Somewhere between 38 to 45 years of age, many job seekers begin to experience the subtle sensation that finding a job is not as easy as it was when they were younger. As one woman put it, "When I was 23 years old, I could go in and apply for a job, get an interview, and be hired fairly easily. Now that I am 45, it is even hard to get an interview. Do you think they feel I am too old?" She gave voice to an issue that seems to be the experience of many in today's workplace. This issue effects both men and women, the executive and the blue collar worker, and transcends all levels of educational attainment.

The sense of "ageism" in the workplace is complicated by several closely related themes. In every industry, for example, as an individual matures and moves up through increasing levels of responsibility the number of positions suitable for the next step decreases proportionally. There are fewer jobs as you move up the career ladder. This is one reason why mid-level and senior executives find a job search so difficult, and why it can take as long as a year to find the next suitable position after leaving a job.

There are fewer jobs in the middle to upper levels. In addition, employers tend not to hire employees who are obviously over qualified for a position. They believe over qualified workers will most likely not be long term employees, and it does not enhance the corporation's efficiency or bottom line to have turn over and downtime between employees.

A second closely related theme is tied to change and experience. It is well known employers want to hire people with directly related experience in their workplace. The underlying thought is the individual who has performed the particular function before, will become 100% productive more quickly in the new setting. While many older employees have experience, they may have been involved in job functions or career fields that are no longer in demand in a rapidly changing economy. If the skills of mature workers are no longer current, the individual comes to a job search without the benefit of directly related experience and competes on the same plane as the recent graduate.

These facts do make the workplace feel inhospitable to many older people involved in job searches. The question is, however, do employers exhibit a preference for the younger worker? The answer; not if the employee can give the employer what he/she wants and add value to the employer.

If you talk to younger people looking for work, their lack of experience is the classic "catch-22". They have focused on education to the exclusion of the work world. Employers do not want to hire them either without those directly related experiences. However, young people do not need to counterbalance these stereotypical views often attached to mature workers including:

  • Older workers are less energetic and prone to physical problems.
  • This older worker may only work another 10 years until retirement and then our organization will be paying benefits for these individuals and training someone else to take on their responsibilities.
  • Older workers have outdated skills and cannot handle the changes in the workplace related to the new technologies.

When marketing the mature worker to counterbalance "ageism" in the workplace, here are the important points to demonstrate from the previous record:

  • A strong work ethic; the willingness and energy to work hard.
  • The ability to work well both in team situations and independently.
  • Excellent interpersonal skills.
  • Ability to adapt to the changing work environment and examples of new technological skills and/or continuing education experiences in the field.
  • Persuasive and accurate communication skills with examples of written or oral communication projects.
  • No plans for retirement.
  • Excellent health evidenced by a healthy lifestyle.

Ageism probably does exist in the workplace. However, it can be overcome with a skillful marketing and sales strategy on the part of the worker. Discrimination takes many forms. The important thing to remember is it is possible to beat the system. It is a matter of playing to your strengths and defending against possible objections to your credentials in all phases of the job search process.

AGEISM IN THE WORKPLACE: FACT OR FICTION? By Kathryn Jordan, Ph.D., NCC. Dr. Jordan is currently President of Employment Counseling Services, Inc. and can be reached at her e-mail addresses:
E-Mail: Kathryn@Bev.Net

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