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Too old to get hired?

image One comment I hear often from people over 50 is that it’s very tough for them to get a new job because of their age.

When they aren’t getting a new job in the timeframe they hoped, the assumption is that some form of age discrimination is taking place.

That kind of thinking is reinforced by ads for “Just For Men” hair coloring, news stories I’ve seen of people getting plastic surgery to look younger for job interviews, or frequent advice I hear “experts” give to truncate your resume to the last 10 years so as not to give away your true age.

Are these things warranted? Is age discrimination dominant in the job market? If you are over 50… or over 60, are you doomed?

Short answer: NO!

You want more explanation? Sure…

I’ve been in the employment placement industry for over 23 years. In that time I’ve seen blatant discrimination, and I’ve seen real and dramatic changes in the market as well. I can definitely say that in today’s market age discrimination exists much more in people’s minds than in reality.

I’m not naive enough to say it never occurs anymore, and at times it can be difficult to discern if a decision was made based on age or other factors. However, I can point to several key things that demonstrate that age is not the brick wall many believe it is.

20 years ago, as a recruiter, there were many times I would get subtle, and not so subtle requests that were clearly formed out of age discrimination. Although I never accepted orders like that, it was obvious that their hiring objective was going to be slanted. Certainly it had been even much worse 30 or 40 years ago. Most of the legal protections and public lawsuits had already occurred by the mid-80’s. Legally, people already knew then, as now, that there was great potential liability in discriminatory practices.

Times have changed though, and in the last several years I’ve seen a real switch in perceptions and practices. Particularly once the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, there began a shift in most of my clients in what was more highly valued. During the boom times of the late 90’s, because of incredible growth for most companies, people were promoted and hired into senior roles at younger and younger ages. The need was there for leadership, and in so many cases, people that showed any potential were moved into leadership roles. Unfortunately, because of the lack of experience, a great many projects and initiatives were poorly managed right down the drain. As long as the market continued to grow, companies could afford to absorb those mis-steps and keep going. Once the bubble burst, 9/11 came along, and we plunged into a recession… there no longer was any such thing as ‘acceptable losses’.

Clients began to talk to me about needing someone that’s ‘been around the block a few times’. They wanted people that had ‘been there and done that’ when looking for a new project manager or business leader. They needed experience to be able to know how to look for speed bumps and how to successfully navigate around them. No longer were they looking for the 30 year old ‘up and comer’, but were much more interested in the 50 year old proven performer.

That has, in my experience, continued to this day. Of course it’s not universal, there are always exceptions and always will be. However, seeking solid, successful prior experience has become by far the norm rather than the exception. We are in an era where companies are no longer looking for a new hire that will stay with the organization for the next 20 or 30 years. In many cases, they feel fortunate if they can get someone for the next two. Someone that shows them that they will be a true asset for the next year or 2 will be far more attractive than someone that appears they will be a dead weight in the company for the next 10.

Although age is not the barrier it once was, being ‘old’ is! Being ‘old’ is a state of mind that can be as prevalent in 30 year olds as it is in 60 year olds. When a hiring manager is interviewing candidates, almost without exception they are attracted to someone that comes across as professional, humble, passionate, enthusiastic, technically and functionally current, coachable, and articulate. I have personally interviewed people well into their 60’s that exude all of these characteristics, and have interviewed many people in their 20’s and 30’s that exhibit hardly any. A burned out, or cynical 25 year old can come across as way too ‘old’ compared to a gray haired 60 year old that has a spark and desire for new opportunities.

There’s an instance where a hiring manager interviewed several people for a position. Two people in their 50’s that were both passed over each commented that they were sure it was because of their age. They each lamented the challenges they face because of ‘blatant’ age discrimination whenever they go to an interview. What they didn’t know is that the person that actually was hired for the role was nearly 60. It wasn’t their age that was hurting them, it was how ‘old’ they were.

There is an IT Business Analyst I know well that is nearly 65 years old. In the last several years he’s gotten caught up in a series of layoffs. Not due to his own fault, however, due to corporate mergers, cut backs, and reorganizations. Unfortunately, that is often the norm these days. He, however, has always been able to land a new position within a matter of weeks because as soon as anyone meets him, age never becomes an issue.

He networks constantly. He takes initiative in contacting people whenever he finds an attractive job opportunity. He presents himself with energy and enthusiasm. Although he’s all gray and balding, he dresses with well fitting, well pressed, professional, and up to date clothing. He expresses sincere interest in listening to others, to new ideas, and to different ways of doing things. He comes across as coachable and with a desire to succeed. Those are the characteristics any hiring manager is looking for in a new employee regardless of age.

So, if you are in your late 40’s, 50’s, or 60’s… what do you do?

