As the economy improves and businesses gradually expand, more seasoned workers will be in a better position to land ideal jobs.
Experts say workers older than 40 who experienced longer periods of unemployment following a job loss during the recession should prepare to reposition themselves as assets for any company. That includes tackling head-on age discrimination and misconceptions about older workers.
“Ageism does exist but there are ways to get around it,” says Hallie Crawford, a transition career coach based in Atlanta.
To be sure, companies that employ more than 20 people are subject to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits discriminating against employees age 40 and over. Age discrimination, however, is widespread and difficult to prove. For example, a great candidate may be overlooked if his or her would-be boss doesn’t want an older subordinate who may know much more. But that is difficult to prove.
The key to success is navigating the unspoken stumbling blocks, says Robin McKay Bell, co-author with Liam Mifsud of “Finding Work after 40,” (A&C Black, 2011).
“We must all examine the age stereotypes commonly held by employers – the elephants in the room – because they’re present at every interview and they influence the decision makers,” he says.
In his book, Bell identifies the stereotypes and offers self-assessment tools to help older adults understand their career goals in light of their age.
“It’s all summed up in the motto: Know yourself, sell yourself, network like crazy,” he explains.
Crawford and Bell agree that older workers must assess themselves closely to understand their worth.
Crawford also suggests taking skills and value inventories to determine what you truly want in a job and to identify your strengths. At some point in this process, you must state your goals in a résumé and list your best qualifications and most poignant work experience.
“You don’t want to list everything and risk looking overqualified,” she says. List the past 15 years of experience, for example, to take emphasis away from your age.
Older workers can use misperceptions to their advantage. For instance, a common stereotype is that older workers can’t cope with change. In fact, they are often more adept at dealing with change.
Bell points out that someone in his or her 40s or 50s has lived through at least two economic downturns. The burden is on the older worker to demonstrate how he or she changed in order to achieve new goals. This should include ways that you have embraced technology. Share these stories with hiring managers.
“When you realize that you’ve dealt with so much more change than everyone else, you’ll have an extra bit of confidence that could win the job,” he says.
Here are some other stereotypes to conquer, according to Bell:
• Older people lack energy. Show enthusiasm for the position and for life in general. Share interesting facts about your life, such as a marathon win or a lengthy cycling excursion that required training.
• Older workers have health problems. Even if you have a chronic condition, do your best to look and feel healthy.
• Older people are not mentally agile. Prepare for interviews by memorizing salient facts about your prospective employer and your industry. With current knowledge at hand, you’ll appear as bright and ready as a younger candidate.
Once you know yourself, sell yourself. Bell suggests developing an elevator speech, a succinct description of who you are, what you have done and what you are looking for in a job.
Then get out of the house and practice it. Attend meetings, reconnect with old friends and acquaintances and let everyone know for what you are looking for.
“Older workers have a bigger network because they have been out in the workforce for longer,” Bell says. “They don’t realize how useful this is to them.”