Battling Ageism

One of the biggest issues faced by job seekers – whether you are looking for a job now or in the future – is ageism.  Do employers, hiring managers or recruiters allow age to consciously or unconsciously creep into the hiring process? Certainly some people over a certain age have experienced this phenomenon.  Sometimes it feels like the manager is just gathering a more-experienced person’s intelligence rather than interviewing them.  It might feel like an older person gets overlooked repeatedly for interviews.  I am not here to argue one side or the other.

What I want to write about is turning the age issue onto itself.  Much like a martial artist uses the aggression and power of the other person to their advantage, I believe we need to turn the age discussion into something different. Aikido teaches using the other person’s own energy to gain control of them. Ju Jitsu means the art of suppleness or flexibility.

So, how do I turn my (older) age and experience into an advantage?  How do I turn the other person’s energy to gain control of the situation? I see at least five ways.

1)Describe the “Risk/Reward” to overcome the sentiment that the more-experienced person is “too costly” idea.  Someone who is looking to hire a younger, less experienced person might be doing it because they can get the younger candidate for a smaller salary.  Their cost  might be less.  But does  that lower-cost, less-experience decision come with a risk? There is a reason some items, for instance, car tires, are low priced.  They are less-reliable.  They have greater risks, especially at high speeds or on rough roads.  You, as an experienced worker, minimize risk because you have gone at high speeds.  You have traveled the rough roads.  The initial cost might be slightly higher, but the total cost to hire you might be lower when you include all of the risk factors.

2)Use “experience” to overcome “relevance” concerns.  Some people might look at an older worker as being too set in their old ways.  The older person does not have the relevant skills, or is so used to out-of-date work methods that they are “broken”.  You might turn that by explaining how your experiences have given you skills for working in different experiences.  You have probably “seen the situation” somewhere in your work, so you know which of many potential solutions work and which don’t.  Your experience actually gives you a better chance to deal with change, making you relevant in today’s workplace.

3)Acknowledge the “tour of duty” thinking to overcome concerns that you only will work there a short time.  If an employer looks at you and thinks that you only have a couple more good years to go, you have a chance to fight back that thinking.  Some people, including Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, advocate a “tour of duty” approach. Hoffman advocates “an alliance where employees invest in the company’s adaptability while the company invests in employees’ employability by commissioning them on finite yet transformative mission assignments or “tours of duty.”  Why not acknowledge that the employer has a problem they need solved NOW, or a need that must be met NOW?  If that is the case, you might be the best person.  Let’s get that need met, then worry about the future. Neither party is pretending to make a lifetime commitment. Instead, both set out about what they expect the other party to deliver over the next 2, 3 or 4 years.

4)Use the “Reality Check” to show your value.  Some employers are trying out new, radical ideas.  Perhaps they are looking to attempt something very new.  As a veteran employee, you have experienced change.  You don’t want to dampen the passion and enthusiasm for the new.  But you can bring some perspective, a reality check.  You don’t have any problem falling into line on a company’s mission.  But you do know how to give a voice to reality.

5)When the interview seems to be an information-gathering session, check yourself.  Have your stories and experiences thought through ahead of time. Don’t give too much of your knowledge away.  If you have prepared ahead of time, you will have your story in place that tells what you accomplished without giving away too much of your intellectual capital.

I know, this is a radical approach.  But what have you got to lose?

By the way, it is my opinion that repeating the statement, “THEY are only looking for young people” is counterproductive.  First of all, any good employer will have a totally different mindset.  Those companies (“THEY”) are looking for the best person to meet a need, or solve a business problem, at a reasonable cost.  That means if you are good, you will be considered.  Second, if THEY are only hiring a certain age-group of people, you don’t want to work there.  That company is doomed to be less than their best because they are not looking at the whole picture.  Third, if you decide to be negative, that attitude will probably stick with you.  It does no good (other than giving you an excuse or a reason to stop trying hard).

Finally, there is the issue of interviewing with a person much younger than you.  How do you handle that?  They are coming from a much different perspective.  They ask different questions.  They talk more than they ask questions. They are not prepared for the interview.  They seem to be going through the motions.  A lot of companies have not trained the younger managers.  This is your chance to shine.  You have more experience.  Allow them to be themselves.  Your ability to work well with others might just be what they need.

