Most of us don’t find job searching fun, but the process can be especially tough for women. We sometimes feel hiring managers’ eyes glance at our stomachs and our ring fingers. We’re often grilled about our education and qualifications, and at times it feels like our interviewers suspect we’re not as skilled as we say we are. For older women, the interview process can be even worse. Instead of being valued as experienced, mature female job seekers are often seen as unhireable, something our latest research confirmed. Our survey of more than 500 hiring professionals found that even when hiring managers characterize older female candidates with the same traits they'd use to describe an ideal candidate, they're still not likely to hire these women. It's ageism, simply put — and it isn't okay. In our research, we asked hiring professionals to list what traits they prioritize when assessing job seekers. The top characteristics chosen were professionalism, reliability, and leadership ability. We then showed respondents images of women candidates who differed in their age, hair style, clothing, and body size. One of the women pictured was noticeably older than the others.
Despite ranking highly for those top three desired traits — out of 15 candidates, the oldest woman ranked sixth for professionalism, third for leadership material, and first for reliability — only 29.2 percent of respondents said they would hire her.
In the face of such blatant prejudice, what's a mature job seeker to do?
We dug deeper into the data to find out how you can succeed in your job search, regardless of the number of years under your belt. Here are three things you need to know:
Your peers are the harshest.
Baby boomers are widely thought to be biased against millennials. However, they can be just as prejudiced against people their own age. In fact, in our survey, just 15.38 percent of respondents over age 55 said they’d hire the older female candidate.
Respondents over age 55 were also less likely to describe the image of the oldest woman as intelligent, professional, or as leadership material.
There is good news, however. Of the youngest respondents — those between 25 and 34 — twice as many said they would hire the older woman, compared to their baby boomer counterparts. If you're an older job seeker, keep this in mind — it suggests you should feel encouraged to apply to jobs at new, up-and-coming startups that are largely run by millennials.
The leaders of those companies may be younger than you, but they’re also more likely than older hiring managers to recognize everything your experience has to offer. In fact, 41 percent of younger hiring professionals also described the older woman as being leadership material.
Not all men are your allies.
Men play an important role in the fight for gender equality in the workplace. Unfortunately, though, not all of them realize that yet. When we compared how men and women described the older woman, men were less likely to use positive adjectives.
Consider the following data:
Percent of Male Respondents
Percent of Female Respondents
Men were also less likely to say they’d hire the older woman — just 27 percent of men said they would.
It’s unrealistic to think that you could — or should — apply to jobs at companies with only female employees. Organizations need gender diversity to be successful. But by looking for workplaces that clearly value women and put them in positions of power, mature job seekers can increase their odds of finding a fit that's truly worthy of their time. Research the gender makeup of a company’s executive team before applying. If there's a good number of female executives, then there are also probably women in hiring positions. As our data shows, these hiring professionals will be more likely to give you the job offer you deserve.
You may be seen as inflexible and uncreative.
In our survey, respondents ranked the oldest candidate as the most reliable woman. While this appears to be a compliment, it also reveals a deeper prejudice against older women.
Being reliable means that you can be depended on to do what’s right over and over again. However, to some, it may also imply that you’re not open to changes or new ways of doing things.
Employers want people who are innovative. Of course, being older certainly doesn't mean you aren’t open to trying new things, but you may need to be slightly more intentional about showing this side of yourself during the interview process. Go into the interview with ideas for new projects the company could take on, and be prepared to make suggestions about how you could improve specific aspects of the company or office.
You should also be prepared to cite examples of how you’ve been innovative in the past. Talk about situations at previous jobs when you’ve come up with creative solutions to problems. This will show the prospective employer that you’re willing to take risks and embrace change — qualities we should all be looking to convey!
While the existence of ageism sadly doesn't make the job search any easier for mature women, that doesn't mean you can't still take control of your future and advance your carer. And by understanding the types of prejudices that are out there, you'll be able to spot them more easily — and thereby eliminate any company that isn't deserving of your time and talents.