What Advice Should We Give to Older Candidates?

I recently hosted a live (text-based) chat for job seekers with a panel of my company's recruiters that gave general advice and answered job-seeker questions.  I was struck with how many questions were coming from older (I'll say 50+) job seekers that clearly expressed their worries and concerns with being treated fairly in the job marketplace.  A couple of sample comments in the chat and on my corporate blog were:

"How does a job seeker over 50 get considered for bottom of the totem pole job again?"

"How do I get a recruiter to notice that my past and current experience in sales and education is a benefit to the company? They seem to look for inexperienced people that they can offer a low wage/salary to."

"why does it take the older applicant longer to find a job?  is it that you know you can hire a younger candidate cheaper?  Or you think they are more "teachable"?  How might older applicants assure you otherwise?"

"Should I only list my jobs for the last ten years as some recruiters have stated (I have 32 years experience in the graphic arts field). I am concerned that my age is becoming a factor but I feel that this is not be forthcoming about all my experience (I am in my mid fifties)."

Is their perception of bias correct?  Older job-seekers seem to feel that (regardless of age-discrimination laws & policies):

  • It's almost impossible to start over and execute a career change or get hired at a lower level than they were before
  • Yet, companies will take a younger candidate over an older, other things being equal
  • Experience is no long preferable to technological agility
  • Therefore, they should seek to hide their age & experience in the early stages of the application process.

In your experience, how prevalent is an age bias among hiring companies & hiring managers?

What advice would you give to older job seekers as a result?

Views: 1413

Comment by Andrew Hanneman on April 5, 2012 at 9:51am

In medical staffing I hear every day from people on job forums complaining about not getting jobs or getting passed on by younger "kids".  First and foremost, if the hopsital can pay someone less and they take it, you are doing yourself a disservice by not lowering your pay requirements.  The market decides your pay.  Second, the facilities I work with love experienced techs, by far my best traverlers tend to be people that are "retired".  If you used to make $45 an  hour and people with 2+ years of experience will take the job at $22, you have a decision to make.  It is not that you are being discriminated because of your age, you are being discriminated because your pay requirments are higher than the market. 


You may not agree with the market lowering your pay, but it is what it is

Comment by Lee on April 5, 2012 at 9:54am

Check out this great blog from Sarah Welstead of Retired Worker. This firm specializes in recruiting for older Canadians. http://retiredworker.blogspot.ca/

And from the peanut gallery (me) - format the resume in a way that is current and modern - don't use Times New Roman for example - highlight recent experience and accomplishments as well.

Comment by Theresa OKeefe on April 5, 2012 at 9:54am

Speaking strictly for what I have experienced in the world of employment (as a person who had been seeking work at one point for a VERY long time after being laid off from corporate America), I would say *ALL* the above noted bias are very true.

If I was honest about all my experience on my resume I would either not be called to an interview or I'd be called and then told "while we really like you, we know that "people like you" will only stick around till a better paying job comes along."  Had this been "pre-recession" I would have agreed, but now nearly 5 years later there are no "better paying" jobs coming along.  All employers are "under paying" people for their talent when compared to what wages were like before the recession.

Ultimately I updated my resume to include only what I've done for the past 10 years (even though I have a 25 year work history).  However, even with only 10  years of experience showing no one really was breaking down my door (I was a person who could normally walk into any company in my chosen field, get the interview in 95% of the cases and the job offer 100% of the time). 

I  basically "stumbled" into recruiting. I've been doing now for about one year, and I actually enjoy it very much. I view it as a sales job. Only instead of selling something no one really needs (like another timeshare) I'm "selling" people an opportunity at a potentially better future for themselves.

Lastly...older people are not the only ones being discriminated against.  The unemployed, regardless why they ended up that way, are also victims.  Many employers (at least here in CA) state in their ads (must have "recent experience---within 90 days) that lets a lot of people out the running for the job.

It seems experience has little to no place in today's job market.  It's very sad and discouraging for many.

