Three career strategists recently weighed in on ageism in this post. All three couldn’t deny that ageism exists, but the question is when does this deterrent to employment effect older job seekers? The most obvious of stage in the job search is the interview. This is why older job seekers need ways to combat ageism.
Unlike other career coaches, all my clients are active job seekers, not ones who are gainfully employed and looking to pivot to a new opportunity. It’s a well known fact that some employers erroneously prefer to hire passive job seekers. Ding one against my clients.
Job seekers are seen by some employers as “damaged goods.” Coupled with being an older job seeker, the label “damaged goods” takes on new meaning. It means that their ability to grasp technology isn’t as great, they are slower to perform, they are inflexible, and they get sick more often; all of which isn’t necessarily true. Ding number two.
The average age of my clients is 55. The age disparity isn’t great, probably between 45 and 65. Anyone who’s over 40 is considered an older worker, according to the Department of Labor (DOL), which means their tax bracket is a deterrent for employers. In other words, you expect too much money. Ding number three.
The final hurdle they have to face is the economy which has contributed to their long-term unemployment, being jobless for more than six months. As we all know, the chances of getting a job at this point is very difficult. In the Job Club I run, many attendees have been out of work for longer than a year. Ding number four.
Does this mean my clients don’t have a chance of landing a job? Of course not. Many of them are securing employment, albeit slower than they’d like. They have acknowledged the challenges with which they’re presented and see it “as the way it is.” However—a big however—this doesn’t make their job search easier.
How to do well in the interview
These are four stereotypes employers have of older job seekers. To succeed in the interview, you’ll need to dispel them with the correct verbiage and attitude. You’re skilled and have rich experience. It’s your presentation that matters.
You are actively looking for work
This means you’re hungry for work. No, you’re starving for work. And the good thing about you is that you’re not running from a current employer; you’re running toward this potential employer. You and I know employers should hire you for a number of reasons. Nonetheless, the question will be, “Why did you leave your last job?”
Regardless of the situation, you learned a great deal from your past experience and want to pass it on to this new employer. You acquired skills that will make you the obvious choice for this role, as they closely match the ones required by this employer.
Break it down during the course of the interview addressing the must-haves as well as the skills and experience that can be a bonus to the employer. Most importantly, demonstrate the value you’ll bring to the table by telling your S.T.A.R. stories to answer behavioral-based stories.
But don’t wait to be asked. Open with, “I’m truly excited about this role, not only from what I’ve gleaned through my research, but also because my experience closely matches your requirements. For example, you need someone who can manage projects that are completed on time and under budget. I’ve done this at my previous two companies….”
You are “damaged goods“
This is ding number two and, quite honestly, offensive to my senses. This is the running belief and needs to be put to rest. In the interview is the ideal time for you to prove they’re capable of getting back in the saddle, that you’re vibrant and as capable, if not more, than younger workers.
Cut the interviewer/s off at the pass. You’re hungry for work and have most of the required skills, so you need to express this with your first impressions and an answer to questions like, “Why did you leave your last position?” You’ll be asked this question to slip you up. Don’t let the interviewer/s do this.
Tell them that you enjoyed your last position and the people with whom you worked but, unfortunately, you were laid off among other people in your department or company. To the best of your knowledge, your boss thought you did a great job, and that you expect your performance to stay on par.
It might be that you were let go for poor performance, conflict with your boss, or some other reason. Own this and say that you learned a great deal from the situation. You’ve had time to reflect and are ready to return to the great employee you were prior to your unfortunate departure. Make this answer short and sweet.
You expect too much money
First of all, you better be or else you’re in the wrong room. There’s no faking this. Be real with yourself and don’t expect to take a job that pays half of what you made in the past. When my clients tell me they’ll settle for 80% of what they made in the past, I tell them they might have a case for accepting the position.
If you’re willing to take less than what you made in your previous role, it’s because you can swing the cut in pay with little or no impact on your life style. Most of the major bills have been paid, such as tuition, mortgage, car payments, etc. You’ll actually be better off by accepting this role because you’re in a better space.
Beat them to the punch by telling them that you are aware from speaking with the recruiter that you’ll be taking a cut from your previous job which is fine because of the aforementioned reasons. Explain this with conviction. Don’t leave doubt in their minds because if there is doubt, you won’t be able to make the sale.
You’ve been out of work for more than six months
Long-term unemployment is a beast. You’re among the age group that is hit hardest by it. According to TradinghEconomics.com, the U.S. unemployment rate is 6% which only counts those who are filing for unemployment. Finding a job not an easy task but not impossible. Ask many of my clients who’ve landed jobs.
When it comes to first impressions, first and foremost enter the room like you own it. Enthusiasm is key here. And you need to maintain it throughout the interview/s. I can tell which ones of my clients get this when I advise them on interviewing and conduct a mock interview with them.
It’s the vibe they give off. They smile, their eyes light up, and their handshake is firm, yet gentle. There’s no hint in their tone that they’ve been out of work for too long than they want. Conversely, I can read the ones who can’t pull off the act like a book. They just haven’t mastered the attitude yet. And for some of them, it takes a while to master and ultimately land.
In the interview you’ll have to demonstrate your ability to perform the job, despite being out of work for more than six months, by answering the job-related questions. This speaks to your knowledge of the position, so make sure you’ve done your research.
You’ll most likely be asked why you’ve been out of work for X number of months. COVID-19 is a good cover, but be able to explain how you’ve been improving your skills by taking training, attending networking events (particularly valuable for salespeople), volunteering, or working on a contract basis. Being able to address this question will do you well in the job search.
In order to succeed in an interview, you’ll need to be prepared to address these stereotypes employers hold against older job seekers. They aren’t insurmountable and have to be handled with the right attitude. My last bit of advice is to not enter the interview thinking you’re going to face ageism. If you do this, the battle is already lost.