Some positive news for older job seekers: some of the most common job-search challenges you are facing have nothing to do with your actual age, but have to do with what your age represents.
What do I mean by this? Let me give you an example: I had a childhood friend who turned gray prematurely. By the time we were juniors in high school, she had a full head of gray hair. She often talked about the time, money, and effort it took to regularly color her gray locks, until at one point she just decided to forgo those efforts. The bright side, she joked, was that she no longer had to fear the sight of a few gray strands.
Sure, from time to time, someone would make a comment, but most of the time her gray locks were a non-issue and never interfered with anything she tried to do. And, I can assure you that, whenever my friend applied for seasonal summer jobs, she never complained about failing to get a job as a short-order cook, a lifeguard, or a retail sales clerk because of the color of her hair. Why? Because hiring managers do not eliminate candidates on the basis of gray hair—gray hair is just gray hair. What hiring managers do consider, whether consciously or unconsciously, is what the gray hair represents, or what they think the gray hair represents.
Right or wrong, gray hair on a candidate who is fifty or older may represent someone who no longer has the drive to work full time, or who may have health problems now or in the near future, or who has limited technological knowledge. For my eighteen-year-old friend, however, gray hair represented none of that. First, nothing on her resume suggested she was an older candidate; this was critical because even if the hiring manager had the tendency to pass over aging candidates, this never become an issue during an initial review of her application. And second, once my friend met with the hiring manager, age was a non-issue because she came across as a vibrant, chatty, larger-than-life teenager who could sell a hot dog to a vegetarian.
If you are an older job seeker, the key to job-search success is to recognize negative perceptions that may be inferred from your age and then strategize to overcome those obstacles so that they do not impact your job-search process. This means learning about and examining each perception and working to send a clear message that it does not apply to you. If hiring managers perceive older candidates as tired and unmotivated, you must “make over” that image by presenting yourself as a candidate who is energetic, motivated, and capable of making an immediate and valuable contribution to the company.
Does this mean that you need to start running half-marathons in your fifties so that you can match the vigor of a candidate in their twenties? No. All I am saying is that a hiring manager will likely look for a candidate who can attend, and possibly even lead, important meetings with the energy, enthusiasm, and commitment necessary to close the deal. Not only do you want the hiring manager to see you as that candidate, you want them to smile at the notion of you whizzing by coworkers who are twenty years your junior.
Remember, everything you do in the job-search process—from selecting which opportunities to pursue, to drafting your cover letter and resume, to what you wear and how you behave in an interview—should be geared toward eliminating any preconceived notions a prospective employer has about your age. Is that unfair? Perhaps, but look at it this way: The more you do to dispel these preconceived notions, the more level the playing field becomes—and the less your age becomes a factor. And, when armed with this knowledge you will be prepared to achieve unprecedented success—regardless of which birthday is next.
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