By Vicky Oliver
When people reach a certain age, adages begin to apply along the lines of “You’re only as old as you feel,” or “50 is the new 40.” But age does matter in the eyes of the majority of our society, and not in the sense of wisdom, experience, or gravitas.
A June 2019 PEW study, for example, found that only 3 percent of Democrats thought the 70s were the best age range for a president — most preferring someone who fell in his or her 40s through 60s. Yet the three current Democratic frontrunners are all in their 70s: Former Vice President Joe Biden (75), Senator Bernie Sanders (77) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (70), as is the man in the Oval Office (72). Intriguingly, the mean age of these candidates is 73. (Ronald Reagan currently holds the record as the oldest president when he left office at age 77).
The age factor came up in the Democratic candidate debate on October 15, likely brought on by Sanders’s recent health issues. The three candidates in their 70s were asked unguardedly if they were “too old” to serve as president. Each claimed they were up for the job.
But what about in the job market?
Here, too often, candidates are eliminated before they even have a chance to fight bias.
Study after study proves it. Those 50 and older seeking employment in the broader workforce are likely to find a pernicious form of age discrimination. Even in the current boom economy with the country practically at full employment, long-term unemployment is a growing reality for workers over age 55. It is not uncommon for job searches to extend many months — and that is if the searches are fruitful at all.
But wait! Isn’t age discrimination illegal? Yes.
Companies are not legally allowed to discriminate based on age, but plenty of evidence suggests they do. More and more, employers use automated hiring platforms where they’re able to hide the preferences that may exclude certain age groups from those culled for interviews.
Workers have long focused on the glass ceiling. But what about the age floor? It is now evident that age discrimination is the last big barrier to break down at the workplace.
Here are some strategies you can try if you feel that you are facing age discrimination:
1. Find an age-friendly company. AARP has a program that certifies companies who meet specific criteria regarding how they treat older workers. Retirementjobs.com is another source for age-friendly employers. These types of resources ensure that employers value candidates’ proficiency and qualifications regardless of age.
2. Seek out job banks specifically targeting seniors. A range of organizations actually is looking to employ older workers who can offer experience and leadership. Among these are Senior Job Bank and Seniors for Hire. They match employers with the valuable talent pool of qualified older job seekers.
3. Research and post employer reviews. Online employer review sites provide the chance to share experiences that demonstrate the hiring and retention attitudes toward older workers at particular companies. The site Employer Reviews, for example, compiles review ratings of companies receiving multiple top scores for age-friendliness, and assigns them a five-star rating. This allows job hunters over age 50 to save themselves time and effort by exploring opportunities with those employers that will welcome them.
4. Consider a second career. A number of fields welcome qualified older workers, such as museums looking for docents, limousine companies or ridesharing services in search of drivers, or second homeowners looking for property caretakers. Jobs that require evening hours or travel may be less desirable for younger or middle-aged workers with family obligations.
5. Become a consultant. One of the advantages older workers have to offer is their years of experience. Consulting is a way to capitalize on that experience and to maintain a foothold in their industry. Often, previous employers will want to contract with a known and seasoned person for special projects or overflow assignments.
Today, many of those approaching or reaching the traditional retirement age wish to remain employed and active in their careers. With continued health and vitality, there’s no reason not to stay in the workforce — and to break down the age floor barrier.
About the author
Vicky Oliver is a leading career development expert and the multi-best-selling author of five books, including 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions (Sourcebooks 2005), named in the top 10 list of “Best Books for HR Interview Prep,” and Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers & Other Office Idiots (Sourcebooks, 2008). She is a sought-after speaker and seminar presenter and a popular media source, having made over 901 appearances in broadcast, print and online outlets. For more information, visit vickyoliver.com.