Ask Matt: Is age really an issue?

  • Article by: MATT KRUMRIE
  • Updated: April 3, 2012 - 10:59 AM

If you believe you're too old, then you are too old.

Matt Krumrie, employment advice columnist

 

John Coffey knows the challenges older workers face.

"I've worked with clients who tell me at our very first meeting that they will not get another job because they are too old," said Coffey, a senior career counselor and certified job and career transition coach. "My response to them is, You're right! If that's what you truly believe, there is very little I can do to help."

As a 66-year-old working professional who obtained his current job at age 63, he also believes it's the job seeker, not the employer, who may be the one's making their age an issue.

"I don't deny that there are some employers who will discriminate against a job seeker because of their age; I just don't believe it's as prevalent as it's perceived to be by some older job seekers," said Coffey. "Unfortunately many older workers buy into the age issue and it immediately becomes a huge barrier and [a] self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you're too old, then you are too old. There is nothing we can do about our age -- we are as old as we are. There are, however, many things we can do to deal with our age and the perception others have toward us. I've never felt as though I was discriminated against in any way due to my age. I believe it's up to each of us older workers to do whatever we can to help dispel the age discrimination myth, or at least put it into perspective."

Bruce Glewwe a Twin Cities-based executive search consultant who specializes in recruiting in the banking industry for Glewwe & Associates, said this is a great opportunity to use your career experiences to your advantage and focus on the positive impact you can make for a company.

"In this current economy, many companies are running very lean and need employees that can be productive from day one and bring added value to a company," said Glewwe. "Your skills, industry knowledge and contacts could help propel a company to increased profits. Your experience could also be a valuable asset to help train, coach and mentor the younger employees with less experience."

Remember that during an interview, the company cannot ask you how old you are and the conventional wisdom is that you don't offer that information, said Glewwe. If you are not getting invited back for second interviews, perhaps they think you look older than you actually are. Test the results of telling them during the first interview that you have 10 good, productive years to work before retirement.

This is also a good time to look at how you are dressed and groomed. Coffey emphasizes the importance of maintaining a clean, well-groomed appearance. Update your wardrobe and perfect your personal hygiene.

"Improve upon and change the things about our personal appearance that we can control," said Coffey. "This includes neatly groomed hair, well-manicured nails, and one of my favorites -- nose and ear hair. The older we become the more hair grows in places it never grew before. Buy an inexpensive trimmer and take care of it."

Nancy Branton, a career and leadership coach and CEO of Twin Cities-based Workplace Coach Institute (workplacecoachinstitute.com), said at this stage of your career, it's still about showing value. If you show a company you can bring value, they shouldn't care if you are two years out of college or five years from retirement.

Here are some additional tips and strategies, from Branton:

Assure the company you're here to stay. Say something like, "I know what I do best and I choose to do this at your company for the rest of my career." It's common for younger staff to move from company to company every 2-3 years, especially in the early years of their career in order to enhance their experience and advance in their careers. This could give you and advantage -- companies want to hire people who will stay around.

Keep up with your competitors by obtaining relevant certifications. Certifications increase your odds of being asked to interview for the position, especially if one is required or considered highly desirable to the employer. It shows that you are a continual learner who stays on the leading edge.

Market yourself as a great mentor to young staff and up-and-coming leaders. Seek out companies that have many younger workers and who are ramping them up to move into leadership roles. Talk about how you've mentored staff and developed leaders, and share examples of their successes. Share highlights of your knowledge base and its benefit to the people you mentor and the company.

Stay physically fit and be energetic. "I've worked with candidates in their late 50's who have secured new jobs," said Branton. "Many of them were physically fit and energetic. They appeared more youthful than others who weren't physically fit and had low energy."

Realize your best odds are to find a job through your network. Reach out to your network and find people who will champion you for a position in thir company.

Look for long-term contract opportunities. Some smaller companies may be concerned about increased health care costs associated with older workers. They may be open to a long-term contract with you, without benefits.

Stay current with technology and social media. If you're behind in the use of technology and social media, take some courses to bring you up to speed. Be aware that human resource staff commonly Google candidates to learn more about them. You want them to find you online.

Got an employment question? Read Ask Matt every Sunday in the Star Tribune's Jobs section, or e-mail askmatt@startribune.com.

  • RÉSUMÉ TIPS FOR OLDER WORKERS

    • Focus on your most recent accomplishments and experiences. Show successes, proof of accomplishment and how you add value to a company.

    • Create a profile with 4-6 bullet points highlighting your successes and achievements. Use language from the job description in the profile and match their needs to your skills and experiences. This focuses the hiring authority on what you can do for them now.

    • When listing past jobs, one approach is to highlight your most recent positions and summarize other earlier jobs under a separate heading -- for example, "Other Experience" with a list of companies and job titles.

    • In your education section, include your formal course work, but do not list dates if your degree was prior to the 1990s. Have a separate section called Training and list the topic, training provider and dates -- but don't go back further than 1990.

    • Employers have grown more tolerant of longer résumés, so if you're providing pertinent information, you could go a little longer. But you still need to be concise. Anything irrelevant may cause the hiring manager to question your judgment. Two pages is sufficient.

    Sources: Kathy Northamer, District President, Robert Half Technology & The Creative Group; Nancy Branton, Workplace Coach Institute

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