Determine to set your own mind straight! Don’t allow yourself to wallow in excuses. Will you occasionally run into a situation where you are not chosen purely because of your age? Possibly. However, is that a company you would have really wanted to work at then? Move on to find another opportunity. Whether it’s challenges because of age, sex, disability, poor work history, or anything else… they can be overcome with the right attitude and extra effort. For every person that says they can’t get a job because of a particular challenge, there is someone else with the same situation that did get a job. Determine you will be an over-comer!

Take a look at how ‘old’ you might be! Whether you are 25 or 75 be honest with yourself as to how you may come across to others. Do you have a cocky attitude that says “I know more about this than you do”? Do you come across as inflexible or stuck in how you’ve ‘always done things’? Do you show enthusiasm for your career and opportunity? Do you listen effectively, or only want to tell? Do you show that you care about your professional appearance? Do you have a positive, optimistic attitude and outlook, or do you have a tendency to always point out why something may not work? The image you portray may make you appear too ‘old’ for any position. Be sure to present yourself in the best way you can.

Don’t allow the negative influence of others that are convinced they are being discriminated against because of their age affect you. Present a positive attitude, apply effective job search techniques, network relentlessly, and you too can land your next job soon!


H. James Hulton III said...

I am well over 50 years of age and very definitely have been discriminated against. I was even asked over the phone in a phone interview how well do I get along with a "younger" culture in a corporate environment. Not too obvious! The recovery in this recession would occur much more quickly if efforts were made by employers to quit playing hiring games and hire the more mature and experienced workers who can really make a significant difference in the marketplace. H. James Hulton III, Blue Bell, PA, blueyes15074@yahoo.com.

some goof said...

Then why am I asked my age by recruiters if age is not really an issue? Companies hire 3rd party recruiters to do this discrimination for them because then the company is not liable.

Anonymous said...


You need to reach out and talk to some of us over 50 people. We can all PROVE that being over 50 is WHY we were not considered for a position, not some other reason!!! I have it writing from recruiters!

Anonymous said...

There has been a youth movement in the manufacturing area for years. Employers are just beginning to see the error of their ways. The inexperienced can not keep up with the same production levels as the older workers have been shown the door. Employers will say they are looking for motivated and ambitious workers to produce. Well, that's half true, the other half is that they have a concentration on keeping wages low and reaping larger profits for themselves. Sorry, but age discrimination will be the eventually tipping point as more companies are left without any young people to tap into in the future.

Anonymous said...

I'm 60 years old and am traveling down my next career path. I list my past 15 years of experience on my resume. At the interview the Hiring manager says I see you worked at company ABC for 5 years prior to being at company XYZ for 10 years. Because I'm honest I now tell the Hiring manager that I actually worked at ABC for 25 years. I don't tell him that I actually had another job prior to that because he already has a look of disbelief on his face. From my experience it is much more difficult to get a decent paying job at my age, if not impossible. But that won't stop me from trying!

Honeycomb said...

Yes, there is discrimination. When I was 30 or younger, it was a snap to get hired anywhere for anything. I got a job offer at age 40, even. NOW I am 60. I've walked into job interviews with the same or better skills that I had years ago, the same person, the same weight, healthy & normal weight, trendy, intelligent, etc. I would've been hired on the spot years ago. Now I don't get the job for [name some silly reason here]. It's either that...I talked too much, I didn't talk enough, I wouldn't "fit in," no specific reason but they're just going to look further. It's pretty obvious. I work in a field where computer use is essential. I'm an expert at it, as shown by my resume. Yet they have the stereotype that older people aren't good with computers; I've been asked a couple of times whether I'm comfortable with computers, if I have a computer at home, etc. (it is evidence from my resume that I'm proficient in various computer programs...a lot of them). I have FOUR computers at home.

Anonymous said...

Ask any 60 year old looking for a job and most likely we will tell you there is job discrimination. 14 years ago when I was looking for a job I got hired immediately. Now nothing. The discrimination is obvious though hard to prove.

Anonymous said...

I work in healthcare service and you will get hired as a manager but never as a worker be over 40 unless you are a internal transfer. These guys are right on. We had two 60 year old mechanics come by 10 years after the Northwest Airlines strike an d went through a local technical program for a job. No interview between the two of them. The said they were going to do work per job out of state fixing airplanes working for themselves saying the young managers are the problem because they want to hire a buddy their age to hang out with not qualified professional.

Anonymous said...

