Age discrimination is a huge problem on the job market. Research consistently suggests that after 40, and sometimes even in your late thirties, your chances of getting hired start to diminish. This is despite that fact that workers older than 65 make up the fastest-growing segment of the North American workforce, and the number of people over 65 who are still working is expected to rise from 19 percent to 29 percent by 2060.
Yes, it’s illegal in Canada to discriminate on the basis of age, but good luck proving it in most cases. Most of us are probably either facing, or going to face, some form of ageism sooner or later. Combine that with the fact that jobs are becoming increasingly precarious for most of us, and you’ve got yourself a big problem.
Can you stand up to workplace ageism? Maybe. Here are a few strategies that might make it easier.
Take care of your self confidence
Confidence is key to landing any job, and it can drain away as we age. We become self conscious about our appearance and weighed down by our failures. But that isn’t going to work. Fake it ‘til you make it if you have to, and hopefully it will come. Stand up tall, focus on your experience and your positive qualities – make a list if it helps. And remember that you are awesome.
Continue to learn
Being a lifelong learner is vital to success. Sometimes when we age we think there’s nothing left to learn, but this is obviously ridiculous. Your skills can always be upgraded to maintain pace with technological advancement, and there’s something new to learn every day about the world, business, culture, and people. Be a lifelong learner. Take courses, read books, open your eyes. Being interested will keep you interesting.
Focus on the value you bring
Rather than highlighting your many “years of experience” which should make you more hireable but often has the opposite effect, highlight your knowledge and past successes. When applying for a position, put forth how this knowledge and those successes will help you bring the same success to a new organization.
Update your resume and LinkedIn
Check your resume for outdated skills that should be a given in this day and age. Leave off the basic computer skills like “Microsoft Word” and “email,” and don’t say you can use the Office Suite. People assume you can use Word and Powerpoint, and that you can’t use Excel. If the job calls for Excel skills, list those specifically, because, unlike the others, that’s still an actual “skill.” Same goes for OneNote and Visio. See here for more ways your resume might be making you look older.
Make yourself indispensable
If you already have a job, make yourself indispensable by getting involved in projects and volunteering to take things on. Take over the social media accounts, become an expert in something important, volunteer to be the event coordinator. The idea here is that, when it comes time to let people go, they’ll look at you and realize that you’re a linchpin, and that so many things will fall apart without you that it’s a much better idea to keep you around.
Become a consultant
When you can’t get a job, become a consultant and charge a big hourly rate. You’ll need an area of expertise, a website, a broad network, and a lot of hustle, but people take you more seriously as a “consultant” than as an employee – and are less likely to care how old you are. Consultants come in a variety of types, such as business, marketing, tech, public relations, and legal. Figure out what makes you marketable as a consultant and go for it. You can start doing this on the side while still employed, rather then jumping ship into the abyss.
Start your own business
Alternately, you can give up on the job idea entirely and start your own little tea shop selling homemade scones and vintage knickknacks, or whatever. Sell your house and set up a surfing school on the beach, become a birthday clown, develop an app! If you have an idea and a head for business, this could be the way to go.
Don’t let it get you down
It’s not ideal and it’s not fair, but there’s no point in dwelling on it. Developing a chip on your shoulder is only going to make things worse. And we old folks (yes, I am included in this demo) aren’t the only ones with problems. Those millennials everyone is always grousing about are facing a similarly uncertain future, where expensive university degrees are increasingly worthless and job security is the stuff of fairy tales. They’re better educated – and financially worse off – than any other generation. They work multiple jobs, or are competing for entry level positions that demand five years’ experience but pay minimum wage in markets where that won’t even pay the rent. We all have it tough. Don’t let it get you down.
Be the change
Rather than wallowing, get involved in an organization that is combatting ageism in the workplace, or start your own campaign. Do something about it.
You’re not powerless, and you can make a difference in any number of ways. The future depends on you. On us!
But right now I’m tired. Because I’m old. So, I’m going to take a nap. I’ll fight the system tomorrow.