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How to Overcome Age Discrimination at Work

Age discrimination may be against the U.S. labor laws, but I’ll bet you or someone you know has been on the wrong side of this form of discrimination in the workplace. In fact, nearly two out of three workers aged 45 and older have seen or experienced age discrimination on the job, according to an AARP workplace survey. So let’s face it: It’s real, and you need to know how to deal with it.

As a career coach, I know firsthand that many professionals feel one of their greatest career challenges after age 40 is age discrimination. To help overcome this obstacle, I’ve developed several tips that have helped people of a certain vintage successfully navigate the job market.

Own it. You can’t change your age. You can lie about it, but you can’t change it (and lying about it is a very bad idea). If you’re embarrassed by your age, others will sense that. People are attracted to candidates with confidence. If you feel self-conscious about your age, this lack of confidence will come across. Instead, feel good about your age and what you’ve accomplished thus far.

Use it to your advantage. Being older than others in the workplace comes with advantages. Think about the many benefits of being older. For example, wisdom and experience are gained over time. They cannot be taught in a classroom, nor over a short period of time. “Experience,” defined as the act of living through an event, is one of the best ways to learn. As an older person, you have more experiences and have gained more wisdom than the inexperienced.

Focus on what you can contribute. Take the focus away from your age and put the focus on what the company will get if they hire you. Business people are trying to solve problems or capitalize on opportunities. You need to present yourself with that in mind. Statements such as “If you hire me, you will get X” will pique the interest of the hiring manager. Showcasing the return on investment (ROI) of hiring you will take the focus off your age and put the focus on what you will deliver. If you can demonstrate how you can help a company solve problems or capitalize on opportunities, they won’t care if you are 85 or 25.

Get into a career you can’t age out of. Hopefully, you’ll do this proactively as opposed to getting laid off and trying to figure it out then. To find such industries and roles, think about your own buying behavior. When do you prefer wisdom and experience?  For example, would you prefer the person managing your money to have worked through numerous economic cycles? Or would you be okay with a person managing your money who has studied the subject but has not experienced the craft? Certain professions require experience on top of education to be the best.

Go against the stereotypes. Think about why some people don’t want to hire older workers. I’ll give you a couple of old sayings that some people still buy into: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks; old people are set in their ways. You can overcome these stereotypes by showcasing your energy and drive. For example, you can do that with your body language and appearance or by stating your hobbies on your résumé (such as your physical fitness endeavors). I once worked with a candidate who applied for an individual contributor role at the age of 45. While I don’t always recommend including personal interests on résumés, we included her marathon running achievements as a way to showcase her energy and discipline. Sure enough, during the interview, the interviewer stated, “You can do anything. You’re a marathon runner.” And she got the job.

Don’t be a victim. Stop whining about this obstacle to your network. Instead, present yourself as a person of impact with skills and wisdom. Concentrating on your positive attributes will take attention away from your perceived negative attributes.

While age discrimination may be more common than we’d like, it is not impossible to advance your career at an advanced age. I suggest incorporating all of these tips into your approach. These tips are applicable for many discrimination biases — not just age. So own your uniqueness and focus on your value, and others will get on your bandwagon!

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