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How to Combat Ageism in Your Job Search

How to Combat Ageism in Your Job Search

Working with more seasoned professionals, I’ve heard a lot of concerns over the years about ageism: Do you list your graduation date? How far back do you go on a resume? How do you avoid being judged as “too old” during an interview?

Let’s talk about what ageism actually means. What comes to mind for you when you think of hiring someone who is "too old?"

Low energy. Slow. Stubborn. Old-Fashioned. Forgetful.

When you’re assembling your application and preparing for an interview, you can’t change how many years of experience you have, but you can be deliberate about addressing those stereotypes. It’s all about how you communicate.

Here’s what communicating effectively to combat ageism looks like.

Low-energy.

How enthusiastic you are can come across in your facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. How do you look, feel, and behave when you’re genuinely excited and interested in something? Most likely your voice raises, maybe you speak faster, and your face lights up. Be conscious of how that comes out in your networking and interviewing.

What examples of work projects might you have that required a lot of energy, or having a lot of stamina? In interviews, incorporate details that demonstrate your ability to bring energy and enthusiasm to the work.

This might sound like:

Last year’s annual report was one of my favorite accomplishments. Leading this work, I wanted to mix things up and bring more excitement to the standard report. Instead of compiling the same data, we incorporated stories of our grantees in a new way that resonated with funders. Our CEO received many compliments from funders about how much more engaging the report was, and I personally loved working on it.

[Related: Three Surefire Ways to Own Your Value and Boost Your Career Reinvention]

Slow.

How can you convey that you can thrive in a fast-paced environment and show how you’re capable of juggling it all? Heck, even how fast you respond to a hiring manager’s emails could be an indication of how fast you work (though don’t kill yourself trying to be a speed demon for the sake of fighting ageism in your job search!). Incorporating examples with tight timelines into your interviews can help.

This might sound like:

Last month, a client was not happy with the latest campaign we had implemented. I immediately got on the phone with them to hear their concerns, and brought in my team to understand the pain points so that we could quickly pivot the strategy and make changes that would get the campaign back on track. For a few weeks, I was in close communication with the client daily as we adjusted the team’s approach. When the campaign launched a few weeks later, the client noted how much they appreciated how fast we were in addressing the issues.

Stubborn.

For an employer worried about your ability to be flexible, it may be helpful to come up with some examples of work projects that have required you to be adaptable. When have you had to re-adjust your strategy or go with another person’s suggestion? Polish a story that demonstrates you are a flexible, team player who isn’t too set in their ways.

This might sound like:

Last year, our executive team got together for multiple days of strategic planning for the next five years. We each came ready with our most important priorities, ready to negotiate for resources. The team had some long, intense debates and discussions about how to allocate resources and where our biggest return on investment might be. Through these discussion, I heard great points from my colleagues. This shifted what I thought were the highest priorities. Part of what I love about being on a great team is the ability to influence each other and come up with the best decision when diverse perspectives are in the room.

[Related: Fighting Ageism for Your Mental, Physical, and Financial Health]

Old-fashioned.

One of the most common assumptions about older people is that they don’t know or use the latest technology.

What platforms, CRMs, databases, and modern hard skills do you have listed on your resume? Can you show in your most recent jobs that you’re using modern technology for project management, virtual meetings, and communications - e.g. Salesforce, Miro, Basecamp, Zoom, Slack, or various social media platforms?

What sentences can you incorporate into an interview answer that demonstrate how you used new tech platforms, or what ways you kept in touch with colleagues that might be recent shifts in how you work? How can you demonstrate that you are constantly learning and keeping up on the latest trends in the field or new ways of work?

This might sound like:

Yes! I just read the latest report with research from The Urban Institute about this. I’m hoping more organizations will weigh in on this topic too as this is an ever-evolving issue. 

Or:

One of my favorite tools is Trello - where would I be without my Trello board to keep me organized?!

Forgetful.

Whether or not you actually do have a tendency to forget people’s names, or don’t recall numbers or facts, there are easy ways to combat this (and this is another area that’s not age-specific!).

Prepare your resume, cover letter, and interview stories with clear facts, names, and data. The more you can speak confidently about specifics in the past, the more effectively you’ll be able to show your memory is just fine and, even better, that you are data-driven and diligent in tracking your results.

This might sound like:

The campaign was a huge success -- we saw a 20% increase in engagement from alums and the average gift size increased by $2500. We now have a targeted list of 15,000 new donors to cultivate for the next year.

As you can probably tell by now, fighting ageism is about being deliberate and intentional about how you communicate.

The more you prepare examples in your resume and your stories for interviews, the more you’ll be able to incorporate words and examples that offer a counter-narrative to some of these characteristics that hiring managers might associate with older people.

So, what else aside from your preparation and communications can you address to fight ageism in your job search?

Though many of us have gone gray during the pandemic, that doesn’t have to signal that your skills are faded! Consider these other aspects of how you show up:

  • Does your resume have a more modern font and style? How formally do you communicate in emails if the company you’re applying for is more informal?
  • In a video interview, consider your background (again, relevant for everyone no matter your age!). What do you want your audience to see or feel when they see you? What background would convey that?
  • Most people aren’t interviewing via Zoom with a suit on these days. What types of colors and clothes might make you appear professional but also fit with the vibe and culture of the organization you're interviewing with? What colors energize you and make you feel confident and youthful? Wear those.
  • What about your LinkedIn photo? If it’s from more than five years ago, does it still look like you? If not, update it. Don’t apologize for the fact that you look older - own it. The more you try to change it, ignore it, or put something out there that hides the real you, the more employers will wonder what else you’re covering up.

Here’s the last secret of fighting ageism: confidence.

If you’re confident in your abilities, then your stories and tone of voice and body language will convey energy, enthusiasm, and excitement about the future.

[Related: Tips For Women on the Verge of a Career Change at 50]

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Emily Lamia has been helping people grow and develop in their careers for over a decade. In 2015, she founded Pivot Journeys to create experiences to help individuals navigate their next career move and find meaningful work.


Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.

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