You’re a job seeker who’s having a tough time, and you’re certain that your birth year is the main source of all your troubles. You worry about age discrimination a lot, and you feel your confidence sinking to the point that you don’t even want to keep trying, because you feel like “What’s the point?”
Maybe you’re 50 or better, and you’re feeling like competing with the younger people is exhausting and feels pointless, since you’re not seeing success. You feel annoyed because you’re not being appreciated or recognized for the amount of experience you have and all the things that you can bring to the table. Maybe you get a little bit bitter, or even angry. (I don’t blame you). Often times you’re just plain being treated unfairly and it comes down to the dreaded words: Age Discrimination.
Hiring managers shouldn’t discriminate based on ages and everyone knows that. But it happens anyways doesn’t it? The soul sucking law suite doesn’t sound fun, especially since you just want a job.
I haven’t experienced it myself, not this type of discrimination yet, but I have experienced gender discrimination and weight discrimination which I share more about later on in this post. I learned that being bitter and angry about it only hurt me. It was like I was drinking poison and expecting the hiring manager to die. It doesn’t work like that. When I was bitter about missing out on opportunities because I was too fat, or I am a woman (or both) I was bitter and visibly angry everywhere I went. My unattractive personality was what was hurting me way more than what I thought was so unfair.
I’d like to believe that most people don’t discriminate against fat women, but they will discriminate against bitter, angry and unpleasant ‘angry at the world for being so unfair’ women.
You’ve met someone like this before haven’t you? Someone who you just know will be difficult to work with? If you want to succeed. First stop being angry about the fact that age discrimination is a thing. If you’re not angry and bitter, then disregard what I just said. Those paragraphs were only for the angry and bitter people. I felt I needed to mention it, because I caught myself doing it at one point, so I’m certain many of us do too without knowing it.
The thing is it’s almost impossible to try to hid bitterness. The best way to get past it is to reassure yourself that most people are good people. The world is a friendly place. When you do meet a B word (which I know they exist too), assume they’ve got something going on in their world that they are feeling really bad about. Watch my video here on this. Then move forward.
A lot of recruiters and hiring managers have personally said to me: “Age is not an issue if the candidate doesn’t make it an issue” Passionate, enthusiastic, and pleasant to work with candidates are golden no matter what their age.
Recruiters also go on record saying things like:
“Older candidates don’t want to work for someone younger than they are.”
Some candidates can’t hear constructive criticism and they turn it to an ageism thing when it’s not”
That’s were a lot of older workers struggle. Before it becomes ageism, think and ask yourself, but is it really? Who’s making it about that?
Dwight in the story below is a great example of this. He’s in his 50’s and he’s re-entered the job market after the company we worked for shut down. He’s had several promotions and he’s loving his job. He’s never angry about reporting to someone younger than he is. I’m convinced that his success is at least partially due to the fact that he doesn’t make his age an issue.
Dwight is a great example of this, he’s overcome a barrier and he is an inspiration to others. While he’s only one example, he has a lot more experience than the people he’s working with, and he could act superior to them and try to be a ‘know it all’ and make people listen to him because he knows best, instead he focuses on things that are new and what he can learn and accomplish. He conveys an excitement and a passion that is needed to create great company culture.
If you are struggling with this, in it’s simplest form is to ignore it. It’s not ok I’m not saying that it is. But it is a thing. Accept where you are right now, you’re exactly where you need to be, embrace it, use it, learn from it. If you are comfortable with who you are you will have a much easier time convincing a hiring manager that she will enjoy working with you.
The best way to create change is to be the change you want to see. You can’t create change being on the outside of it. Once you get a job and you’re a part of the culture, then you can create change now that you’re in it.
Why is age discrimination such a big thing?
Why is it a thing? While I don’t have any hard data on why, I do have some observations, and as I mentioned above I’ve talked to a lot of recruiters on the matter, and if I were to guess (from the conversations I’ve been around), I’d say that it’s one of the following beliefs:
A lot of employers seem to mistakenly believe that older workers don’t fit in with a younger company or crowd.
Older workers are more difficult to train and less adept than younger workers.
Some employers might worry that an older person is overqualified and, therefore, more likely to fly the coop the minute a better offer comes along.
I believe all these to be misconceptions because I’ve seen evidence against them. In fact, I’ve seen the opposite happening with older employees in many companies.
It’s too bad they’ve got this totally backwards, the part about older employees being flight risks especially. If anything, I think younger people are more of a flight risk. Every mature worker I’ve talked to just wants to find a challenging job they can enjoy and stick with. They’re not interested in big fancy strategic career moves at this stage of the game, and even if they were, so what? They’re no different than any other ambitious person.
