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 The older person does not have the relevant skills, or is so used to out-of-date work methods that they are “broken”.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”.