Rejecting a candidate because of their age is illegal — right? Yes. But ask anyone over the age of 50 and the’ll most likely tell you that despite the law, there’s serious discrimination going on.
Still, an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas says older workers are the largest and fastest growing group of employees in the country, which tends to exacerbate the competition among them. For IT professionals over 50, the job hunt can be even more challenging. Because technology isn’t as mature as other professions, older workers have to blaze new trails and debunk the myth that it’s a profession for younger workers.
The road to success starts by first getting in the door and winning over the interviewers, some of whom may be younger and not open to older candidates. Knowledge is power, so understand the perceptions you’ll have to deal with.
While you don’t want to lie, there are certain things you can do to make your resume more age-neutral. First use a functional format rather than chronological, and focus on your last 10 years of experience, highlighting your prowess with newer technologies. Leave off technologies that might give away your age and don’t enhance your marketability. Best yet, use a targeted resume format that highlights the match between your skills and experience and the position. To avoid being dishonest, you can add the phrase “additional experience, salary history and references available upon request” at the bottom of the page. Also, it’s not necessary to provide the year that you obtained your degree, although you’ll have to list it on the job application if it’s called for.
Market Your Skills the Modern Way
“You should have a presence on LinkedIn, Facebook and ZoomInfo,” says Susan Ayers Walker, managing director with SmartSilvers Alliance and a technology writer for AARP. “You don’t want to look like the typical frat guy, so look age-appropriate. Also demonstrate your prowess with new ideas and your opinions about emerging technology by blogging.”
Look and Act Young
Unless you’re applying for an executive position or your company or your company research indicates otherwise, dress like the masses. Guys should wear khakis and a collared shirt to an interview, and women should wear business casual attire such as a skirt and blouse. This will make you appear younger than you are and demonstrate that you can relate to a younger group of workers.
Acting young and energetic with the body language to boot will go a long way toward myth-busting any preconceived notions about older workers. Your objective is to appear age-neutral so that the interviewer focuses on your skills and abilities.
You don’t want to draw attention to your age, so be ready to cite examples of recent successes rather than older ones. Don’t mention things like early retirement, the age of your children or that you want a slower pace. Those might reinforce the interviewer’s age biases.
Use your Experience to Your Advantage
Experience is where older workers can separate themselves from the crowd. “I would do some pre-research on the company and be ready to provide examples of your work, how you have overcome obstacles and had an impact on the bottom line that relates back to the situation you might be entering,” says Walker.
More experienced workers have the advantage of having been there and done that, so now you want to turn it on. Provide details of your projects, the roles you played and the impact you had. Be sure to illustrate how you out-paced others and contributed more. You
don’t want to act cocky, but confidence and knowledge will make you seem like a better choice than a less-experienced worker who might need training to get up to speed. The true value proposition of experience is enhanced productivity and fewer errors. Also, older workers are often lower maintenance from a managerial standpoint than their younger counterparts.
Don’t forget that loyalty and teamwork are still valued in the workplace. But the paradigm that younger workers often have to overcome is being self-focused and unwilling to work their way up. Emphasize where you have demonstrated loyalty and put your self-interests second. It just might be the one thing the hiring manger really wants to hear.
Keep Gaining New Technology Skills
Continuing education is vital for IT professionals. In order to compete, you will always need to stay current with evolving technologies. Take classes, read trade publications, subscribe to industry newsletters and really monitor what’s going on.
Be Flexible and Look to Easier Avenues
“One of the fears about older workers is that they aren’t flexible, so be willing to
demonstrate that you can learn from the group and don’t say ‘we used to do it his way,'” says Walker.
Quite honestly, the statistics suggest that you might not always get top dollar as an older worker. The more flexible you are on pay, the more offers you’ll get. Try negotiating for more vacation, work-from-home days or educational reimbursement. Also, certain sectors are noted for being more older-worker friendly, like education, healthcare and consulting. The more you throw your hat into the ring within these industries, the more likely you are to come away with an offer and a chance to be valued for your experience.
First published March 4, 2009