead. We still might not know exactly how our lives will play out, but there’s more time behind us than in front of us for the first time. Maybe that sobering thought spurs us on or puts us in cruise control; it depends .
Suddenly advancing age is becoming an issue. Jobs have come and gone over our lives; we’ve had six or seven perhaps significant in nature. If we’re fortunate, we ride off into retirement with some pats on the back and kind words from our co-workers, and the next chapter of our lives begins. Or on the other hand, we find ourselves unemployed, still wanting to be productive and work – both for the necessary income and to be productive. Suddenly our age is a problem.
Now yesterday, in a class of unemployed job seekers, I asked those in attendance to tell me about themselves; answering as they would in an interview setting. One gentleman in his 60’s, as part of his answer said that he was in good shape for his age.
Let’s look at that for a moment. If we go with the interview scenario, his résumé must have been good enough to be considered for employment or he wouldn’t have reached the interview in the first place. The interview is an opportunity to meet, market yourself in person and confirm all the information you’ve provided. By saying he is in good shape for his age, he unnecessarily draws attention to his age. Yes the interviewer isn’t blind and can readily see he’s a mature person, but when it can be a barrier to employment, the less said the better. Best to leave it at, “I’m in excellent shape and up to the demands of the job.”
A subtle but significant change in the answer can either detract or add to your potential value to the employer considering bringing you on board.
Older applicants bring a wealth of experience – both in the world of work and generally in life itself. Life experience should never be underestimated and has real benefit in the workforce. An older person generally has maturity; enough wisdom to know how to react and deal with situations as they arise because they’ve dealt with similar situations before. What a 30ish or 40ish person might find overwhelming and cause drama in the workplace over, a 50ish or even 60ish person has both seen and done. They have the coping skills and adaptive skills to ride through change and come out on top.
Yes older workers tend to have increasing health-related issues that younger workers haven’t experienced yet, but it would be a mistake to intentionally weed out all older applicants based on age alone. A lot of extremely good people who would add productivity to an organization would be missed.
If you are an older person yourself, what is you’ve done – or do now – that you’ve found works to offset or counter this age discrimination or bias? Did you change your approach in some way as you went about looking for work that got better results?
One small piece of advice I’d like to give you is to make sure your voice has energy. I can’t tell you how often I’ve helped people in their 50’s and 60’s who lack not just volume as they speak, but genuine energy or passion. You’re interviewing for a job after all and not sitting back on a front porch having a casual conversation. This interview will need some attention to posture, presentation and the energy you put out has to convey that you’ve still got a lot in the tank left to give.
Now, I’d like to turn things over to you in your 50’s and 60’s who know this phase of life best. You’re the experts out there. What’s been your experience in terms of what’s worked for you – whether it’s to get a job or keep the one you’ve got now?