It's been said that getting old is not for the faint of heart ... and that's perhaps truer in the workplace than anywhere else.
A 2019 Hiscox ageism in the workplace study showed that “36 percent feel their age has prevented them from getting a job since turning 40.” Meanwhile, 26 percent of those surveyed believe they are at risk to lose their current job because of age.
But what exactly is age discrimination in the workplace? Age discrimination means treating an employee less favorably because of their age. However, legal protections against age discrimination vary depending on your location, the size of your employer, and your sector.
And you don't just see age discrimination in the hiring process; it can occur at any point during your time in this role. With the number of age-related discrimination charges filed by workers aged 65 and up doubling between 1990 and 2017, the practice doesn't seem to be going away. If anything, it looks like it's getting worse.
Here's what you need to know going into your next job search.
How to fight back against age discrimination and get hired after 50
However, if you're an older worker, you can keep age discrimination at bay with the right tactics. These include:
Learning and practicing strategies that prevent you from being seen as obsolete
Clearly showing that your experience is valuable to (and lucrative for) your company
Knowing your rights when it comes to being hired and fired, and knowing how to make yourself stand out by tailoring your resume and using hiring technology wisely
1. Stretch your comfort zone
Here are some ways to stay competitive in today's job market and in your own specific employment role, as well as stretch yourself out of your comfort zone.
Whether you want to strengthen a current skill or acquire new knowledge to enhance your career, education keeps your mind sharp and shows that you're still interested in being your best for not only yourself, but also for your company.
Improve your technological skills
For some of us, this means moving rather far outside our comfort zone — but it can provide a huge payoff in getting key projects that will paint you as a valued team member. If you're in a job search, you can get hired more quickly if you have current technical skills.
Get on social media
The best place to start is LinkedIn because you can build your brand on a site that's meant for business connections. You'll be seen by others in your industry as well as your company, allowing you to build relationships and show that you're up-to-date on today's networking tactics.
Find a sponsor
A sponsor is someone who is willing and able to create opportunities for you in your company. Try to work on projects that will make you visible to a potential sponsor so you have someone in your corner as you take more risks.
Be a mentor
As your sponsor mentors you, do the same for an up-and-coming co-worker or team member. There's a lot you can learn from each other as you work on your goals. You'll have a colleague who sees you as “experienced” instead of “old” and who may well go to bat for you if age issues arise.
This kind of personal growth can be key to an older worker landing and keeping a job without fear of age discrimination.
2. Know (and share) your value
Take the time to understand and articulate your value and the value you would bring to the company in your position.
Once you have it, share it. Keep your managers and team members updated on your accomplishments in and out of work. You can also start and maintain a brag book to make it easier to recall and share all the relevant details of your recent accomplishments.
Understanding your value also means challenging your own assumptions about being an older worker. Are you avoiding the “choice” assignments because you think your manager wants a young team? Do you think you're too old for additional responsibilities?
Your own assumptions can end up hindering you in the long run. You have valuable experience to share that could help a younger team avoid unnecessary pitfalls, save time, and create better revenue structures. That kind of experience only comes with many years of productive work, and no one will know you have it if you don't tell them.
3. Optimize your resume
One of the best ways to avoid age discrimination in the hiring process is to not give away your age — and legally you don't have to.
There are two main ways to avoid putting your age on a resume:
Don't include the years you graduated from high school or college.
Keep your resume to two pages that cover your most relevant and recent work experience from within the last 10–15 years.
Other ways to erase your age from your resume include a non-AOL email in the contact information section of your resume (which means removing your AOL email), removing the two spaces after each period on your resume, including your LinkedIn profile, and replacing your objective statement with a professional summary.
When submitting an electronic resume that requires a graduation date in order to complete the submission, use the “9999” trick: Type all nines into the date field. This satisfies the form requirement while not giving away your age.
For employed older workers, keep an ear out for any age-related negative conversations or jokes and document everything. Being fired for your age is hard to prove, but the documentation can help you leverage a better settlement from the company — or help in a lawsuit if you choose to go that route.
4. Practice answering interview questions about your age
Any interview question that asks about your age or infers how old you are is illegal for interviewers to ask — period. Many interviewers know to avoid those questions, yet some will still ask some variation of the question, "How old are you?"
There are a couple of ways you can handle this situation. You could respond with, "That's an illegal interview question to ask, and I'm not going to respond to it." This is a valid response, though it likely won't win you any brownie points towards a second interview. You could also respond by sharing your age and leaving it at that. However, this approach may not get you very far in the interview process either.
The third option is to respond with your age and immediately follow up with the benefits your age can bring to the job position. By emphasizing the qualities and skills you've gained throughout your lifetime, you can highlight how you add value to the position and organization, which helps to take the focus away from your age.
5. Keep an open mind about your job search
At the end of the day, some places won't hire older workers — and that's okay. Instead, you need to be open-minded during your job search; don't lock yourself into a specific employer or type of job. In need of inspiration? Check out these age-friendly job sites to start:
WhatsNext.com: This search site has online assessment tools, calculators, career guides, books, lots of articles filled with expert content, and career coaches—all available to help you figure out how to create the life you want in the career of your choice.
Workforce50.com: This site includes relevant content, job-search functions, and a list of favorite age-friendly employers by industry. It also gives you the ability to sign up for job alerts so you can stay in the know.
40Plus: A volunteer organization devoted to helping its members find jobs, offering training courses, job-search help, resume development, weekly peer support meetings, and other resources, all supported by member fees.
By 2022, nearly 35 percent of workers will be age 50 or older, says AARP. On the flip side, studies say that around 58 percent of millennials will spend just three years or less at one job before moving to another. This could mean good news for those older workers who are staying abreast of workplace changes and arming themselves with the right education, training, and networking.
Finally, as older workers navigate today's ever-changing job market, this quote from author and entrepreneur Richie Norton is a great daily mantra to keep in mind: “Success is not about age, it's about action.”
Choose your actions and prove that older doesn't equal obsolete.
Is your resume helping you or hurting you by revealing your age? Check with a free resume review from TopResume today!
This article was updated in January 2021 by Danielle Elmers.