How to Manage Ageism in a Job Search

Three people in a meeting.


Robin Madell for FlexJobs
Robin Madell for FlexJobs
April 17, 2024 at 6:3PM UTC
Most employers want to be fair and not discriminate against older job candidates when hiring. But the fact is that hiring managers and recruiters—like anyone—can show unconscious bias against more senior applicants.
Read on to learn more about exactly what age discrimination is, how to recognize it, and how to protect yourself—as well as fight it—during a job search.

What Is Age Discrimination, or Ageism? Definition & Meaning

Age discrimination can occur during a job search when a hiring manager, recruiter, hiring team, or employer either intentionally or subconsciously favors younger candidates over older ones. This often subtle type of discrimination may take place at any point during the hiring process, from placing a job ad to interviewing and selecting someone for a position.
When this biased treatment of more seasoned candidates happens, older job seekers end up at an unfair disadvantage in applying for a role regardless of their qualifications and skill set. Meanwhile, younger candidates are favored and thus, gain an unfair advantage—despite the fact that they may be less experienced and/or qualified for the job than more veteran applicants.
Older candidates are considered those who are age 40 and up, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC has an act—the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) —that forbids an employer to discriminate against people 40 or older.
And according to the EEOC, it’s not only younger managers or recruiters who can be charged with age discrimination: “Discrimination can occur when the victim and the person who inflicted the discrimination are both over 40.”

What Does Age Discrimination Look Like?

It isn’t always easy to identify when you are being unfairly evaluated or treated due to your age during a job search. Age discrimination can take many forms, from an employer using specific language in a job ad that’s targeted at younger workers to a recruiter or manager deciding not to call you in for an interview based on the date of graduation on your resume.
The ADEA also states that age discrimination is prohibited “in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.”
The vast majority of recruiters and hiring managers use social media sites like LinkedIn as part of their search and hiring process; a recent article in Forbes magazine declared that “95% of recruiters are on LinkedIn looking for job candidates.” So, it’s also possible for people on the hiring team to gauge your approximate age based on photos or other information that you provide in your online profiles and either overtly or unintentionally discriminate against you if you are older.
Some ways that employers may subtly bias their candidate search toward younger candidates is by using terms in their job ads and other search materials that may appeal to or skew toward more junior (and thus younger) candidates. Such terms could include:
  • “New grads” or “recent graduates”—This language could discourage older candidates from applying.
  • “Tech-savvy” or “digital native”—Millennial and Gen Z workers who grew up using technology may be assumed to be more comfortable with new technologies than Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.
  • “Energetic” or “vibrant”—These can sometimes be code words or veiled terms for managers seeking younger employees.

How Can You Protect Yourself in a Job Search?

While it’s discouraging to recognize that older job seekers can face inequities in how hiring teams evaluate their applications, there are some simple steps you can take to try to protect yourself from these unfair practices.
  • Remove graduation dates. While you may feel compelled to include your college graduation date on your resume, LinkedIn profile, and other job search materials, these aren’t required and may tip off employers that you’re an older candidate. Consider removing these dates from your education section while keeping the name of the college you graduated from and the degree you earned.
  • Don’t list every job experience on your resume. When it comes to your resume or LinkedIn profile, it can be painful to leave off more dated professional experiences since they are part of your job history. But to help reduce the chance of potential age discrimination, limit your listed employment history to the past 10 to 15 years. This provides enough depth to showcase your experiences without “dating” you by revealing that you’ve been working for longer, and it provides the hiring team with your most relevant background for the current position.
  • Take a tailored approach. In combination with limiting your job search materials to reflect your most recent decade of working, make it a point to respond directly to the qualifications that the job ad specifies. In other words, move away from the approach of trying to relay every skill you’ve ever developed to concentrate on the exact needs as stated by the employer. This will help keep your resume and cover letter relevant and focused.
  • Continue adding new training and certifications. Hiring managers may discriminate against older applicants assuming they haven’t stayed current or lack the most recent skill sets and/or tech knowledge needed to excel in a position. Prove them wrong by continuing your professional education, regularly earning new certifications, and taking training opportunities to keep you up to speed in your industry.
If you do feel that you’ve been the victim of age discrimination in a job search, you can fight it by contacting the EEOC. You can call 1-800-669-4000 to discuss how to file a formal complaint against an employer, or file a claim online here.
According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), if you want to file a lawsuit against an employer who you feel has practiced age discrimination, you must first file a complaint with the EEOC. Older job seekers need not suffer in silence if they feel they have been treated unfairly while looking for work—they can take legal recourse to combat the illegal practice of age discrimination in a job search.

Age-Proof Your Job Search

While there’s no guaranteed way to avoid age discrimination altogether, you can combat ageism in your job search by removing any tip-off dates from your application materials, limiting your experience to what’s most relevant to the job, and keeping your skills up to date.
This article originally appeared in FlexJobs. FlexJobs is the leading career service specializing in flexible work, providing the largest database of vetted remote and flexible job listings. To support job seekers in all phases of their journey, FlexJobs offers a range of services including expert advice, job search events, and career coaching. FlexJobs also works with leading companies to recruit quality remote talent and optimize their remote and flexible workplace.

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