Topics surrounding ageism are real triggers for me. I get defensive and remind people that Vera Wang started her wedding dress business at 40 and Martha Stewart was in her mid-50s when her media empire started booming.
While I want to be in denial that my age is an obstacle to my continued success, ageism is real. We must talk about it as that’s how we can ensure progress is made. Discrimination against someone because of age needs to become an active part of the important Diversity Equality and Inclusion (DEI) movement being championed in our culture today. For a companies’ success, the workforces need to represent the population and the 45-plus crowd has lots of vitality and significant spending power.
So, let’s get real about what’s going on with age discrimination and how we experienced professionals can overcome unfair bias and stereotyping as we seek new career opportunities.
Here’s what’s happening and some ideas for proactively moving forward to get the roles you deserve.
Be aware that sometimes “ageism” isn’t about age. As we move up in our careers, our compensation does increase because our value increases. This one is particularly frustrating because it’s true. Hesitation may not be about the year you were born as much as how much a company is going to have to pay you. Hiring someone in their 20s and 30s means they can compensate at more entry and middle management levels.
As we move up, it’s also often true we become team leaders. We provide vision, strategy and support more than we do tactical hands-on work. I have been seeing a shift in my industry where VPs and “Heads Of” titles are expected to do the marketing execution work with few or no team members to manage.
If you hear “you are overqualified” while job searching, that translates to “we are looking for a less expensive, hard-working doer.”
To overcome this, you have to work very hard to position the value you bring in exchange for your compensation. Also, if you are game for hands-on roles, you have to demonstrate that while you are a strong leader, you are very capable of doing whatever needs to be accomplished for success yourself. You may be asked to do a mock project to show your approach and skills. Don’t complain. Just do it! This and personality tests are becoming commonplace in hiring practices.
Those of us in this age bracket are not “digital natives.” However, we can be proactive in knowing the trends and using new technologies and social media platforms. Data analytics have become increasingly important in the digital world as so many decisions are made in real-time with real quantified facts.
So, what can you do? First, read a lot. Stay up on trends and be able to talk knowledgeably about what’s happening in your industry. If you need to gain new skills, there are many certification classes you can take. These act as compelling credentials while job seeking. Show you are a committed life-long learner and up on all the current advancements in your field of expertise.
Leveraging your network while job searching is critical at all ages, but especially as we get older. Someone who knows our skills and what we are capable of achieving will not be worried about our age. Your prior leaders and work peers are your greatest asset when job searching.
Linkedin research suggests that 85% of jobs are filled via networking—so networking must be your number one priority. This is how you will get hired. Either someone who knows you will hire you or someone who knows you will be the recommendation you need to land the job.
You do have to get past the ATS systems by removing the years you graduated and adding relevant keywords. However, remember it is still people who hire you. People trust other people’s recommendations. Prioritize your people.
Ageism is real. Age inclusivity is something we need to talk about as a business success imperative.
You can overcome it by proactively expressing your value via stories about your accomplishments—not a headline about your many years of experience. Demonstrate your entrepreneurial spirit, can-do work ethic and digital world savviness. Leave no doubt that you are ready to make a meaningful impact.
Be sure to do your research and come to interviews with specific questions and ideas related to recent tech advancements and news you have seen in the company’s social media feed. This way you can demonstrate your enthusiasm for the role in addition to showing you are savvy, up to date, resourceful and proactive.
Stay positive. Be confident. Have fun networking. Know that you will ultimately find the right fit where your experience is valued.
This article was written by an FGB contributor.
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