Tech & Work

Job hunting: Put a new spin on 'old'

For older workers looking for a job, age bias (even if it's unconscious) is hard to fight. But there are things you can do to present your age and experience in a way that elevates your personal brand.

For older workers looking for a job, age bias (even if it's unconscious) is hard to fight. But there are things you can do to present your age and experience in a way that elevates your personal brand.

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The only thing more depressing than being laid off is being laid off when you're an "older" worker. It is one of the more unfortunate aspects of our culture -- and especially in the IT world -- that age can be a detriment in how you're perceived by potential employers.

The unspoken assumption, even from people who think they are enlightened, is that older workers are set in their ways and have a static knowledge set. Of course, this is bunk. But the fact remains that the onus falls on the older worker to dispel this belief.

So how do you convey your years of experience as a good thing? What can you do to present your age in a way that elevates your personal brand instead of being a detriment? Here are a few tips that might help.

First, you might have cut your teeth in IT by repairing IBM Selectrics, but you don't have to mention that in your resume. List only experience that would be relevant to the job you're seeking. This is good advice for any job seeker, but more so with the older ones.

It's tempting to use the word "seasoned" when describing yourself in a cover letter, but that attribute is only appealing if you're a hamburger. A better word to use is "accomplished," backed up with specific examples of projects you've participated in, the more recent the better. "Accomplished" implies that you actively participated in endeavors and didn't just sit back while experiences were "sprinkled" on you. (Can't let go of an analogy, can I?)

One definite advantage of being an older worker is that you have concrete examples of projects you're worked on. Be sure to qualify your involvement in terms of goals met and money saved.

Make sure you're current with new technology. Some old stand-by skills, like COBOL, will still be relevant. But it's important that you show you're up on new technolgies that you may have resisted before, like social networks and mobile technology.

It's good to put forth the appearance of eagerness. You may have been around for a while, but no one wants a jaded, world-weary person working for them. Show that you're open to learning and that the desire to explore new things doesn't stop in your twenties.

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Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

117 comments
ivan
ivan

Consultants should not see themselves as job hunters ? that?s the mindset of someone looking for full time employment. To succeed in consulting, you have to position yourself as someone who provides value added services when and where needed. Also, to really succeed in this line of business, you need to develop a very large network of connections. In many respects, it?s a numbers game. The more people you know, the more likely you are to land a new contract. Regards, Ivan Walsh www.ivanwalsh.com

wrlang
wrlang

Hiring people put out jobs with a picture in their heads of who they want to fill that position. It includes age, weight, height, dress, complexion, hair style, part of town you live in, financial position, etc.. Even though it is discriminatory to consider many of these factors, that doesn't stop hiring people from using them and trying to find out about them through facebook, myspace, and other clandestine means. It would actually be very helpful and save tons of time if hiring people could tell the truth and put out an ad that said - We're looking for a single white male between the ages of 25 and 30 that has at least 7 years of Linux engeineering experience and doesn't mind working 60 to 80 hours a week and be on-call 24/7/365 because we don't have any project management resources to control the projects we undertake. All resumes are designed to give hiring people the above information under the disguise of work history, accomplishments, name/address, and education. I've even had them ask for me to volunteer my social security number abd authorize a background check prior to an interview. While I've never been without a job, I do interview rather regularly to keep my resume up to date and keep informed of new hiring tactics. I went into one interview having only put pertinent work history in the application which went back about ten years. When I arrived at the interview the very young HR person was visibly upset and the first question was about incomplete work history. I responded that I had put all the pertinent work history in and when interrogated further I asked how my being a forklift driver in 1978 had any value for a project manager position? They wanted to verify that I got a degree only a few years before because that usually indicates a younger person. They obviously would never have considered me if I had put my entire work history in the resume. Luckily I wasn't entirely interested in that job, which probably showed through as well. My point is that there are no set rules and things that shouldn't matter do matter so luck and the open mindedness of the hiring people are your only hope when you're and older worker or a very young worker. If you really need to get your foot in the door, hide your facebook and myspace accounts and anything else that will give away your age or outside work interests that may be undesireable. Really look hard at the job description for all the code phrases that tell you they don't want an older worker so you don't waste your time with them. for exampe, Looking for someone with 3-5 years experience is code for a younger worker, while looking for at least 7 years experience means an older worker is acceptable. Keep up on the game strategies.

colin
colin

I am 56 so I have had a few age related issues with recruitment, and I just draw a comparison to the pilot that landed the airliner in the Hudson river. He was a veteran pilot and about my age, If it had been a younger pilot just out of flight school the result could have been very different but age and experience count for a lot

ghowser
ghowser

Quite frankly, I've lost a job because they were looking for someone "in their 20's or 30's" and the idiot had the nerve to say that in the interview. I have interview hundreds of job seekers and know better than to make a remark like that. I offered to let him keep working there after my lawyer and I owned the place. I would have sued but I didn't want the job that much. I want to warn everyone that if you make a legal issue of age discrimination you might be killing your own career. One of my friends took part in a sex discrimination law suit and never worked as a telephone engineer again. I know it's not right. I know it's not legal, but be careful how you handle it because you might be shooting yourself in the foot. White and pink haired but I know what I'm doing.

Spiritusindomit
Spiritusindomit

'Old People' brought this on themselves. I've worked with plenty of people who discounted me because I was young and female. I actually had a guy walk up to me once and say 'honey, get me a coffe,' like I was a secretary, who just happened to be usurping the chief architect's chair. If you aren't a typical old person who *is* set in their ways, the onus is on you to prove it. Stereotypes don't exist because they have no basis in fact, and old people tend to think there's no possible way anyone younger than them can possibly know as much, which is dangerous, especially in IT where information more than 2 years old is out of date and 5 years old is irrelevant.

herrmc
herrmc

I have been in IT for 25 years. I did actually work on Selectrics in the beginning a little. In 25 years I have not once had to look for a job, even though I have moved to different jobs as they were offered. I am constantly amazed at the people in IT who are so ill equiped to perform IT work, I believe that what is being termed as a "downturn" is actually a purging. I am not pretty... I am overweight... have back problems, and walk with a limp... but I still have job opportunities available to me... I am very good at the things that I do, and have a good reputation for it... The "Botox" wannabes are just struggling to get a piece of the pie without the real qualifications.

lori
lori

I thought the advice given in this piece was good. I'm 44 with a nice stripe of white hair and lots of laugh lines, but my resume is always pared-down and focused on the job I applied for, and I show up for interviews with eagerness, an open notebook, and a can-do attitude. What employer wouldn't want an experienced person who's open, friendly, and willing to do whatever it takes to make them successful? These qualities have nothing to do with age.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

I sat down and wrote what I felt would be the resume I would like to see as a hiring manager. It listed each of my skills, my academic support, the key areas for my target jobs and within those areas some illustrative accomplishments. Then it listed all my employers, dates and titles without going into detail. After all, I thought, being told five times that I had installed one more GL system (successfully and with cudos) didn't make a great deal of sense. And after 30 years in IT (plus prior experience), there are very few things I haven't done more than once. It was in fact, a functional resume. Cool -- standard format for a senior body -- nothing unusual, odd or otherwise. Every headhunter I talked to responded that they had to have a chronological resume listing every job and every project I had worked on. And usually they sent me a sample ... of someone with less than two years experience. Inevitably when I met these people they were under 25 and with very little experience. (I have met some exceptions ... and they tend to be just as confused about what to use as I am.) In short, they had been trained to read a "sweet spot" resume -- someone with 2-5 years experience -- not a senior, manager or executive resume. And they couldn't make the leap. The problem is that these are the gatekeepers ... and frankly they don't know their jobs, they're not being trained in their niche, and they make the initial decision. The fact that we've now dumped technology in between has made the situation worse. No keywords -- no findee! I've come to the conclusion, now that employers routinely receive 1000s of resumes for a job, that a) you'll never please everybody and that b) resumes no longer work as a sales tool. Glen Ford

egreenberg
egreenberg

I haven't read the other posts so forgive me if someone has already said this, but I feel that the premise of this article is a bunch of bunk, this nuanced and fullcourt press to convince some idiot that someone in IT who is older is not at a disadvantage. I think that older IT tech folks ought to band together and compete against the genius who thinks it's better to hire cheaper less experienced staff. And don't think that this same sentiment doesn't exist left to right across the organizational chart. I really do think that in this recession older professionals of all stripes are missing a one time opportunity to form start-ups to compete against vulnerable, understaffed, underskilled establishments in virtually every sector of the economy. Hey, maybe I should start a Facebook for this purpose.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

Some good advice. But the fact is that with some companies age bias is gonna hit you below the belt no matter what you do. Yeah, its technically illegal. But as we all know, there are plentiful and endless ways around that little problem. I have seen it personally, and have long time friends who've also faced it. And there really isn't much you can do about it. Unless the company or hiring person who is exhibiting the behavior is just dumber than a box of rocks. For most, they know to find a DIFFERENT reason to not hire you, or to fire you. A reason that's not covered by the anti-age discrimination laws. I just accept it as fact, and move on when faced with such issues. Figuring that its probably a place I'd not really want to work for anyway. Not all such places even realize, consciously, that they're engaging in age discrimination. The fact is, some of em just have it in the back of their minds that older workers are fixed in their ways, don't accept change readily, aren't very good or fast at learning new skill sets, and so forth. Which is TRUE ... for some. But not for everyone and these things should be judged on an individual basis as versus a class or generality basis. Be that as it may. It is what it is. I don't waste my time arguing with or trying to change the mind of prejudiced or bigoted people. Nor stupid people. Of course, there is the "other" sort of age discrimination. Where the problem is not just your literal age. Its a matter of your skill and experience level, and your wage expectations. It is a fact, and I have personal knowledge of several instances, that some companies have made the decision that they'd rather hire a lessor skilled/experienced person, at a MUCH lower wage. And put up with the inevitable mistakes, blunders, and so forth, plus time wasted on a steep learning curve. It's just a numbers game. A friend of mine is engaged in such an issue right now. At his level of skill and knowledge, the company he works for used to have 5 people. Now there are two. Initial installs, wiring pulls, terminations, equipment setups and initial programming, and so forth are now done solely by what can be pretty accurately described as low paid, unskilled labor. There are a lot of mistakes and errors. But when calculating total costs, the company he works for has it figured out that it is cheaper to use those unskilled people, and then have a couple "old hands" come in and fix things and make em right. Than is is to have it done right in the first place. My friend even admits this is correct. The real problem, as he sees it, is that his regular customers are getting really, really miffed. THEY, don't like the change. They aren't happy with the idea that when a new system is installed, it almost certainly isn't gonna work right at first. And that my friend is gonna get repeat call backs to the site to fix this or that. The customers aren't unhappy with my friend, they know him and trust him. They're not happy with the new way of doing things that introduces start-up delays. Initial errors and problems. And so forth for some period of time until he gets everything debugged and straightened out. In fact, several are now asking him about the idea that he start up his own business so they can contract directly to him. Or, some have offered to hire him on as in-house staff. That's what yah get when the accountants and MBA's are in total charge and all that counts is the bottom line. Can we gain 1% on net profits by doing it this way as versus that? Yes? Okay, that's what we'll do. And so it happens. Until and unless the customers b*tch enough, and/or take their business elsewhere. Likewise there is the issue with the "over qualified" thing. Gad, what the heck does THAT mean? Yeah, some guys and gals, if unemployed will jump at the first job opportunity and then "jump ship" as soon as the employment situation improves and they see opportunities to get a bigger paycheck. But I'm not at all convinced this is the majority situation. I know too many folks, personally, who'll take a job they're MORE than qualified to take, just to get a toe in the door, with expectations they'll stay there and move up the ladder when the time and opportunity presents itself. Or, sometimes, that's the level of work, and type of work which that person most enjoys. And the decrease in pay/position is worth it to them in order to do the kind of work that person likes best. I've seen this more than a time or two. BTDT, myself. Was management, was GOOD at management. Was accelerated, in promotions, over my peers. BUT ... didn't really like the job and it's responsibilities and duties. The fact is, I'm happiest when making something new, or fixing something that doesn't work. That's just me. I'm an engineer/tech by disposition and natural tendency. I like to hands on build or fix things. So I quit a managerial job, and went looking for a kind of job that endless folks told me I was "over qualified" for. I really got tired of that. Just like I got tired of folks looking at me and quipping "Aren't you a little ... old ... to be wanting to haul around a tool bag, meters, and such?" My usual answer was either, "Kiss my *ss, Idiot !" or something even more rude. Or, "Yeah, maybe you think so, but the fact is that this is the level and kind of work I LOOK FORWARD TO AND ENJOY. It makes me wake up each day and look forward to going to work as versus wondering if I can call in sick or take a vacation day because I'm really, really tired of doing what I've been doing." My point is ... that older workers often know their mind better than younger workers. And if that older worker is enthusiastic about a particular job, and motivated to WANT it ... he or she will probably produce better results for you than a younger person who is just "looking for a job". Even if the job in question is beneath the skills levels of that older person. That, "You're over qualified." thing might have some validity when considering a younger person. It almost certainly is meaningless when applied to the older worker. It's pretty hard to panic or intimidate the over 50 crowd. By that age, MOST (not all) have seen troubled times before, and lived through the experience. So if they're talking to yah, inquiring about a job offer, it's almost certain they're serious and THAT is the job they're after and willing to take and do their best at. Ever watched the "door greeters" at WalMart? The young ones ... tend to be half hearted at best, and to put forth minimal effort. OTOH, the older workers who've taken such a position? They're almost annoying in their enthusiasm and helpfulness. They are there, most of em, because they WANT to be. They like what they're doing. I have a friend who is one such. He is VASTLY over qualified for such a job. Has a a couple of college degrees. Worked for IBM for years. But then had an accident that crippled him up pretty much. He has severe back and nerve damage. Could stay at home. Has more than enough income for that, between disability, savings, stocks and bonds from IBM, etc. But sitting around home drives him nuts. And ... he LIKES people. And likes helping them. Applied for and was rejected by WalMart a number of times, for a position as a Greeter. He persisted. And finally one manager, at one particular store, gave him the opportunity. My friend jumped at it and gave it his best. He limps around. Needs a cane in order to walk. And his speech is far from perfect due to the nerve damage. BUT ... he is so d*mn pleasant and enthusiastic in his greetings. And he spent so much time learning the store, its products, and where they are at. That many a customer wrote letters to WalMart saying that one of the reasons they go there (to that particular store) so often is JUST BECAUSE ... of that fellow. He smiles, he is helpful, he obviously LIKES his job, and wants to be there. And that while he is pretty hard to understand as concerns his speech, if yah listen close ... he'll steer yah right. For the best deal, just the right product, or whatever. Get my point? I, myself, am not the most modern, "with it", and in tune person. But, for what I do, I won't steer yah wrong and what I deliver will be what I promised. Period, end of subject. Get my point? For the "older" worker, beat the young pups at their own game. Where I work now, I'm an ancient fossil. But 98% of the time "my way" beats out the young pup's way. That extra 2% is important. It's how we advance. But if the young pup never properly learns that first 98%, we take a step backwards. Just some thoughts of mine. Worth no more than that.

chris
chris

...so they said, "You're overqualified." and I said, "That's OK, I'm an underachiever!" (rimshot) Seriously folks, while interviewing, there were a few evil HR directors that questioned (in a suspicious tone) why I was with the same company for 19 years. After hearing the same story from several of my former coworkers, it seems loyalty and persistence are no longer considered assets.

Craig_B
Craig_B

I worked at the same company for 23 years and was let go. The first couple of weeks were an adjustment period. An adviser told me that I was given an opportunity to change my direction. Woo-Hoo, this was not a loss but an opportunity! I used this time to spend more time with my family, reflect and refine want I really wanted. I started reading the book "Write It Down, Make It Happen (Knowing What You Want ?And Getting It!)" by Henriette Anne Klauser. I realized I was already doing many things in the book, though a little less formally. I started doing some of the exercises in the book and continued with my own as well. I wrote down 11 elements of my future job on a white board in a prominent location. My commute is within 30 minutes. The organization helps the community, the earth, humanity in some way. The organization is a private or non-profit, good company. I work with people and technology, I help people and I grow in the light of God. I have time for my family and life outside of work. I use my creative talents to help the organization and people. I am a good fit for the organization and visa-versa. The organization provides good benefits and salary. The environment of the organization is pleasant. I have a good boss who is understanding and compassionate. I am in a full time permanent position and I can stay as long as I like. Lastly I summed up everything into one statement "I AM in a rewarding career that is just a short commute away". I printed that out and taped it on my computer desk so I saw it frequently. I meditated on the elements with focus on the summary phrase. I prayed that I would find a job that is right for me and right for the organization that is the highest good possible for all. Now that the spiritual elements were taken care of, I also did the leg work of looking through the job boards. I had posted my resume on some job boards and I scanned the other boards. I talked to every person that I could, even if I knew I was not interested in the job. Each step along the way I learned something that helped me move closer to my goals. I applied for jobs that reasonably matched what I wanted and a few that were a little outside of what I wanted. I stumbled across and ad for my new company, it sounded good though some elements were a little stretch for my present skills, I applied anyhow. Using what I learned from previous interviews and experiences, I went on the interviews and did quite well and was offered the job shortly thereafter. When reviewing all my elements of what I wanted in a job, I got a hit on every single one of them.

rita
rita

Great advice. In my work with the 50+ or nearly 50 career transitioners, I point out the importance of being "contemporary" - to dispel the myth of being "dated." Read FastCompany magazine, know the latest trends in your field, take a course or weekend training...Show that you're still in the game! Dr. Rita Carey, www.rcmassociates.com

JimTheGeordie
JimTheGeordie

I spent 11 years as a contractor working for a major Telco, where two of us ran a call centre support system that IBM estimated needed at least seven people. Although quite small, it was one of the Telco's most profitable units. eventually I was told to go, as policy on the employment of contractors to run major systems had changed. I had great difficulty getting employment and I eventually came to realise that over the last decade, the market place had become commoditised. Everyone wanted someone who used a particular product last week. I eventually created a nich applying metadata principles to databases for small business. My advice is; do not get bogged down in the field where you operate at present. Pick some new technology that interests you and do the odd training course. Even if you have no commercial experience in the product, you will be able to talk the talk and imply that your previous experience will add value to your new-found knowledge. Oh, and by the way, I was 70 when I left the Telco and am still working profitably (though technically pensioned off) at the age of 75.

wlportwashington
wlportwashington

Good article but way off base as far as my area of the country is concerned. I was out of work for a very long time and went on countless of interviews. During which I have heard every single discriminatory remark used by the interviewer as to why they would not consider me for employment. The bulk of the remarks were that I was too old. It is illegal but it happens. I was able to win numerous EEOC cases for age discrimination, but none of them landed me a job, nor did any attorney wish to pursue them. The companies would rather hire someone in their early 20's and not have to pay family benefits, a much lower wage than what an experienced professional would command, and if they don't come to work because they were hung over, easily replaced in a heart beat. Wrong thinking, but it is true. By me, about 50% of the I.T. workers are unemployed and most of them over 40. With a few gray hairs, or a wrinkle or two or maybe a little extra around the middle gives your age away. That means you would want some serious compensation. Again, companies would rather hire a much younger person. So rethinking about getting new certifications or upgading your knowledge of programming will not hide the fact that you are older.

Photogenic Memory
Photogenic Memory

I got into this industry at an older age than a lot of IT professionals. I wanted to do something different than factory work. I managed to break in but actually started in a factory assembling servers :(. Even though I'm currently stuck in help desk support; my employer hires younger people most of the time( and mostly male ). Younger peoples minds are like sponges. They take in a lot and do it quickly. But what they don't so so well are some basics like good customer relations, coming to work on-time, and finishing what you start. They also fall victim to being over-worked and not saying no out of fear. It's true that customer service jobs are just a bump in the road for a lot of them so they're not going to take it seriously. They're planning on being the greatest sysadmin ever and hopefully make a lot of money doing it. It's a worthy goal. Some of us cannot follow though. As an older worker; I find that my tolerance for abuse is very low. I also find that my personal time away from work has become more valuable than being available for overtime on a whim. Money is nice but you can't get that time back when you have a family. I decline to do it often unless cornered by the management staff. However, I do more than minimum it takes to do the job so I don't have too many unpleasant conversations with the leadership. Thanks for the article. It put a lot in perspective. I am going to be actively looking for another job soon. My current situation is less than desirable(I work nights). I've been wondering how I'm going to approach interviews with my current skill set. I don't want to trade one bad situation for another. I'm physically too tired for that now. I want to be comfortable, have benefits, work stability, and be challenged. This economy is the pits but this is what I want. Thanks for posting the article. It's good head food :).

Observant
Observant

I agree with some earlier comments. Unless you are pursuing a career that prides itself on publishing (tech articles, academia, etc) keep it down to 2 pages. I receive over 500 resumes per job posting and don't have time to read a lot of bloviating. If you send me a 3 pager, it had better blow me away in the top have of the first page (you can call this "above the fold") otherwise, it heads back to HR to file away. If what you have to say is relevant and can say it in two pages, I MAY ask for a more comprehensive CV but it had still better be relevant (e.g., if I'm looking for a COBOL program, not really interested in several years dealing with ADA!)

garyaaa9
garyaaa9

Personally, I don't buy into the idea that a resume is the road to a job. It is your personal and professional relationships that bring opportunities to your attention. I once did contracting work for company that required that candidates be interviewed by the four founders. Of course, they were young, dynamic professionals whose wallets and brains happened to be located under their belts. They hired a receptionist who could speak several languages. She was young and dynamic like them. Also, she has a back-side that was perfection. However, she was a flirt who never listened to the company's voice mail. The founders almost hired another young and beautiful woman to be the webmaster. She had a chest that would put the girls on Baywatch to shame. She could not set up either IIS or Apache. In fact, she had no idea of how to backup the website that she was working on. Both women looked great on paper and the founders saw in them what they wanted to see. One day, the office manager and I were reviewing resumes for the position of marketing director. One resumes looked particularly good. The education and experience was right. The photo that was on the resume (yes, outside of the US you stick your photo on the resume) was shocking. Another beautiful young blond woman who definitely get the attention of the founders. The office manager and I looked at each other and said, "We don't need anymore of this." We promptly torn up the resume. Moral of the story: invest your time in your relationships and not your resume.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

at 18. I'm much more upbeat and enthusiastic now.... No really The real problem perception of an older professional, is 'It's going to be much harder to pull the wool over this person's eyes'

keepin' it surreal
keepin' it surreal

While I hate to appear shallow, one should also take a very critical look in the mirror, and if funds permit, consider Botox (not cheap, but not as bad as you might think). Frown lines add 10 years. I shouldn't even have to mention weight and physical fitness. Watch what you wear, too. I'm not talking about 50-somethings fantasizing that they are the new 30's. Just be aware of the way you present yourself. For example, don't wear the navy blue three-piece suit with gold buttons your mom gave you to wear to Aunt Gertrude's funeral, especially if it smells of mothballs. Update the eyeglasses. Or wear contacts, but not the faky tinted ones, which make you look desperate. Men, avoid the combover - cut it way, way short and wear your baldness as a testament to your testosterone-laden heritage. There are bald 20-somethings, so relax and quit deluding yourself that you have a full head of hair, because, believe me, no one else is deluded. They just think you have poor judgment and worry that it might carry over into your work life. And, if you like short pithy statements that you can remember to sum up wordy diatribes, try this: "Never leave the house looking as if you've given up."

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