Comment by Bob Sharpe on April 5, 2012 at 10:11am

I recently re-entered the job market after 20 years in various entrepreneurial roles as a 50+ worker.  I found meaningful work in relatively short order.  I may have been lucky, nothing more, but here's what I attribute my success to:


1.  Focusing more on the company's needs and what I could bring to help them solve their problems.

2.  A focus on service, rather than justification of my past efforts.

3.  Humility-I had no expectations that my past counted all that much.

4.  A willingness to adjust my pay expectations...considerably.


I detected no age-based bias working against me.  Like I said, maybe it was just dumb luck, but I was treated well and given an opportunity that, I think, I have made the most of in the few months I have been in my new role. 

Comment by Kathy Stokes on April 5, 2012 at 10:12am

Adam, These are great questions.  As someone who falls into the "older" category as a recruiter, I try to champion older candidates when possible.  I would be interested to hear how other recruiters respond to the dreaded, "over- qualified " response regarding a senior candidate?  Thanks!

Comment by Charlie Allenson on April 5, 2012 at 10:19am
I have a few bits of advice that can be taken with however many grains of salt you feel necessary:
- Don't give up. I know each passing week makes it harder to get out of bed and hit the computer and phones. As the old lottery saying goes, "you've got to be in it, to win it."
- Don't spend all day on the job hunt. It'll make your brains leak out your ears. Put in a predetermined number of hours, then step away.
- Do use this "downtime" to pursue a passion -- pick up that guitar, find dome others to rock eith, take tai chi classes, write a short story, paint, draw, cook, get out of the house. You also never know who you'll run into to help you network.

Some advice for recruiters:

- Takr off your freakn' blinders. Gray hair doesn't mean lack of social media savvy or inability to do the job. Would you tell Eric Clapton he's too old to play with you? Woud you tell Warren Buffet he's too old to teach you investing principles?
- One day you'll have gray hair and you can still do the job with excellence and you'll find yourself out on your ass. Always look at things through someone else's eyes. You'll be pleasantly surprised at what you see.

Comment by Adam Eisenstein on April 5, 2012 at 11:57am

Thanks for the comments, everyone.  It is interesting to hear all the different perspectives.  Andrew, I'd say that sometimes pay requirements are the issue, but I have often also heard from folks that are willing to go back in at entry-level roles and pay, but feel they aren't considered for them.  (It could be also said that it's not unfair for companies to want to invest in younger talent for entry-level roles to grow them for the future; but then again, this isn't exactly the era of 'hire someone for life'.)  

Theresa, you're right that it is not just about age, either.  I've heard of those type of job ads and it boggles my mind, especially as someone who was laid off in '09 myself.  Bob, I think your points are well taken and are a good foundation for anyone looking for a job regardless of age. And Charlie, I think your challenge to 'always look at things through someone else's eyes' is an important one, since I think recruiters and job-seekers alike could use some lessons in empathy.  Understanding someone else's perspective is pretty important to, well, being human.

Comment by Elise Reynolds on April 5, 2012 at 12:10pm

What an important subject.  They say now we are all going to work until we are 70.  Which I don't think is so terrible if we can continue to fine meaningful work through our 60's.   

What I can add to the conversation is that if you are changing jobs over the age of 45 or reentering the work force you might need a make over.  Perky is the operative word.  You need to look perky and act perky.  Too many people as they age look frumpy and they can act frumpy too. 

If you are 54 and trying to get a position at a company where most of the people are mid 30's you are not going to have much working for you to make a connection.  So you need energy and charisma to work for you.

I realize this is daunting for many people, especially men.  Men are not used to the word "make over"  and they think it has something to do with waxing body hair.  But there are relatively low cost investments you can make in your appearance.  A few coaching sessions with the right coach would set someone on the right path.

More importantly with the new and improved image that will give them the confidence to proceed forward and weather the almost inevitible rejection in better stride.

Mostly, what I really think for those that can, the best way to age in the workplace is to have your own business or be a consultant.  Which is why I am feeling so glad to have stumbled into recruiting 16 years ago.  Being a headhunter is not always easy but nothing is.

Comment by Charlie Allenson on April 5, 2012 at 12:18pm

I don't know, Elise. I had a Brazilian and I look great.

Comment by Andrew Hanneman on April 5, 2012 at 12:21pm

lol @ charlie


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