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How to Fight Age Discrimination When Looking for a Job

Updated on March 23, 2017
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I'm a business communications coach who teaches writing, speaking, and leadership skills to adults in the midst of a career change.

It is illegal for an employer to discriminate based on age. But that doesn't mean it won't happen.

Worried about finding a job if you're over 40? Though it's illegal in many places to discriminate against older job applicants, the truth is it happens. Here are some job-search tips and techniques that can reduce your chances of being turned down for a job because someone thinks 'you're too old.'

Older workers sometimes face discrimination when looking for work. Find out what you can do to improve your chances of finding a job if you are over 40.
Older workers sometimes face discrimination when looking for work. Find out what you can do to improve your chances of finding a job if you are over 40.

Interviewing Tips for Job Seekers Over 40

If you are over 40 and looking for work, it's important that you are fully aware of the potential employment barriers you may be up against. While it is illegal to discriminate against a job applicants based on age, race, marital status, sexual orientation, or disability, the reality is that many recruiters and interviewers will unconsciously let stereotypes about certain groups influence their decisions. Unless an interviewer explicitly states that he will not hire you because you are too old, you will never know if you didn't get the job based on your age.

Here are some of the attitudinal barriers that you may be up against if you are looking for work after 40.

  • You won't be able to take direction from someone who is younger than you.
  • You won't have the energy to do the job.
  • You aren't tech savvy. You won't know how to keep up with modern technology and the latest computer trends.
  • You'll be sick more often than a younger worker. You might end up with a long-term illness or disability that will affect your ability to do your job.

Don't be discouraged if you are looking for work and you fall into an older age category because there are things that you can do to combat some of the unfounded assumptions and negative stereotypes about mature workers.

The reality is that the older you get, the harder it will be to find a job. Fortunately there are some things you can do to improve the odds that you will find meaningful employment in your 40s and 50s.
The reality is that the older you get, the harder it will be to find a job. Fortunately there are some things you can do to improve the odds that you will find meaningful employment in your 40s and 50s.

Since the assumption out there may be older job applicants (i.e. workers over 40) will have less energy, get sick more often, resist change and new technology, and have trouble working with a younger supervisor, be mindful of how you answer questions so that you are projecting a youthful, yet wise, image.

Here are some tips to improve your chances of landing that dream job, even when you’re older than some of the other job candidates.

  • Get rid of outdated, poorly fitting clothes and accessories and invest in a wardrobe that is current yet classic, professional, and suitable for your body type. Your hairstyle should be modern, fresh, and suited to your face shape.
  • During the interview, focus on the scope of your work experience, while highlighting specialized skills and knowledge that can only be attained through work and life experience.
  • Unless it is relevant to the job you are applying for, downplay older, irrelevant work experience and education. Focus on your most recent, relevant experience and be sure to highlight and ongoing professional development and educational accomplishments. If you are over 40 and looking for a job, you want to show your interviewer that you take a proactive approach to personal and professional growth.
  • Shine a spotlight on your current technical skills. Emphasize your knowledge and familiarity with the latest computer programs, smart devices, office equipment, the internet, smart devices, and social media.
  • If you have any skills that are “old school” but that would be of value to your employer, don’t be afraid to emphasize those aspects. Knowing shorthand and having impeccable handwriting can give you the edge against other candidates who have become fully reliant on tapping on their tablets.
  • Provide examples of past accomplishments that illustrate your leadership skills, team-player personality, strong work ethic, willingness to be flexible, and your commitment to lifelong learning.
  • If you have leadership skills or training experience, make sure to emphasize these aspects of your work experience. Being able to show your prospective employer that you have the patience and aptitude to mentor and pass on your skills to other younger workers can tip the scales in your favor.
  • If you’re an older worker who wants to successfully land a new job, always project confidence, maturity, and positive energy everywhere you go. This isn’t just a good career tip for someone over 40, it’s a good rule to follow in all areas of your life.

Important note: In many jurisdictions, it is illegal for a job interviewer to ask you how hold you are or if you have any health issues. You are not obligated to provide this information during the applicant screening and interviewing process. The only exception to this rule is if your age is a bona fide condition of employment. For example, in most areas, a minor can't work where alcohol is being served, gambling is taking place, or in a triple-X adult entertainment club or venue.

If you want to avoid age discrimination when you are looking for a job after 40, then do not volunteer information about your age or health status.

Dress for success if you are an older adult looking for a job.

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There is some good news for people over 40 looking for a job. Many experienced Human Resources Managers actually have a favorable opinion of mature workers.

According to Robin Ryan, author of Over 40 & You’re Hired, many of the HR managers she interviewed said there are many advantages to hiring a worker over 40. Here are just a few of the reasons older workers can be strong contenders in the job market:

  • Mature workers have a stronger work ethic.
  • They are loyal to their employers, which can lead to less staff turnover and better return on investment for training.
  • Older workers tend to have a more mature attitude.
  • They can act as strong role models and mentors to younger people.
  • They’re able to offer excellent, well-mannered customer service.
  • Older workers can be more flexible with their schedules. Since mature workers typically have grown or adult children, they can work more flexible hours and can take holidays during off-peak or shoulder seasons. They can work through spring break or other typical school holiday periods when younger workers may have family obligations.
  • Mature workers are less likely to go on maternity leave.

Don't be discouraged if you are over 40 and find yourself looking for a job. There are tools, workshops, support groups and advocacy organizations out that there who can provide additional insights into how to get a job, change careers, or start a new business venture after 40. As an older person looking for a job, you have much to offer as long as you can keep your spirits high, your enthusiasm strong, and your expertise and experience front and center.

Good luck with your career search! If you have any additional tips and suggestions to help older people find work, please share them in the comments!

© 2014 Sally Hayes

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  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    A useful hub with helpful tips on this topic. Age has lots to do at a certain point of someone's life- So well-deserved to all facing this issue.

  • CyberShelley profile image

    Shelley Watson 3 years ago

    Interesting and useful information here. There are many countries who are now in the process of putting the retirement age up to 67.

  • Ericdierker profile image

    Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

    VEry well done on an important topic.

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