Tanya vs. Dwight Story
This subject of ageism first became a lot more prevalent to me when the company I worked for shut down. My former boss, who was in her fifties, talked to me about how hard it was for her to find work here. She thought she might have to move back to Edmonton, Alberta, because “finding a job in B.C. for an older woman like her” was pretty well impossible.
She thought no one wanted to hire her because she was ‘too old’ and seemed to faced the issue on a daily basis. She told me a story about how she went to a career fair, and there were two younger women in Human Resources presenting. When it was time for audience questions, she asked the two young ladies, “Do you have any advice for older women looking for work here in Victoria?”
As she described it, the response was pretty snobby. She said that the two women responded with something about how “It is a lot tougher for older people, and we don’t really have any openings for them or, for that matter, any advice, sorry!” As far as I understood it, they basically handed her a ‘good luck with that’ bag of turds and moved on to the next question.
This reaffirmed her beliefs that it was ‘very tough,’ if not impossible, for her to find any organization who would give her an opportunity. She was infuriated by the fact that she was being ‘discriminated against,’ and she was visibly angry whenever she spoke about it.
I remember agreeing it was unfair. She wasn’t getting any opportunities, and I sincerely empathized with her and figured it was because she was older. She used to be my boss, for crying out loud, and I was getting more opportunities than she was! We applied for some of the exact same roles, and I was getting many more offers that she was. I didn’t think much of it, and I just continued to rock on with my bad self.
Then I heard about another guy with whom I worked at the same company. He was also in his fifties. He had just turned down a job opportunity, and he was lining up a couple more opportunities fast! He was picking and choosing what he wanted. He was experienced and personable. He is a great guy, and to this day I have always been able to go to him for help. He would provide great advice and mentorship to people of all ages.
So, what’s the difference between these two characters? They were of the same age range, and I would argue that the successful character was even older. They had different backgrounds, personalities, fields of expertise, and levels of experience. But above all, they had different attitudes, approaches, and stories.
My former boss was actively focusing on how her age was holding her back and how it was the only thing in her way. There was no convincing her otherwise.
There were other factors that may have been holding her back, like the fact that she is very nervous in interviews because of her fear of being judged. The fact that she repeated how much she “wasn’t good at interviewing, never had been and hated interviewing in general,” and I think that with all those things going on with her, the added focus on discrimination, unfairness and the anger behind her was starting to really turn people off in interviews, and it was creating a big perfect storm of “Steer clear of this lady! She’s not just older, but she’s got no confidence in herself, so why should we put our confidence in her?”
You can be any age, any height, any weight, any sexual orientation, any race, any ethnicity, and you can walk into an interview and there is ALWAYS a chance that you’ll be discriminated against. What if you were an over 50, black, gay, woman, with a thick accent? Say you didn’t get the job you interviewed for? How would you know why?
On the other hand, you could be all of those things and they could love you, think you were this charming and super experienced woman who had the most endearing accent and decide to hire you.
But that’s unlikely to happen if you go into the interview thinking: ‘I’m probably too old. they’ll take one look at me and figure I will be retiring or dropping dead soon, and they’ll have already made up their mind. Plus, since I’m lousy in interviews anyways, I’m not even sure why I’m trying. But here goes nothing.’
If you have that attitude, you’ll be looking for age discrimination questions they might ask you, triggers of any type, and you’ll respond differently throughout the whole interview, and I’ve seen some people even get defensive, when it turns out there was no reason to at all. It was all in their head.
If you go into the interview thinking, ‘I’m excited to hear about this opportunity and show them what I bring to the table. I’d like to ask them about x, y and z because I think I can help them do a, b and c, which would increase their profits and staff retention by up to this much. I have experience in this department, and I’d like to see if I’m a fit to help them with their current needs!’
None of that thought process focuses on age or any of the other possible discriminating factors. It focuses very simply on the position at hand and how YOU are going to help them fill it by being a good fit who can offer x, y and z specific things from your experience.
So, if you’re thinking you’re too old (or too young) to get the job you want, the way you feel about it may be what is holding you back.
It’s a thing. You know it; I know it.
It’s also less of a thing for those who focus on it less.
There are lots of older people who have disregarded it and have multiple job offers lined up. There’s lots of proof that it hasn’t held every single person over 40 back. Are you looking for that proof? Or are you looking for the proof that supports the sulky belief that you’re stuck wherever you’re stuck due to your age?
Pay close attention to your thoughts when you think about an opportunity or an interview. Are there any thoughts in there about how ‘I’m probably too old but let’s give it a try?’
Have you ever told yourself a similar story? What do you think your battle with ‘ageism’ is really about? Is it your age or your attitude?
