During the last recession, economist Joanna Lahey, an associate professor at The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, performed a field experiment in which she sent out 8,000 resumes in response to entry-level job postings – 4,000 in Boston and 4,000 in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The result? Younger workers were about 40% more likely to be contacted for an interview. And when asked in an interview this year what she means by younger, she said 35. “It’s a pretty steady process,” she said. “As you get older, your amount of callbacks decrease.”
While this news is both sobering and troubling, it’s probably not a surprise to the scores of women either looking to return to the workforce after a time away, or make a significant career change.
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While there is no sugarcoating this phenomenon, there are ways to counteract it.
Use Your Words Wisely
In order to turn your age into an advantage, you need to talk about it strategically.
Use the word “experience” rather than the word “age,” says Cindy Gallop, brand strategist. You also want to make it clear to the person you’re talking to or writing to, that your experience will make the business run more smoothly.
Some examples Gallop suggests include:
-“My experience means I’ve been around the block a couple thousand times and so I know exactly what to do in a crisis. I stay calm, I don’t lose my head, I have a whole armory of different ammunition, strategies and tactics to draw on because I’ve been there before. Whatever the business might throw at the team, I can take it, deal with it and rally everyone else around me to implement a solution as quickly as possible.”
-“I’ve had plenty of experience managing people and situations, so I’m very good at conflict resolution. I’m able to empathize, communicate and help resolve any day to day interpersonal issues or sporadic conflicts/confrontations that might arise.”
The idea here, Gallop says, is that “younger people lose their head, panic, run around in circles, don’t know what to do. You need maturity and experience handling those regular business crises.”
Reshape First Impressions
For all their experience, older workers can be perceived as inflexible, set in their ways, technologically behind, slow to accept change, too expensive, awaiting retirement and reluctant to report to someone younger, says Kit Hayes, founder of LifeWork Design, a career counseling firm for transitioning job seekers.
“What you need to do is present your candidacy in a way that counters the stereotypes,” she says. “For instance, when I give my thirty-second commercial, [or elevator pitch] I describe the highlights of my career and then end by saying, ‘and on the personal side, I’m a downhill skier.’ My intention is to counter their internal response to my gray hair. I want them to perceive me as physically active, energetic, a risk-taker. I’m reshaping their first impressions.”
Take advantage of being asked to talk a little bit about yourself. “This presents a great opportunity to shape the interviewer’s impression of you,” says Hayes. “Walk them through some highlights of your career, emphasizing specific accomplishments and contributions. Include a few personal highlights at the end. Athletic and fitness pursuits are particularly effective, including running, skiing, working out, hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming, or participating in competitive sports such as tennis, softball, marathons or triathlons. Activities that show mental acuity are also effective, such as crossword puzzles, Sudoku and chess.”
Focus More On Networking
When battling perceived age discrimination, face time is more important than blanketing the Web with your resume.
“When you apply for jobs in the traditional ways, you set yourself up for discrimination on the basis of age – and you’ll never be able to prove it,” says Hayes. “Hiring managers will search resume databases looking for ten to fifteen years of experience, not twenty or more. Your resume may work against you. Since most resumes are scanned into databases and retrieved using key words, yours may never be seen by human eyes.”
In that vein, Après flags worthy applicants for its corporate partners, increasing the likelihood the resume will be seen.
When you network, go the extra mile. “Ask your contacts to partner with you in your transition, keeping you apprised of new challenges, opportunities and anticipated needs in their companies and introducing you to colleagues in their networks,” says Hayes. “When you come highly recommended by trusted individuals, you won’t have the same hurdles to overcome.”
Demonstrate Digital Savvy
No secret, all hiring managers depend on Google for background on potential candidates. Since you will be competing with younger workers who can play on social media in their sleep, Gallop suggests spending time not only honing your LinkedIn page, but becoming adept at Twitter, and develop an Instagram account if you are in a creative industry.
“Most importantly, buy your own name as a URL and set up a website or blog,” she says. “ Both are very easy to do these days; use Squarespace or Wix for your website, and WordPress for blog, then post whatever you want people to know they can pay you money to do, so that you tell people how to think about you.”
The takeaway: By strategically focusing on your strengths, you can adjust attitudes toward you.