Once you get to a certain age, you may realize that the job search skills you have learned in your early twenties don’t work as smoothly anymore. First of all times have changed, but also you have changed as well and people no longer relate to you the same way they did in the past. You can get angry about it, complain about it or ignore it, but not even the law will change the fact that age discrimination is alive and well, especially in the field of high tech. Of course, employers will never admit it, not because they are trying to be secretive about it, but because they are not even realizing they are doing it. Sometimes it’s not your age they react to when making hiring decision about you – it is your demeanor, your attitude and other ways you show up as you get overwhelmed by scarcity, cynicism or simply lack of enthusiasm about your career. Good news is, you can do something about it and stop sabotaging your chances.
Tip #1. Stop trying to fit in. Don’t try to look or act younger in order to blend in with the crowd. No, you don’t have to shave your beard or dye your hair to hide the grays – don’t try to be anything you are not. And please don’t try to act younger – there is nothing attractive about a 40 something year old person acting like a 20 something year old. Instead, focus on what you have to offer that younger candidates don’t have. Think about the positive qualities that come with age, such as experience, wisdom, emotional maturity, positive attitude etc., that people will appreciate about you and what would benefit them from having you around.
Tip #2. Focus on your leadership skills. In general, once you’ve been in the industry for over 10 years or more, people almost expect you to lead, train or mentor others and that’s where they will see the greatest value of having you there. Some companies might love to have you around just to keep all those immature youngsters in check. You may have not been promoted to a manager or a lead in your previous jobs, but I am sure you have led and mentored others, even outside of your workplace. That counts too. Try to apply, if not for manager or supervisor but for roles that include mentorship, leadership and management responsibilities in it.
Tip #3. Stop applying for the roles below your level. I can’t stress this enough and it is true for everyone. Younger out of school applicants naturally strive to advance their career and that’s what employers find attractive about them. Someone who has been in the industry for quite some time would typically apply for roles at their level to keep it steady and settled in. Sometimes, when candidates feel overwhelmed by the competition and fear of being unemployed, they tend to even apply for the roles below their experience level just so they have a job. What they don’t realize is how much of a turn off this is to hiring managers. You come across as being desperate, lacking confidence and motivation. Plus, there is this reservation about having to overpay someone who is overqualified for the job. Always, always, always apply for jobs that are at least a bit of a stretch for you and don’t forget to stress how hungry you are for new knowledge and experience.
Tip #4. Impress them with your attitude. People who don’t let their age stop them from being their best and achieving greatness typically don’t even encounter this bias. I was once working with a candidate who was in her seventies. She was simply extraordinary! She spent the first couple of months after being laid off traveling all over the country. When she was working, she biked to work daily, she kayaked all over Puget Sound and ideally was looking for a job where she could bike or kayak to. She knew exactly what kind of job she wanted and she had all the confidence in the world she was going to get it. Sure enough, the first interview she had she left everyone stunned and amazed by her can do attitude. Needless to day, she got the job.
Tip #5. Be more picky about where you apply. This may sound counterproductive and may trigger the heck out of you, particularly if you are out of work and have bills to pay. But you actually have more chances of getting an offer for the job if it was one of the few companies you pre-selected rather than one of many companies you applied for simply to test your luck. Remember, companies always look for the best fit for them and usually best fit for them means best fit for you. This is one of those things younger candidates typically don’t do – they tend to go for whatever is available and see what they can make of it. This is where your general life experience can come as an advantage – you can express it during the interview why you are the best person for the job, why you picked them and what can you do for them to make a difference.