I am not trying to diminish the often-real situation that age discrimination occurs.  Nor am I trying to write that you just have to accept it.  What I am saying is this.  You want a job (or a better job).  The reality is that you will face a lot of issues, age being one of them.  Figuring out how you can overcome any objection, whether it be age or industry knowledge or experience or pay, is the objective of getting hired.

Acknowledge reality.  Move onward. Have a plan in place.  As Apple says, “Think Different”.



In her book “Better Than Before” author Gretchen Rubin writes about our use of loopholes in our daily lives.

What is a loophole?  The dictionary definition is “a means of escape; especially : an ambiguity or omission through which the intent of an obligation may be evaded”.  A loophole gives you the chance to avoid doing something you probably should be doing.  It is a “way out” of having to actually take action even though you have “committed” to that action.   I think we are all familiar with tax loopholes or legal loopholes that clever people and corporations use for their advantage.

Have you ever thought about the personal loopholes you use to evade a commitment?

Loopholes take many different forms and shapes

The loopholes can be subtle wording that is open-ended.  “I’ll take the garbage out as soon as I am done watching TV”. They can be disguised or wrapped within some seemingly positive or noble other action.  “I’ll avoid sweets for the month unless a friend calls me to go have coffee and doughnuts with them (I can’t be rude!)”.  They are really easy when we wrap them around action dependent on another person. “As soon as Bill sends me the person’s e-mail and phone number, I’ll contact that person he knows”.  The loophole might sound iron-clad except for ambiguity around time.  “I’ll apply for that job once I am done researching it.”

Rubin writes about 10 loopholes:

  1. Moral licensing (giving ourselves permission to do something “bad” because we have done something “good”)  For example, “I exercised, so I give myself permission to have that big bowl of ice cream”
  2. Tomorrow (Tomorrow, Tomorrow, there is always tomorrow)
  3. False choice – Creating a fake either/or situation
  4. Lack of control (“It’s not within my control or influence to do that”)
  5. Arranging to fail -I’ll give it a try, but I am sure it won’t work
  6. This doesn’t count –  Creating a convenient exception
  7. Questionable assumptions (I read somewhere that . . )
  8. Concern for others – We defend it as if we are acting out of consideration for others
  9. Fake self-actualization – Disguising  an action as an embrace of life or an acceptance of self.  “I would do that, but I need to have some fun instead”
  10. One coin – One instance of an action is almost meaningless, yet at the same time the sum of many such actions is very meaningful.

Do any of those look familiar?  I guarantee most of us have used many of them recently.  I know I have.

A Call to Action

None of us can be perfect.  It is tough to tackle all 10 loopholes at once.  Here is an idea.  Select one or two of the loopholes above that you use.  Document it: Write it on a paper and tape it to your mirror, write it on your refrigerator or put in your phone as a reminder.  The act of writing or typing it has two benefits.  One, we engage our minds in writing or typing it.  Two, when something stares us in the face, it causes us to take action. Once you’ve got it posted, try to catch yourself using that loophole.  If you do catch yourself, acknowledge the loophole and you must do whatever action you were tying to avoid immediately.  Over time, the reminder might help you break a habit.

Tyranny of the Small Picture

Author Gregg Easterbrook, in his book The Progress Paradox describes the “Tyranny of the Small Picture”.  This “tyranny” is the concept where solving one problem often creates another.  Unfortunately, the new problem is noted and fretted about while the original problem, being solved, is forgotten. Instead of the big picture (“Hey, I solved a problem I’ve had”), we often see the small picture, aware only of the lesser negative within the greater positive.

We all employ the tyranny of the small picture in many parts of our life.  We identify something that needs fixed, addressed or dealt with.  It might be major.  It might be a small item in a string of things.  We finally get the courage to deal with it.  Once we are done, we “all-of-a-sudden” realize there is another problem.  So we start worrying about the new problem.  It consumes us.  Or at least it lingers in the back of our minds as we go about doing whatever else we have to get done.  Sometimes, we “blame” the result of taking the first action for creating a new problem.  Or we decide whatever “it” was actually shows our incompetence because we have not achieved the larger goal. We might never acknowledge the accomplishment of the original objective.  We might not even acknowledge progress.

That’s not good.

