“We need someone with a higher energy level,” is one coded way of an employer saying: “I won’t hire you because you are too old.” There are many more excuses out there, and after hearing them over and over, talented older workers often give up looking in frustration.
Put simply, age is a weakness for job hunters in today’s American economy. The over 50-year-old “senior worker” is often victimized by age discrimination, which he or she feels helpless to combat. This is the case despite the fact that age discrimination in hiring is illegal, and often self-defeating as a strategy for effective business workforce development.
Ever the advocate for American seniors, AARP recently commissioned Aon Hewitt to prepare a detailed study: “The Business Case for Workers Age 50+: A Look at the Value of Experience.”
“The report findings are clear: the business case for workers age 50+ remains strong, and is even more compelling than in the past,” according to the report. While the nearly hundred-page document is clearly aimed at the business community, if you are an older job hunter, you can use it to learn ways to reframe the perceived weakness of age and position yourself as a person with the strengths employers will seek and value.
According to the research, “Workers age 50+ add value to organizations due to their high levels of engagement, stability, productivity, and experience.” The statistics are impressive: “81% of workers age 55+ are ‘motivated’ meaning they say that they exert extra effort and contribute more than is normally required in their job – compared to 76% of their age 25-34 peers.”
Perhaps motivated by their knowledge of how hard it is for older workers to find work, they are less likely than their younger colleagues to look for another job while they are working. This decreases the risk to employers of unplanned turnover, with its related workflow disruption and high costs of hiring replacement workers.
Another common fear employers have about hiring older workers is their inability and/or fear of fully embracing new technologies. Yet the survey points out that in 2014, “91% of older workers have a computer, tablet, or smartphone and that the share of workers who use such devices has grown considerably over the past three years.”
“Another value of workers age 50+ comes from their impact on the rest of the employee population. For example the high engagement, motivation, and experience of older workers can help cultivate a more positive and effective work environment, enhancing organizational productivity and business outcomes,” according to the report.
No matter how well researched or stated, no one can realistically expect that this report will end age discrimination in the workplace. Nonetheless, you can mitigate it when you capitalize on the attributes and qualities you can uniquely present as an older worker. Here are five things you can do to present your age as a strength:
1. Highlight your engagement. Employers know that younger workers have the stereotyped reputation for being self-absorbed and entitled. Play against that in your cover letter and interview by sharing a story of how you learned that the best way to succeed is to consistently do your best work, be involved with the tasks and projects at hand and go above and beyond to get things done.
2. Highlight your stability. You should have stories ready that speak to your maturity as a value. For example, you might tell how you have been able to use your life experience to calm volatile workplace relationships among co-workers. You can point to your history of loyalty to employers to suggest that you aim for a long-term, productive relationship rather than seeing the job as a means to “the thing after that” to which you really aspire.
3. Highlight your productivity. You can point out that because you are likely to be highly engaged and loyal, your productivity is likely also to excel. Because you are experienced and a quick study, the time it takes you to get up to speed in your new role should be minimal.
4. Highlight your experience. It takes time to gain experience, and your longevity has provided you a wealth of experience younger workers simply can’t match. You know what works, and how. You’ve seen what doesn’t work, and you understand why. Your experience can enable your employer to avoid costly mistakes on one hand, and avoid needing to reinvent the wheel on the other.
5. Highlight your up-to-date skills. Make certain that you keep up with the latest knowledge and skills that are relevant for your field. Be sure to put your computer and other skills at the top of your resume. Moreover, talk about yourself as someone who continues to learn and grow.