“You have no idea how much age discrimination is happening right now in the workforce, Misti,” said Mike, a 50-something who’s been job searching for months. “They’re not hiring me because I’m too old and, therefore, too expensive. They don’t want to pay for my experience because they don’t understand its value.”
Yep, age discrimination happens at all levels. In 2008, workers filed 24,582 complaints of age bias with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – up from 19,103 in 2007 and the highest level of charges documented in records dating back 12 years. Yet, most studies show younger workers are more likely to report it.
Taylor, a Gen Y editor, recently told me she’s glad the nature of her work usually entails getting to know people virtually before meeting in person. “I’m young, and I look even younger, so when I’m meeting a client or someone I’m interviewing for the first time, they usually look surprised when I walk in,” she says. “I couldn’t possibly be the experienced editor they’ve been communicating with and were expecting.”
But what good is focusing your energy on what you have going “against” you? Taylor’s secret weapon against age discrimination is confidence – even if it’s faked. “When I walk in as though I know I’m supposed to be there, they assume I belong as well,” she says. “You have to sell yourself harder when you’re not exactly what a company is looking for or expecting. I use those introductory e-mails and phone calls to let them get to know me and what I’ve accomplished so that age doesn’t matter when they meet me.”
Exactly. But selling yourself – whether you’re older or younger than the median age in a workplace – means being crystal clear on what you have to offer and why your age is an asset. So I suggested Mike focus his time and energy on creating a list of all the reasons a specific company should hire him.
He hesitantly took on my challenge. At first he really struggled: “Immediate impact, broad range of responsibilities, um … mature leadership.”
“You know I’m going to write a newsletter about this so dig deep,” I told him.
“I have good people skills.” Excellent! What else? “I’m loyal and dedicated. I understand responsibility. I have a long track record of success and a broad vision; I’ve seen enough that I predict things down the road.”
After a pause and my insistence there was more, Mike continued: “I’m stable – both financially and emotionally. My professional (and personal) relationships are deep and rich. That could add value to the bottom line, right?”
Absolutely! Within just 10 minutes Mike had a list of reasons any company would want him.
What do you have to offer? Create your list today. Here are some questions to get your creative juices flowing:
What do you most enjoy doing? And what skills have you mastered that make you good at those things?
What connections do you have that might help the company and/or its leaders?
Are you a visionary, a detail person, an organizer or a polisher? Simply put, where do you fit into a team, or which essential role do you play in planning and/or implementing projects?
When have you been in a leadership role, and what were the results of the project(s) your team worked on? What leadership style or methods did you employ to make those projects successful?
When you’ve gotten compliments from co-workers or clients, what specific things do they say? For instance, do they say you communicate well with different types of people? Or that you’re the most organized person they’ve ever met? Or that you think outside the box? (Hint: Ask trusted members of your professional and personal networks what they would say about you if asked to provide a recommendation.)
Next step: What companies/organizations are most attractive to you and why? How can you add value with the assets you’ve defined and help them reach their goals? Then in the interview, you know how to talk up your experience (or lack thereof) and convince them it’s worth paying for. If the company has an issue with your age or salary requirements, it’s clearly not the right place for you.
Go in with this level of confidence and you’ll most certainly get a second look!
Misti Burmeister, Washington Post best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers