Five Tips to Combating Ageism in Hiring, Part 1

About a year ago, I wrote “Hiring Trap: Don't Hire Anyone Older Than….” Unfortunately, ageism is still rampant.

If you are a candidate over the age of 40, you have encountered ageism. If you are also unemployed while you are looking for a job, you might feel as if you are up the proverbial creek.

Many of us expect to work until at least 65. Many of us want to work for longer, although it might not be forty hours per week, or with just two or three weeks of vacation. See this article: How long should I work before retirement?

I am assuming you have done these things:

  • Created your target network. You have a list of 20-25 companies you will consider for jobs.
  • Updated your resume, articulating your value for each past position.
  • Wear reasonable clothes to an interview or to networking: your clothes are clean and fit. You match the clothing culture.
  • You exhibit reasonable grooming: Your hair is clean and shaped. Your teeth are clean and you have enough to smile. If you have a ponytail, I don't care. If it's long and straggly, it does not make you look young and vibrant. You look like an old hippie. Same with missing or gray teeth. You look old. You can't afford to look old. Do what you need to do to look vibrant.


On paper and in person, you want to give the appearance of being fresh and vibrant.

If you don't know how to do these things, read Manage Your Job Search.

Okay, so you've done all that. Here are five tips you might consider:

  1. Work with a recruiter. Companies pay recruiters, so you don't. Here is the problem with networking for more senior positions (which you, as an older person, might want): Companies don't always advertise these positions. Now, I have no idea why they don't put the position on their jobs page, but they didn't ask me. Companies who want to hire well will use recruiters for those difficult-to-fill positions.
  2. Discover ways to meet senior managers on your target list. Become part of their network. Be helpful. (I have a post upcoming about being helpful vs. providing free consulting.)
  3. Consider an open source project. Sometimes, companies have wacko reasons for rejecting you as a candidate. The more you develop “current” technical skills, the more they will consider you (even if the work does not require technical skills).
  4. Read widely and relate something “new” to every application. In your custom cover letter (yes, you customize your cover letter for each position, right?), you relate something about the news or agile or lean to the company. “I saw you have a patent application in the WSJ. Congratulations. I bet that was a fun project.” Or, something like that. The more you can sound relevant, the more likely you will get an interview.
  5. Feature your maturity. I sometimes use my experience (and gray hair) as a feature. I say things such as, “I am a seasoned consultant. I have seen and worked with many organizations I bet your organization is different in many ways. And, I bet I can use the patterns I have seen in the past here.” You would say things such as, “I have experience with changing opinions in a skillful way.” Or, “I understand how to talk with people so they see multiple options.” I once said to a manager, “I can help you because I don't want your job. I want you to succeed and I am willing to help you do that.” What about your maturity will help the organization solve its problems?

Remember, companies hire people to solve problems. Focus on the problem-solving and you might have a better chance.

Part 2 will be about how you organize/craft your resume. Some companies rely too heavily on the ATS and don't look at the humans. Part 3 will be about the interview itself.

6 Replies to “Five Tips to Combating Ageism in Hiring, Part 1”

  1. You are selling your favorite product: unless you think you’re a commodity that needs to be sold on price, sell quality. For knowledge workers past 40, that means experience.

    * Pursue only employers and openings where your experience makes you stand out
    * Move their focus from the potentially limiting age factor to your highly relevant experience
    * Learn as much as you can about their business and strategy before you have any conversations with them, and prepare questions they won’t be able to answer easily
    * Leave them wanting to have another talk with you

    Millennials are now the most numerous component of the workforce, although Gen X tends to dominate middle management. Aside from network introductions, your ability to relate to them on a professional level is critical because you aren’t likely to be interviewed by Boomers unless you get past these folks. Be a colleague, not a grandparent.

    1. Dave, I should have asked you for review before I posted this part 🙂 Nicely said.

      I was planning on explaining in another part about how the first sale is to yourself. Now I can refer to your comment. How you sell yourself/your experience is key. I’m also planning on explaining more about the difference between interviewing and consulting. (Dwayne Phillips has a nice post about that.)

  2. Johanna,
    You mention ATS coming in the next installment. Per your tips here about cover letter, recruiters don’t read anything. I hate to write that, but that was a crucial item that one senior recruiter I know taught me. I stuck a table of keywords on the end of my resume in font so tiny no human could read it. The calls I received from recruiters jumped immediately. They don’t read anything. Their software searches and matches key words in job descriptions with key words in resumes.
    Cover letters? In my experience, they mean nothing.d

      1. The ATS is actually a great solution for “evergreen”positions, e.g. those that are numerous, standardized, and high turnover. For knowledge worker positions, it’s like ballet in combat boots.

        1. Dave, you are correct. I *love* the image of the ballet in combat boots for knowledge worker positions. Love it.

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