Here is a simple example.  My car is looking pretty bad.  So I decide to wash and wax it.  I’ve taken action and the results are good: the car looks a lot better on the outside now.  HOWEVER, upon closer examination, I can now see all of the scratches and dents in the exterior.  The small picture tells me I need to do something about those.  It will be expensive to get rid of those scratches.  Maybe I decide the inside is looking very dirty.  So I have more work to do – I need to vacuum and clean the inside.   Whoa is me. I have all this extra work to do.  The Big Picture – get your car washed and waxed was successful.  But that is immediately forgotten by my focus on the new small picture.

Here is a real example from my own life.  Most people know I am an avid runner.  I take it seriously.  My training is important to me from fitness, mental attitude and lifestyle perspectives.  It is a major part of my life.  One day my goal was to run 4 miles at half marathon pace.  I barely achieved the goal, struggling near the end and was left momentarily wondering, “if I struggled to run 4 miles at this pace, how will I ever run 13 miles at the same pace?”  I caught myself looking at the small picture!  The goal of that day was clear.  I achieved it.  I can’t worry about “what might be”.  Celebrate the success and move on to the next task.

That is what the tyranny of the small picture will do to you.  It gets you off task.  It makes you forget that whatever you are doing is part of a long process.  You need to trust that what you did today is a step along a long journey to your intended goal.

How often are you with someone where they complete something but immediately start talking about what they “didn’t accomplish” or “still must do” or “now have to do (groan)”?  I would be willing to guess that you do it to yourself.  Progress only happens in short bursts.  You have to take those short bursts as steps along the way.  Achieving that one step needs to be acknowledged, maybe even celebrated.  Yes, there will probably be newly-found obstacles or questions in your mind.  That’s okay.  You also have accomplished something.  To be honest with yourself, those new questions/concerns were always there.  They were just hidden by the obstacle you just took down.  

If “THEY” change, why can’t you?

This is a story about change. Pardon me if it takes a little time to get there.
The other day I was mentoring some students. One of them asked me, “Mr. Waggenspack, do you listen to rap music”?   You never know where these conversations are going to go, so I told him, “No, I have never gotten into rap. I guess I don’t understand it very well.”

He asked me, “Do you know that Arquan (another of the students) is a rap singer?” I told him I did not know that. So I asked Arquan a little about his music. How many songs he has recorded, for instance. Did he write his own words? That got a strong reply, “Of course!”. After a little more discussion, I asked where he came up with his background music.

“The music studio”, he said. I asked if the studio charged him fees or provided any support. That when he surprised me. “The studio is located at. . .”

Before I tell you the answer, let me ask you to think. What place is the least likely place in the world you can think of having a recording studio? What organization would have to make a really big change to be a place where a 16 year old boy would find himself, ever?

The Library.

Yep, the place of “sshhhhh”. The quiet place. The place with the stern-faced librarians and patrons with their faces in their books. There is a free-to-use, state-of-the art small recording studio in the Northwest Branch of the Dayton Metro Library system.  And it is drawing teenage boys their.

That got me thinking. If the library can accomplish change that big, why can’t we is individuals? Let’s face it, the library is not a place you think of when you think rap music. It is not a place traditionally where you think of massive change. Reading about music or getting a CD, that is the library.  But making music? That is not the library!  Kudoos to the library system for making change in order to stay relevant.

So the Dayton Metro Library System has re-formed its mission in some way. How about you? Is the library more nimble than you? Can you possibly imagine yourself making a much bigger change than from “shhhh” to “recording studio”?

We are so prone to look at our own situation and feel like we could “never” change to “that”. We dream up all kinds of barriers, excuses and reasons “why not”. The mountain looks so high from our vantage point. “What’s next” is scary.  Our situation is “different”, harder, more complex. Sure.  More complex than the library just went through?

Don’t tell me you are too old to change.  You are not older than the library.  Don’t tell me you wouldn’t know where to start. Do you think it was easy for the library to start?  Don’t tell me, I could never do radical change.  Are you less flexible than the library? Don’t say, I don’t dare to dream.  You can’t dream like the library?  Don’t say, I hate change. Don’t you think the library faced the same question, but persevered?  I wouldn’t know what to do?  Really?

Be willing to look at change.  Let the library be your inspiration.