Age discrimination isn’t the only thing going on
It is definitely illegal to reject a candidate because she’s over 40, but is it perfectly legal then to not hire someone because of their astrological sign is aquarius or because they knit pot holders, or they are a cubs fan, or maybe because they’re ugly, too short or too tall or have acne, or they smell bad?
You can’t say to a job-seeker “You’re just not attractive enough to work here” as a legit reason without breaking several laws. My observation is that “old” is just one reason to discriminate, and it seems to be a reason that is openly ‘worked around’ by employers, meaning they have all sorts of tricks as to how they avoid getting in any trouble for it. I figure we’ve all have had some sort of discrimination encounter in our lives, and if you haven’t yet, my bet is you probably will.
We’re all in this together. We let this thing called discrimination hurt us emotionally and hold us back in our lives. It squashes our self esteem, and it’s time we no longer let a blobby unidentified monster like “age discrimination” (or any kind of discrimination for that matter) slow us down.
You must not allow that to happen, just like you’d never allow a 2-year-old to tell you what your bedtime is.
I know it’s easy for me to say since I’m 33 years old at the time of writing this, and you’re probably thinking “Who are you to be telling me how to handle this problem when you’ve never had to face it before?”
It’s true that I haven’t faced age discrimination specifically yet, although I have had to face weight discrimination–and isn’t the result the same?
I was left out, not picked, rejected, due to some unchangeable characteristic about me.
They may not have said it to my face, “You’re not getting into the elite singing program at school because you’re just TOO FAT,” wut it was pretty obvious when all the girls they chose were thin and pretty, and they didn’t want to ruin their stage presence with a fatty like me thrown in there.
So, I get that it sucks.
We can’t afford to let it smother us though. We have to remember that we’re more powerful than any obstacle in our way, and we must find a strategy to work smartly around it. I know it’s possible because I’ve seen it happen effortlessly several time.
How to turn the tables so they can’t afford to care about your age
Here’s is the really good news when it comes to age discrimination: If you are clear on what you do, what you offer, how you help, what problems you solve, and you can talk in the interview directly to their problems and what you can do to solve them, they will not see your age but rather what you stand for, who you are, your personality, what you bring to the table and how you are able to directly help them with the things they’re struggling with right now (which is, incidentally, the whole reason they are holding interviews in the first place).
When you’re able stop thinking thoughts like “Please like me, please hire me,” and “Yes sir, I can do whatever you need me to do, sir” attitude, which is what they’ve heard from every other candidate (young ones, too), then you stop sounding like the same robot they just interviewed, you start to stand out, and the important things start coming to the surface. You know, the important things like what is really behind the job ad, what issues are they really having, and your stories about how you’ve solved very similar issues in the past!
What prompted the job ad in the first place? That’s what you want to find out. I can guarantee you it wasn’t because they wanted to hire another young person for their team. You need to think like a salesperson. Focus not on your own age but on what is stressing that hiring manager out. What keeps her up at night? Why is she stuck working 12-hour days?
Is this legal anyways? What recourse is there?
So, say that you were told by a recruiter that a company rejected your application because they looked at your Linkedin profile and they decided you were too old.
What would your options be?
Yes, you’d be shocked, and your mind would be blown at this point. How can they get away with saying that? Is that even legal?
Well, the common view here is, if they don’t interview you, then you’re not a candidate, so it’s not really discrimination.
But that’s 100% ridiculous. It’s a workaround, but it doesn’t make it true! But it doesn’t matter because it, sadly, doesn’t make any difference.
What are you going to do, sue the employer who you’ve never met, because a recruiter told you about an alleged discriminatory comment?
These are called ‘failure to hire’ cases. They are famous for being ridiculously hard to prosecute because they’re so hard to prove.
An organization will end up hiring someone who is qualified for the job. Period. How can anyone prove they rejected other candidates strictly because of their age?
Even if it was possible, why would you waste your time with it? Your time would be better spent invested in researching and perfecting your interview skills, figuring out what problems you solve the best, and refining and practicing your career stories, rather than chasing down some big-wig corporation who won’t hire you after that anyway. Plus, it will just leave a bad taste in their mouth about older workers.
It isn’t a matter of the laws either. We all know that we have recorded laws on the books, but they don’t really help us! Suing a company for age discrimination isn’t an enforcement solution. That’s just an expensive waste of time and a soul-sucking experience.
For the rest of us, the solution is practical: Look at yourself and what you bring. Look at how you can improve your interview skills, so you can focus less on your age and more on your personality and the other wonderful traits that you have to offer. Talk as if you have no idea how old you are, and soon enough the interviewer will forget, too! Because It Doesn’t Matter.