Ways to fight ageism in your job search

By Jill D Griffin 4 minutes Read

“Hello Jill!” the interviewer said in a chirpy voice as she typed on her laptop. When she looked up, her expression changed to a slightly dissatisfied frown. “Thank you for coming today,” she added in a newly dejected tone.

I was interviewing for a position in marketing that I thought would be perfect for me. Someone high up in the company tipped me off and sent my resume through on my behalf. But less than three minutes into the interview, the interviewer glanced up from her computer before saying, “I think I got everything I need from your resume. Do you have any questions for me?”

Her eyes didn’t meet mine when she said that. “What am I missing?” I wondered. I asked about the responsibilities and scope of the opportunity. Her answers were short and she didn’t ask me a single question.

The first time this happened I passed it off as busy or distracted. But then it happened again… and again. When I asked colleagues who were also over 40 about it, they confirmed that I wasn’t imagining it. We were persona non grata.

In a recent report by Generationthe organization surveyed 3,800 employed and unemployed people and 1,404 HR managers in seven countries. Their results show a consistent pattern of prejudice towards workers aged 45 and over across all regions.

So does this mean that someone over 45 has no chance of advancing their career or getting an opportunity? While DEI initiatives should address age discrimination in the workplace, there are a few ways experienced employees can take matters into their own hands.

Create a personal board

the motivational speaker jim rohn, famously said that We are the average of the five people with whom we spend most of our time. Building and maintaining professional relationships can be critical to your professional success.

I recommend creating a personal Board of Directors (BOD). Your BOD should be made up of people you see as mentors or advisors who can share their knowledge, their experience or a strategic sparring partner.

To find your BOD, I suggest identifying all of the character traits you want to have around you. Next, identify a diverse range of seven to eight people in your community who meet the criteria. These are the people you can count on for valuable insight and diverse feedback.

Benefit from networks

I recommend creating a “networking resume” that connects your goal with a compelling career narrative to hand out at networking events. It should have a goal, describe the likely roles you’re suited for and how your career history translates into those roles, list the type of company you’d like to work for, and include a clear call to action (eg. “I would be grateful if you could share this with any X Company connections.”)

Another great habit is to think strategically about manageable weekly networking goals. I keep things in a simple 3-2-1 format (for example: reach out to three people, have two questions ready, and manage one week at a time). Not only will you benefit from these relationships, but you’ll also expand your knowledge of the workforce and provide you with excellent conversational material for job interviews.

Create the CV for the desired role

Application tracking software (ATS) is often the first barrier to entry, as this AI software weeds out resumes before they reach the human eye. For this reason, it is important that your CV is tailored to the position you are applying for.

Here are some ways you can do this:

For example, if your title is product director, it might help to further define your experience by adding that you’re actually product director for consumer banks and credit cards. You can also customize your title depending on the job you are applying for if you have the appropriate experience and skills.

  • Conduct keyword research on Google and LinkedIn

Which words are included in the job advertisement? Include these words on your resume. Does the skill section of your LinkedIn profile match the job description? LinkedIn allows 10 “skills” and you can customize the “skills” on your profile to match the job description.

  • Demonstrate the unique value you have to offer

Rather than just listing your career history, your resume should present you as a “leader” rather than just a “doer” (especially if you’re applying for a leadership role). This could include showing how you met strategic challenges or notable leadership roadblocks you’ve led your team through.

Refine your skills continuously

A common myth about experienced workers is that their skills become obsolete. As such, you must take extra care to demonstrate that you have the current skills required for your industry.

Some ways to do this include taking online courses through platforms such as Grow with Google or LinkedIn learning. The benefit here is twofold. First, you can list these courses on your resume and LinkedIn profile. And second, they offer great networking opportunities. Another way to hone your skills is to propose a trade exchange (e.g. you could offer business consulting or mentoring in exchange for technical support).

While dealing with age discrimination in the workplace is humbling and frustrating, it’s important to remember that you bring wisdom and experience to an organization. As Brene Brown would say, “Don’t shrink. Don’t inflate. Stand on your sacred ground.” Developing a strategy to overcome these obstacles will boost your confidence and provide you with an effective plan of action.

jill D. Gripping is a career strategist who has spent more than 20 years building strategy and strengths-based cultures for Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Samsung. She is the hostess of The career refresher podcast.

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