Ageism in the War for Talent

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By Jim Tam
November 16, 2021
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If you’re over 50 and looking for a job or a career change, you’re thinking to yourself “I am a proven high-performer with tons of work experience – I am very marketable especially with all the jobs currently available.” You’ve prepared your resume which highlights the terrific experience and all the accomplishments you’ve accumulated over the last 30 years. Then you selectively start applying to a few open positions posted online. After a few days with no response, you widen your search and apply to a few more job openings. Again, crickets. Then you apply to a few dozen more. Still no takers. Now it dawns on you, recruiters may not be selecting you because of your age. Ageism is real and although age discrimination is illegal, it is very difficult to prove in a job search. If your application for employment isn’t considered because of your age, it’s virtually impossible to prove. In all likelihood, you will just receive the standard “we’ll keep your resume on file” rejection letter or no response at all.

Ageism is a challenge for many late-career job seekers because there are many misconceptions held by recruiters and hiring managers based on an applicant’s perceived age. Some of the more common misconceptions are that older candidates:

  • Can’t adapt to new technology
  • May have higher salary expectations
  • Are set in their ways and tough to change habits
  • Will retire sooner diminishing ROI on the cost of recruiting, onboarding, socializing, and training

Fortunately for older job seekers, given the current war for talent, recruiters must be more open-minded in order to address the disproportionate number of available jobs vs. the number of job seekers. As of September 2021, there were over 10.4 million available jobs and only 8.4 million unemployed individuals in the US. In September 2021, we also saw a record number of people – 4.4 million, quitting their jobs voluntarily. Consequently, recruiters must widen their applicant sources to fill roles, and look at job seekers in groups which they may not have previously considered, including those with “decades of work experience.” Regardless of the current war for talent, there are many reasons why a more mature candidate is a great hire:

1. Work experience

Age = Experience. If you’ve been in the workforce for a couple of decades, it typically means you’ve seen a few things. You have successfully navigated a range of economic conditions and offer a record of success with demonstrated accomplishments, which your younger colleagues have not yet achieved. This is not only valuable but also irrefutable. Additionally, there are plenty of jobs where your age and experience are an advantage. In sectors such as wealth management or insurance sales, clients prefer to speak with someone they can relate to and trust based on their years of investment experience.

2. Communication skills

Older candidates remember when phones were used to speak with people. Good communication is a critical soft skill that is something of a lost art in today’s world of texting and emojis. Your willingness to pick up the phone to speak with people makes you a very attractive candidate for roles in sales, customer service, hospitality, or public relations, where speaking to people is a highly desired quality.

3. Extensive network

Applicants with a considerable number of years in the workplace likely have a wider and stronger network. Relationships take time to build and if you’ve been in the workforce for a while, chances are you’ve built up an extensive network of former customers, colleagues, suppliers, and professional contacts, which can be very attractive to a prospective employer. Remember: your network is your net worth.

4. Loyalty

In a 2019 study conducted by LinkedIn, of the five generations that are currently in the workforce, they found that Baby Boomers are the most loyal to their employers and are less likely to job hop as loyalty tends to be something Baby Boomers value. In contrast, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees between the ages of 25-34 only stay at their jobs on average of 2.8 years and only 1.3 years for workers between the ages of 20-24. Companies are starting to realize that candidates who are more mature tend to be more stable and have greater self-awareness about what they want to do with their careers and will be less likely to leave.

5. Diversity

With the growing emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I), many companies are striving to have a more diversified workforce across all categories: race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, veteran status, as well as age. Companies understand that their client base also runs across the full age spectrum therefore it makes solid business sense to have a workforce that both reflects and understands their customers. Greater diversity yields more ideas. In addition, senior staff members make excellent mentors to more junior members of a team.

Playing the ATS game

If you’re a late-career job seeker, there’s no better time than now to land your next great gig. However, you may have to make some modifications to your resume to make it stand out and be more attractive to recruiters. In the age of ATS (Application Tracking Systems), the chances of your resume being reviewed by an actual human is low if it doesn’t pass the ATS filter. Here are some quick tips you may wish to consider:

  • Reformat your resume from chronological to highlighting your skills and accomplishments
  • Remove years of employment from your work experience
  • Remove year of graduation from your education
  • Showcase only the companies you’ve worked for the last 20 years
  • Make sure to include technology keywords such as: Salesforce, blockchain, AI, etc. to demonstrate technological proficiency. (Even if you do not have any technical experience, taking a couple of courses in some of these topics and adding it to your resume will at least increase the probability of your resume passing the ATS filter.)

Final Word

As people are living longer, healthier, more active lives, and late-career jobseekers need and want to work, companies are considering applicants which they may have shied away from in the past. Therefore, if you’re a late-career job seeker, you have a greater chance of landing your ideal job than in previous times. Progressive companies that evaluate candidates based on their qualifications – not their age – will be more successful in this current war for talent.

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