Job Search Agism
Let’s look at what ageism really is. According to Dictionary.com, the definition of ageism is as follows:
A tendency to regard older persons as debilitated, unworthy of attention, or unsuitable for employment.
I define employment ageism as being perceived as unable to do a job due to health, appearance, or skills.
Notice I said perceived as unable to do a job. Often, our perceptions are our realities.
I just traded in my 2003 Honda Element DX, which I had owned for 13 years and 130,000 miles. My Honda experienced discrimination due to its age.
The dealer looked at three things to determine its value:
- Mechanics (health)
- Features (skills)
The mechanics were in pretty good shape. I maintained it well, but…it had the original clutch and brakes. I am easy on a car!
The appearance was okay, with a few exceptions. It had no dents or dings, but the front seat was worn out and the windshield was cracked. A rock chipped the windshield and I did not repair it quickly enough. Because of this, a crack formed quickly and went across the entire window. It did not affect my vision, so I left it. It was like that for years.
The salesman told me that the car showed its age. Yes, the car was 14 years old with 130,000 miles.
The car was not feature-rich. It was a base model with a 5-speed manual transmission. I had done nothing to upgrade the vehicle, like adding a stereo, seat covers, steering wheel cover, or anything else.
The vehicle showed its age and it experienced ageism. I was offered less on the trade-in because it was perceived as being old.
See where I am going with this?
Ageism in the 2nd Half of Life
When we reach the 2nd half of life, we may experience age discrimination or ageism. Ageism is the perception that we are old and not capable of doing the job. In some cases, the perception is that we may be too expensive.
Just like my Honda, we are judged based on our health. This is how we walk, our weight, hair color (or lack of hair), or our general physical demeanor. If we look old, many will judge us and wonder whether we can keep up.
My boss at my last corporate gig told me that the trainer I was trying to hire “did not have the energy he wanted.” This was code for “too old.” The person I was trying to hire was approximately the same age as me. He was a bit overweight and had a bit of gray hair, but nothing extreme—a classic case of ageism that was based on my boss’s perception of the individual.
I resigned several months later.
How you dress and carry yourself is very important. I have an image consultant who picks out all of my new clothes. I admit I have no taste in clothes.
When I hired her to evaluate colors for me, she did a wardrobe evaluation and eliminated over half of my clothes. By the way, this made my wife VERY HAPPY.
When I worked at my first tech startup in 2000, I was one in a group of 4 people out of 100 employees who were over 40 years of age. I depended on the young engineers who worked directly with the customers to feed information to me for my training program. Therefore, I came to work in t-shirts and jeans. They treated me like a peer and not as a manager. I managed their perceptions by how I dressed.
You will be perceived by how you dress. I have a client who is in her late 50s, who interviewed for a position with a hedge fund manager. She did not ask about the dress code before the interview. She showed up dressed in a very conservative business suit. The hedge fund manager, who was in her early 30s wore torn blue jeans. To say the least, she did not get the job.
We are hired for our skills. Just like my Honda, in which I did not invest any upgrades, if you do not invest in learning new skills, you will likely face discrimination. Most of the time, you will not be considered for a position without these skills, even though you could easily learn them on the job.
Companies no longer wish to train their employees. It is the employee’s responsibility to maintain their skills. This has been a major shift in the last 10 to 20 years.
Ageism – What Now?
The easiest way to combat ageism is to focus on your health, appearance, and skills before you ever experience ageism.
Lead a healthy lifestyle. Yeah…we all know we should do this.
Dress appropriately. If you need help as I do, then get help.
Maintain your skills. Make sure you know your industry trends. Make sure that your skills are up to date and that, if there is a shift coming, you anticipate it. Sometimes, this is easier said than done, but if you want to stay employed, you need to keep abreast of changes.
Okay, you are experiencing ageism. You are perceived to be old and unable to do the job.
You should focus on your health, appearance, and skills—but not necessarily in that order.
Identify which area you should first focus on by asking your peers. You need to get honest feedback on where to begin. It is not about what you think, but what they think!
My last tech startup left me worn out. I looked old when I resigned! I have since been focusing on my health by eating right, getting exercise, seeing my chiropractor regularly, and monitoring my health.
My health was the #1 issue, and I have been focusing on it.
What is the #1 issue that is causing you job search ageism?