Fighting Ageism: How to Position a Mature-Aged Candidate

Here’s the scenario:

A recruiter has lined up a series of potential candidates for an opening. Having carefully ascertained their capabilities, character, potential and degree of experience, one candidate is heads and shoulders above the rest.

But there’s a problem. He’s got too much experience. You see, the candidate is a babyboomer – and he’s got the grey hairs to show it.

It’s not a problem for the recruiter. After all, he knows genuine talent when he see it. But he also knows his client. And it’s not looking good. Now what?

He dare not tarnish his reputation by sending through a no-hoper, given the client’s discriminatory attitudes. Rather, he’ll send in the next-best (and younger) candidate to bat for his agency…and hope for the best. Our first-class candidate is left out. Again.

Despite how mainstream media tends to paint the picture, unemployment is not only a graduate’s concern. Far from it. The number of job seekers aged above 50 have increased by 53% over the past year. 170,000 have been looking for work for more than 12 months. Horrific stats. And behind each number stands a worried individual – and usually, a family as well.

Recruiters need to provide careful guidance to even the highest quality mature-aged candidate to earn an interview, let alone a placement, for two key reasons:

1. The hiring process has seen drastic changes in recent decades. Mature-aged candidates who previously enjoyed constant employment often need assistance in navigating through an unfamiliar recruitment process. An example, is of course, the candidate’s CV. Dated formats, focuses, and language have few fans amongst today’s employment managers.

2. And then there’s the additional hurdle: strategies need to be developed for both CV screening and interview stages that combat ugly stereotypes that promote unofficial policies of ageism. For example:

“Older candidates are inflexible and set in their ways…”

If a candidate is able to pinpoint areas where previous weaknesses have been systematically and proactively addressed, a strong degree of flexibility and openness for change have been successfully demonstrated. In addition to addressing the stereotype, the candidate has also clearly highlighted an advantage older candidates often have of their younger counterparts: a greater degree of self awareness and a more developed level of emotional maturity.

“Older candidates can’t be trained…”

A candidate who can demonstrate ongoing and successful training will quickly dispel such nonsense. If one is unable to prove their commitment to constant career development, the candidate should consider exploring the vast world of adult education. Through classroom based training or eLearning programs, candidates can develop new skills that are verified by certification. It must be noted that eLearning has the added benefit of demonstrating technical know-how. Regardless, by taking such proactive steps, a candidate demonstrates both an ability and hunger to learn new concepts.

“Older candidates have lost touch with their profession or industry…”

Mature-aged candidates can expect to be tested on this one. Have they kept up with industry trends and developments? If a candidate can demonstrate in the affirmative, they’ll dispel such concerns. What industry events has the candidate recently attended? What trade journals have they subscribed to? And for bonus points, has the candidate made solid contributions to relevant online industry forums via blogging, LinkedIn or Quora?

“Older candidate are technical dinosaurs…”

Oddly enough, this stereotype can even render mature-aged candidates useless for even the least technically-demanding positions.

Mature-aged candidates are best advised to utilise new-generation CV tools that will firmly dispel any unjustified perceptions concerning their irrelevancy in the modern workplace. Furthermore, if the technologically enhanced CV can boast IT training certification and links to social networks, there’s little chance such a candidate will be unjustly red-flagged, like so many other capable mature-aged candidates.

“Generally speaking, older candidates have no advantages over younger candidates…”

While each individual should be judged on his own merits, studies have found that mature-aged candidates commonly share beneficial attributes.

They have been known can hit the ground running, require minimal workplace supervision, and boast a career’s worth of relevant experience and genuine contacts. Older candidates are more reliable, and are proven to stay with their eventual employer for more years than younger candidates.

“Older candidates are angry and bitter that they have to look for work again…”

Presentation is key to dispel this unfair notion. Such candidates need to position themselves as positive, enthusiastic, and capable – without a trace of arrogance. The candidate is excited by the opportunity, and have a tremendous set of skills and attributes to offer the organisation.

Quality recruiters know how to build and sell a candidate. And with the right strategy, a mature-aged candidate can not only win the placement, but change dated attitudes too-many employers have towards older jobseekers.


I'd love to hear about your ageism-related experiences - the good, the bad and the ugly.


Views: 244

Comment by Paul Basile on February 7, 2011 at 11:43am

I was told at 40 that my new job, then, would be the last I'd get.  I've had 4 others since and am proud to be a babyboomer.


The thing is, we have research and statistics to show that the points made in the post are not simply logical and valid and true on occasion but are true most of the time. Older workers are less, not more, risky than younger ones. No offense to the kids. Older workers are more engaged, more flexible, more in tune with their competencies. The only old things that don't work well are old prejudices.

