By now it has become conventional wisdom that age discrimination against hiring workers 50+ years of age has become excessive in recent years. Examples are becoming too numerous to count. Here’s one. I just heard from a client the other day about a directive he had heard from a friend that was given where she works issued by an HR manager that went something like, “Give me all the names of employees over the age of 50.” The inference was clear. They were being targeted for something. Tell me. What do you think it was for? A bonus for loyalty, hard work, and willingness to slog for long hours? I doubt it. It sounds as if they were being rounded up like cattle being sent to the slaughterhouse.
The conversation about what to do for this cohort of clients is generating chatter among career counselors and coaches and for good reason. We are finding that a lot of clients are experiencing age bias and want to know what to do about it. Some of the advice I hear and read being shared is of the obvious type, such as don’t list a work history longer than 15 years and don’t put any graduation dates. I have to say, no matter who it is, I don’t like putting any year that begins with the number “19” on a resume anymore.
Other advice that I like has to do with how the mature worker presents him or herself. Show energy and a positive attitude. Keep your body looking decent by controlling weight, taking care of yellow teeth, and retaining the healthy look that comes from not eating poorly and drinking too much. Have a professional photographer take the picture that is placed on your online profiles, so the vigor and glow shows through.
Some parts of aging you can’t control. Employers seem to fear higher health care costs, because of the relatively advanced age, for example. But of the things you can control as you mature with your career you should. Keep a portfolio or log of achievements, particularly those of the past 10-15 years. Be able to demonstrate that you have made solid contributions that matter to employers now and are likely to be valued for the foreseeable future.
Never stop building your intellectual and social capital within your profession. Be able to show that you are on top of current trends and best practices. Have well founded opinions about the future of your industry. Know what are the issues, challenges, and likely solutions that will face your profession in the coming years. In other words, stay relevant. And keep building and cultivating those professional relationships, keeping you in the game. Participate in discussions and presentations that continuously give the impression that you are engaged.
A workplace characteristic that is highly valued now and will be going forward has to do with the skill employees can show in collaborative team work that is not limited by boundaries and which breaks down silos. Flatter organizations are less departmental and more creative in the way experts interact. Although evolving organizational structures may be new, try hard to resist the temptation to think they are bad. Get with the program. One of the great raps against the older worker is their resistance to change. Rather, you should dive into these innovative ways of communication and sharing to show that you not only embrace inventive ways of working, but that you can bring a perspective to the conversation and strategic planning that others may not be able to.
No doubt about it-it’s tough out there and likely to remain so for the older worker. If you are one who doesn’t want to retire earlier than you thought you were going to, then combat this trend with some steps that will keep you active and connected for years to come.