How Old Are You?

Just about every time I’ve been in a Q&A situation with job seekers, the question arises about whether age discrimination still exists in the marketplace. And every time, my answer is the same – absolutely!   

In fact, here is some data supporting the theory that ageism does still take place: 

  • According to a study by AARP, 61% of respondents over the age of 45 reported having seen or experienced age discrimination in their careers. 
  • Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, workers over the age of 50 are unemployed for three times as long as their younger counterparts because of roadblocks when it comes to finding work. 
  • In a 2017 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, job candidates ages 29-31 received 35% more callbacks than those ages 64-66. 

But isn’t age discrimination against the law? Yes, it is. In 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was passed, as part of the Civil Rights Act, to protect workers who were over 40 years old from age discrimination, and multiple supplements to this law have been passed in the decades following. 

How Does This Happen?

So, how does this happen? Well, it’s rarely overt, and most companies wouldn’t be supportive of their employees intentionally breaking the law. Yet, determining a person’s age, at least generationally, isn’t too difficult. Many times, an interviewer may not even be fully aware of his/her age bias, however looking at the length of job history and college or high school graduation date on the resume can subtly create a filter for the interview. 

Multiple stereotypes shift into place, and it is so subtle that many interviewers wouldn’t even recognize it happening. For example, here are some of the reasons why an interviewer may be looking at age as a factor for the hire: 

  • Older workers don’t have the current skill sets needed by an employer. 
  • Older workers are focused on their retirement date rather than the company’s objectives and goals. 
  • Older workers are slow to learn and are resistant to change. 
  • Older workers won’t yield to a younger worker as a supervisor. 
  • Older workers are overpriced for what they can produce. 

As with many stereotypes, most of the time they are myths; however, there’s a reason these are stereotypical. That is, they’ve happened on more than one occasion, enough to feed into a pattern of outcomes that become the stereotype. 

What Can You Do?

So, what can you do to combat these stereotypes? And specifically, avoid having an interview’s outcome slide against you? Here are a few tips: 

  1. Avoid the easy traps like putting your year of college graduation on your resume. 
  1. Be on the lookout when job postings use phrases like “high energy”, “overqualified”, or “digital native”, which may signal a bias toward younger candidates – be prepared. 
  1. Be ready during the interview for behavioral interview questions. If you stumble through a response, you’ll come across like your mind isn’t sharp and quick to put together answers. Practice out loud. 
  1. Bring a positive and enthusiastic level of energy to the conversation. If you’re slow and sluggish with your body language and answers, the interviewer will naturally assume this posture and response are what he/she will encounter with you as an employee. Bring it! 🙂 
  1. Demonstrate your willingness to both lead and follow, ideally through your STAR stories or other illustrative examples. 
  1. Show an authentic interest in the interviewer as a person. Work to quickly build rapport and demonstrate your ability to connect with the interviewer. It’s hard for people to think negatively about a positive experience. 

Finally, be confident in the experience and maturity you bring to the table for a potential employer. One of my favorite Scriptures to rest upon, Job 12:12, tells us, “Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old.” And when you couple that with Isaiah 46:4 where God tells Isaiah, “I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you,” we can rest and receive what God has already planned for us. 

Ageism definitely exists in the workplace and in interviews, but we don’t have to be anxious or succumb to the stereotypes or biased people who may be out there. Be confident in who God made you to be and put your best foot forward for the role you’re pursuing! Blessings! 

Dave Sparkman currently serves as the volunteer Crossroads Career board chair and local ministry leader. He is also the founder and managing director of Spark Your Culture, a corporate culture consulting firm. Prior to that he worked at UnitedHealth Group, a Fortune #5 public company, serving in the role of Chief Culture Officer. His unemployment experience came from the implosion of Arthur Andersen, where he served as the West Region Managing Partner, People.

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