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Too Soon Old — Are You a Job Seeker Over 40

Patra Frame is ClearedJobs.Net’s HR Specialist. She is an experienced human resources executive and founder of Strategies for Human Resources. Patra is an Air Force veteran and charter member of the
 Women in Military Service for America Memorial.

When I give career development seminars, there are often questions about age discrimination. Yes, discrimination is illegal. And yes, it does still occur.

There recently was a job posting on a professional group’s email list for an entry-level position which also included the word “young.” And the list erupted. More often the ads contain code words or the hiring manager’s bias is more subtle.

What are you to do if you are over 40 and looking for a new job?

When you are seeking a new job – at any age – you need to put your best self into the process. You need a plan for success. You need to do your ‘homework’ thoroughly.

But if you are older, you actually need to work hard on your search plan. Just a new resume won’t cut it!

First, look at what you want to do and what you offer:

  • How effectively are you presenting your past achievements as they relate to each specific job and organization you are targeting? Yes, each.
  • How realistic are your expectations? Do you know your market well?
  • How current are your skills?

ClearedJobs.Net blog posts and videos offer help in assessing these items. Check out job-hunt.org for extensive career information and advice too.

Second, look at yourself:

  • Do you have a current, professional wardrobe?
  • How do you present yourself?
  • How’s your attitude?

These can be hard to assess. Talk to people you trust about how you come across and what suggestions they have to improve your search success. At job fairs I often see people in very casual or sloppy attire instead of clothes which make them look like a great potential hire. And coaches I know regularly talk of older people whose self-presentation – attire, grooming, posture, attitude – are much older-looking than the person actually is. This doesn’t mean you need to dye your hair or act and dress like a 20 year old. But don’t sabotage yourself because you are too lazy to stay positive and current!

Third, do your research:

  • When creating your target list of organizations, check them out for signs of diversity, including age.
  • Talk to your network for more information on your targets – do they hire people like you, at your level, with your skills? Who do they know in each target that they will introduce you to?

There are government contractors who appreciate older applicants with technical or research expertise – learning which these are should be a part of your research. However, too many retirees no longer have relevant technical knowledge or are not focused on specific positions they qualify for. And a security clearance does not overcome those issues.

Some older job-seekers expect their experience will automatically translate into a senior job, but are unwilling to do the tough personal work, the research, and networking to get to the right opportunity.

Fourth, network.

It is the best way to get a job where you can succeed. And as you age, it is the best way around age issues – when you come recommended, those disappear.

Finally, while age discrimination does exist, it is not worth worrying over too much. Move on to those things you can control – your presentation, your skills, your knowledge – and finding the targets which will appreciate these.

If you have one questionable incident in interviewing, it is not likely to be age discrimination so much as poor interview skills. If there is a pattern of such behavior, then you should pay attention. And ask yourself – if the organization is so dumb as to be excluding people for age reasons, why would you want to work there?

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Avatar photo Bill Brantley

This should be the quote of the week – “if the organization is so dumb as to be excluding people for age reasons, why would you want to work there?