The Older Job Candidate: Strategies to Combat Age Discrimination

Older man at computer.Maybe you’ve already retired once and are now looking to reenter the workplace. Or perhaps you’re an older, still-working individual who has decided to pursue a different career direction, such as a promotion or new position. Either way, this decision will require you to apply and hopefully end up in a job interview, both activities which you have probably not undertaken in years. Spoiler alert: getting selected may be more difficult than expected, but not because you’re out of practice. You may, unfortunately, discover that age discrimination (ageism) is alive and well.

Discrimination against individuals forty years of age or older has been illegal since 1967. However, according to a report from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), age discrimination is still widely and openly practiced. But if you have recently been a job applicant, you may already know that and personally experienced such discrimination. The EEOC report states, “Unfounded assumptions about age and ability continue to drive age discrimination in the workplace,” and “age discrimination remains a significant and costly problem for workers, their families, and our economy.”

Illegal or not, age discrimination is out there and may be an obstacle to landing the job you want. Unfortunately, the various age stereotypes some employers carry around in their heads have likely been there for years and are not easily erased. Whether done consciously or not, the interviewer may look closely at an older candidate for any clues, no matter how small, that appear consistent with those negative age-related biases and assumptions. The interviewer will then rationalize these clues as perceived evidence to justify not hiring the candidate.

At first, you might think that a logical employer would jump at the chance to grab an experienced and seasoned individual! After all, such a person is probably more mature, already trained, made their learning mistakes elsewhere, and can hit the ground running. But then again, since when has discrimination—of any type—been logical?  

Fact: ageism exists, and sadly, one cannot eradicate illegal discrimination from the world in the short term. Given that, what practical steps can an older applicant take to combat age discrimination during the job search and interview process? The short answer: take reasonable steps to de-emphasize your age and don’t feed the stereotype. Especially during the job interview, any negative age-related assumptions held by an interviewer may suddenly become an impediment if clues reinforcing the validity of those beliefs are observed. Therefore, the challenge is to not provide any such perceived clues, at least to the extent possible. Continue reading