I am a Recruiter, and have been for 20+ years. You are wrong! I have been a corporate recruiter, and an agency recruiter, and have owned my own successful agency. And on countless occasions, I've had clients tell me the will not interview candidates over a certain age. most often, that age was around 32. this included Pharma, large Retail chains, Insurance Sales, Grocery, Administrative outsourcing, engineering, technology, you name it. And to the point of a previous poster, these companies were absolutely attempting to use my agency to conduct age discrimination. Although I agree with your view that some people act old, and that a candidates demeanor and energy plays a huge role, I've not only personally experienced age discrimination, quite blatantly, I'm witnessing it on a daily basis while my husband is job searching after 30 years. I interviewed 5 years ago at a job fair hosted by one of our competitors. The interviewer was around my age, but neither I or the two women (also my age) made it to the "second round" room. We watched though as multiple recent college grads with unrelated degrees, with zero industry experience were ushered into the "second round" room. YES! Blatant age discrimination DOES exist. My husband's been on 6 face-to-face interviews in 4 months, 3 of which the age discrimination was unabashedly clear. Two interviews literally shut down within the first 30 seconds, and in both instances, he described the Interviewers expression drop as soon as they set eyes on him. (and no, he's not an unattractive guy - he's fit, sharp and very polished) Strangely, one interviewer was retiring after 25 years, and seemed to be the most blatant, posing questions about how dated my husbands education was. My husband's an extremely skilled professional, and a very young-at-heart guy with boundless energy.

unfortunately, the justice system is supported by business.

Anonymous said...

I do not for one minute believe that people do not discriminate due to age I have been to college 3 times in my life time and worked for most of my life. My last job was eliminated four years ago and since then I have revamped my resume reflecting no age at all.

Since then, I always get called for interviews, but never am offered a job for even the simplest position as a receptionist. When I have gone to interviews. I look at the current employees and most are approximately 35 at the oldest. I KNOW I am not getting hired because of my age.

One time somebody asked me if I know how to use a computer. I feel so worthless because I am far from old but nobody will give me a chance at working again.

anonymous said...

I am 61 years old. I have been looking for a decent job for 2.5 years since I was laid off from a large telecommunications company. I have applied to over 300 jobs which I a well qualified. One company stands out in particular. I have applied for 152 different positions, again, all of which I am qualified for. To this date, I have been to one interview and thought it went well since the hiring manager and I were engaged in a conversation which kept the next candidate waiting 30 minutes. Things immediately went quiet. I waited two weeks and was told the position was put on hold. I waited a couple of more weeks and tried to call and email the manager and NEVER got a reply. The exact same position came across the company job board again and of course I applied. NO call for a phone interview or anything. SO I am to assume I am no longer qualified? I called an employment attorney and told them about my situation. They were not interested in my case. I guess I should declare myself a black hispanic transgendered lesbian illegal immigrant refugee so I will once more have some rights under the law.

Anonymous said...

I am 56 years old and have worked in my own business as an investigator and subcontracted for many other firms over the years. Due to a couple of clients hiring "workhorses" that will cover the entire state and allow themselves to be worked to death, there is no longer any work for me. It was due to a change in management, but it happens in this industry all the time. I have 30 years of experience in the insurance and investigative industry combined, but being a 56 year old woman and a one man show, no one wants to allow me to show them my talent, tenacity and drive. I say you get what you pay for, and this type of corporate culture will lose this company clients. Perhaps I will be there to take them on when they decide that the shoddy work product they are now receiving is substandard, because I am no longer doing the job. Well, that is it in a nutshell, and I am convinced that if I were 20 years younger, I would have offers coming in like the high tide.

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Anonymous said...

I usually don't leave comments to articles I read, but I couldn't believe this article's author's spin on what the US Bureau of Labor Statistics itself has found in study after study--that age plays a definite and detrimental role in hiring decisions and on-job advancement across virtually all industries in the USA. It's patently insulting to suggest that age is merely "a state of mind." I guarantee you it is not. In fact, in medical research age is such a significant independent objective determinant of disease state and pathphysiological prognosis that we have to first separate study candidates by age before we apply any interventions. Because older people, regardless their mindsets, simply physiologically respond differently, and more so as age advances.

Very, very disappointed that someone would choose to spin what millions of US citizens experience legitimately and painfully (ageism) as "just in your head."

JLB said...

No you are not doomed if you start your own business. My experience was being hung up on and my number blocked after sucessfully passing the first interview on the telephone and we had the second face to face interview set up. The Hiring Manager on the telephone said 'my background on my resume was impressive and they need people on board like me."
My interview clothes and the second interview was set in stone by that time. She "was looking forward to meeting me." But..., just as we were hanging up, she asked 'oh, when did you graduate from High School?" I told her the truth and she immediately hung up on me and blocked my telephone number. Shocked, but not deterred, I kept submitting my resume to various companies. the same thing happened two more times. The fourth time a company called seeking my employment, I gave them my sons High School graduation year as an experiment. They rolled out the red carpet for me. My experiment would have been found out in the second interview, so I kindly told them "Thank you very much. I found a better offer." I have been keeping my computer skills upgraded on the college business level every two years. I am qualified. I know I am stable and healthy. I know I would be an asset to the company that I work for if they would only give me the wonderful opportunity to work for them. It is very discouraging. So, I am exploring at college what type business I can own, be the C.E.O. and be the Hiring Manager. Guaranteed I will not age discriminate.

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