Robin Ryan, author of "Over 40 & You're Hired"
Age discrimination. Ask any baby boomer who's been job hunting for several months and he'll likely tell you a personal horror story. Although the practice is illegal, many over-40 job hunters report that an employer was excited about them as a candidate -- until they met in person, leaving the candidates with the sneaking suspicion that their age had everything to do with not getting hired.
Can age discrimination be hampering your job search? According to the survey results of hiring managers conducted for and published in my new book, "Over 40 & You're Hired", many employers reported that they believe that someone under 40:
- Will work for a lower salary
- May seem more eager
- Shows more initiative
- Has a "fire-in-their-belly" attitude
- Has better computer skills
- Seems more adaptable
- Is less old-fashioned or stuck in their ways
My advice: Don't look old!
I'm not just referring just to your image. Your résumé, cover letter, networking approaches and personal presentation and how you perform in the interview all must show you have a lot to contribute.
I had one 69-year-old client, Mary*, who came to see me for coaching on interviews and salary negotiations. Her hair was completely white, and her face showed the lines and wrinkles of age. Yet she was fascinating and vivacious and demonstrated exuberance for life. Her résumé was full of recent accomplishments. She went out to four interviews and got four job offers. Those four employers weren't rejecting this 69-year-old woman, they were fighting over her. Mary had mastered the secrets to self-marketing and using her strengths and talents to prove to the employer she was an ideal candidate.
That is exactly what you must do to get ahead in today's tough economy. Here are some key strategies and resources to implement:
1. Advertise recent results
Employers report that the typical résumé gets a 15-second glance. Focus on the last 10 years. State the action you performed and the accomplishments you achieved. Stress money earned, costs eliminated or time saved. Productivity enhancements get attention, so make sure you note any you've made. Be a skillful editor; keep your résumé to no more than two pages.
2. Brighten up
Too many mature workers show up looking weather-worn, tired, defeated, desperate, just plain old and worn out. You must have an enthusiastic attitude that radiates energy to reassure an employer you are ready and able to do the job. Look vibrant and contemporary. A warm smile, a firm handshake and great eye contact are an absolute must. Dress in a fashionable suit in a flattering color and style. Fit is critical -- don't wear anything dated, too tight or too loose. To take some years off your appearance, try a new hairstyle, dye your hair, switch to contemporary eyeglasses and get your teeth whitened. Men should be clean-shaven; women should go light on the makeup.
3. Network backward
Your professional reputation is really other people's perception of you, your work strengths, image, passion and personality traits. Track down and network with old bosses, former employees and colleagues. They can outline what you are good at, build your confidence (often necessary after a firing or layoff) and be a terrific link in helping you meet potential hiring managers.
4. Be sharp for the interview
Your next boss can be younger -- maybe a lot younger -- than you. Know the challenges and trends in your field. Research not only the company but what its competitors are doing. Take steps to modernize your vocabulary so that you can come across as current and flexible. Offer examples of recent accomplishments. Emphasize that you are a quick study and constant learner. Write out answers to potential questions.Rehearse your answers and keep them brief. Employers lose interest fast, so never talk more than 60 seconds when responding to a question.
5. If you don't have it, get it
Skills and certifications need to be up-to-date. Check job ads and see if you are lacking any skill today's employers ask for when hiring people for your type of job. Computer skills are essential! If you are over 50, expect to get some questions and even a test on your computer ability. Many employers stated they do not accept what you tell them at face value -- they test you. So go to class, read books, use the tutorials and practice using these skills -- nothing will make you look older than not knowing how to attach a file to an e-mail.
*Last name withheld at person's request.