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Randy Wooden: Combating ageism in your job search

Randy Wooden: Combating ageism in your job search

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Part 2 of 2

If we live long enough, many of us will eventually feel as though our age could be hurting us as we pursue job opportunities. Is ageism real or perceived? I’ll leave that to you.

I prefer to think more in terms of biases. We all have them to varying degrees. Last time I discussed ways to help you appear “younger” on your resume and as you apply for jobs.

So you’ve landed the interview. Today, in Part 2 of my two-part series on ageism, I’ll offer tips for older workers on performing better during that face-to-face interaction.

PennyGem’s Chloe Hurst helps you follow up on your dream job you’ve just applied for.

Before I tackle preconceived negative stereotypes or biases, keep in mind not all employers are alike in what they value or choose to discount. As consumers — which is what the employer is at this point — they’re making subjective hiring decisions and backing up/justifying those decisions based on their logic. We do the same when we’re making sizeable purchases.

This means you need to demonstrate value in the employer’s eyes. Simply being good enough isn’t often, well, good enough to overcome negative bias. Whether that’s fair or not doesn’t matter. It’s life.

Knowing an employer’s biases is half the battle. Successfully addressing them is another. Let’s have a look at your typical hurdles:

  • You’re overqualified, not only in terms of years of experience, but also in what they believe will be your salary requirements.

This is a toughie. They have a salary range and seek ‘value’ in their hire, so your task becomes demonstrating how your skills and experience will allow you to hit the ground running, justifying perhaps a bit higher salary.

Acknowledge you understand their pay range and that they’ll be competitive. There are many reasons why someone might seek a lateral or lower paying position. Share with them your rationale.

  • Because you’re overqualified, even if you accept their job offer, you’re a flight risk because you’ll continue to seek another job that’ll pay closer to where you’d really like to be. Not only that, but you may quickly become bored in this new role. Why should they hire someone who’ll only last a short while?

This goes hand in hand with the first item. Will they truly believe you when you share your rationale for accepting the job when you both know you could likely earn more money elsewhere?

Be careful not to appear argumentative. Their concern is valid. Instead, cushion your response with phrasing along the lines of, “I can understand your concern. I’d probably wonder that same thing if I were in your shoes. Let me explain …”

  • Your technology skills aren’t up-to-date. Technology evolves at warp speed. Ask any IT professional. Become a lifelong learner. Demonstrate how you’ve taken classes or otherwise have gained practical, hands-on experience with the technology necessary for you to perform your work.

Again, without sounding combative, briefly share a story of some of the many technical changes you’ve embraced over your career.

  • Older workers are set in their ways and won’t “fit in” with today’s younger work force.

This one’s also a real challenge, particularly if your interviewer is young enough to be your child. They may fell threatened or intimidated if they hire someone who could easily be their boss.

As always, don’t come across as combative. Instead, acknowledge the value in diversity … of not only race or gender, but also of age. You bring unique perspectives to the table. Share a story of how you’ve been able to perhaps not only work in a multi-generation workplace, but also how you’ve helped to mentor younger workers.

  • Healthcare costs. Older workers incur more medical expenses.

Do what you can with your appearance. Dress appropriately in clothes which don’t scream 1980. Be neatly groomed. Exude positive body language with good eye contact, a pleasant smile, good posture, enthusiastic tone of voice and (hopefully someday) a firm handshake.

We’ve all seen older people who look and act much younger … while seeing some younger people looking tired and worn out. You can’t change your age, but you can do what’s within your control to present a positive image.

Understanding possible biases is step one in your strategy. Prepare your stories to, hopefully, allay their concerns. It may not always work, but at least you know you went into the interview prepared to put your very best foot forward. Good luck!

Randy Wooden is a long-time Triad career consultant and director of Goodwill Industries of Northwest N.C.’s Professional Center. Contact him at or at 336-464-0516.

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