Comment by Marney Reed on February 7, 2011 at 12:42pm
This is a continuing problem in the workplace. Good post! Thanks for the suggestions on to dispel the myths.
Comment by Al Merrill on February 7, 2011 at 12:55pm

Frankly, Adam, while you are entitled to your opinion, your article is nonsense, and written by  someone with barely enough reason or experience to comment! Very active seniors, and very senior professionals keep current and are just as competitive and competent as younger people twenty, thirty, and forty years their junior! They'll be many of us senior "seniors" on these pages who'll be offended as I am by your assumptions.  


Comment by Valentino Martinez on February 7, 2011 at 1:15pm

Older workers = experience. Yes, some are: Good, Very Good, or not so Good—of course, all matter, but that is what the “fair” screening process should be (MUST BE) all about.

Besides the great examples mentioned here, one ageism stereotype is missing—that of ENERGY LEVEL. Many employers and their recruiters are concerned about the effect of age on a candidate’s ability to effectively meet the physical and psychological demands of the job and the work environment. Some jobs and places of employment are more challenging than others.

My suggestion to older job candidates is to include mention of athletic involvements. These can be entered under the heading of: “Personal Interests” on one’s resume. And if they actually have no athletic involvements—if they can, I highly suggest they engage in some. They will experience the benefits therein.

As an over 60 year old professional recruitment consultant, I proudly mention my activity and accomplishments in Track & Field competitions even to this day. A mention of “All American” standing will dispel any concerns that I would have any problems adjusting to a physically demanding job. And the mention of being a “competitive athlete” suggests what all employers want to hear—that you care about results.

Comment by Adam Lewis on February 7, 2011 at 1:25pm



Thanks for your comment. I suggest you re-read my article.


I am in complete agreement with you. These assumptions are nonsense. Ageism exists. It is happening every day, all over the world - regardless if there is legislation protecting mature-aged candidates or not.

That's why we, as an industry, need to come up with practical solutions to fight such ugly stereotypes.


Al, I couldn't agree more with you.


Comment by Karie D'Amico on February 7, 2011 at 9:08pm

Great topic Adam.  As sad as it is,  I have run into this problem with several mature candidates that I represented.  Comments for rejection have included, "We were concerned if she would be able to keep up with the fast paced environment."  Even though this could be a valid and non-age related factor, Valentino's idea of including physical activity or athletic accomplishments might be a good idea.  

In another drastic situation, I had a candidate experience what NOT to do in an interview.  The folks she met were more concerned with telling her she was overqualified and why she wouldn't like the position than asking any questions, especially about her skills.  They even went so far as to tell her she would not be able to get the position and then go schmooze with other senior level employees to try and land another higher position!  Both of us wondered why they even invited her for an interview after that one! 

Comment by Karen Lynn on February 7, 2011 at 11:03pm

As a training consultant, I heard two different CLO professionals from two different VA hospitals express this sentiment when talking about real, sustainable change in their workplace ~ "We have to wait for some of these older folks to retire out before we can truly expect the kind of change we need. They are stubborn, refuse to learn, pass on their knowledge or take a positive position."  It sounded like burn out to me but these corporate learning professionals were sure these folks, most of them leaders, were so stuck in the way things had always been that the only hope was their absence.


I wonder how many clients are looking at the older candidate but seeing problems from their own organization's culture. Pondering...

Comment by Arun Pahwa on February 8, 2011 at 1:10am

I agree with the sentiments and have only to add my experience and current status. i have crossed 50 and has come from the background of shipping/forwarding industry. 10 years back i left the industry to take up training and ISO consultancies. i am a certified 6-sigma black belt holder in service industry. due to recent economic melt down and its global instability i decided to back to the industry seeking regular job.

Its been more than a year now and i am still waiting for the opportunity. ofcourse, i  have been giving interviews but to no avail . its the age factor and also the gap in between. what i fail to understand is the fact that here i am with more than 20 years of work experience, i carry with me to credit of being a senior trainer. An experience consultant in ISO Implementation for Quality and a system auditor for processes and procedures ? all rolled into one.  you are also right in mentioning the gaps with the recruiters in selling senior candidates like us. i am open to compromise with my CTC too ! what more  ? i mean, they simply decide for us in advance even without considering the 'packaging'. 

Comment by Jerry Albright on February 10, 2011 at 1:57pm
I place old people all the time.  No decision I make has anything to do with age.  If someone is qualified and within target salary range I get them in front of my client.  Any recruiter who does anything other than this is not only unprofessional - they're missing the boat.
Comment by Al Merrill on February 10, 2011 at 3:06pm


     Thanks...your comment made my day!



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