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Confronting Ageism

Age discrimination is real and ingrained in certain industries, such as advertising. That said, when rejection occurs, we shouldn’t assume it’s just about our age.

A regular conversation with individuals feeling frustrated in their search for their next career challenge   “Stuart, I’m just not getting considered. I’m pretty sure this is an age thing!” “They said I have too much experience!” What should I do?” “What can I do?”

Age Discrimination Defined:

‘Treating an applicant or an employee less favorably because of his or her age.’  (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)

Some truths:

In certain industries, such as advertising, it’s endemic.

We are all capable of discrimination and being discriminated against. Is it legal? No. Is it right. No. Is it a reality. Yes.

We discriminate consciously and subconsciously.

Age related discrimination is something we will ‘all’ experience, whether we know it or not.

The older we get and the more experience we have, the more we tend to discriminate/Not have an open mind.

In person age related discrimination may well be greater as age related stereotypes are reinforced – Some people look older than they are

Is what you’re facing actually discrimination based on age?

Be sure that you are not being considered because of your age. It’s conceivable there is another candidate that is better qualified. The classic justification for age-related discrimination is often related to desired experience levels.  Too much – ‘Old-age’ discrimination); Too little -(‘young-age’ discrimination) Although of course, you can be an older person and simply not have the required experience.

Age based discrimination rejects what?

Retention and winning of business – The employer believes that relative to other candidates, that you/your experience will be less effective in either retaining or building on existing client business.

Culture – The employer believes that your over or under experience will adversely effect interpersonal dynamics of the existing team and/or culture. I.e. The feeling is that you will on some level be disruptive.

If you are confident of discrimination (legal recourse aside) what can you do?

1. Ensure you are presenting your case optimally – Be sure you are communicating the value you would actually deliver versus the ‘perceived value.’ This said, understand that some potential employers (and clients) have in their mind a belief that a certain age is ‘not for us.’ The reality is:

2. In person meetings are key – If you really are someone that has energy and experience and an ego in check, you may just be the person that will make the previously ‘age’ biased would-be employer reconsider. Why?

3. Money talks – If anyone can understand your combination of experience and energy (versus the perception of someone at your age) and they are focused on building business first, you have a decent opportunity of being hired.

Employer/Hiring Perspective

All employers want to hire in the most time/cost effective way the best individuals needed to build their business. The reality of cost and time pressures means that in hiring candidates, decisions will be made very often to quickly hire capable versus the optimal candidate.

All employers that are building teams, need a range of employees but who they need to hire in terms of experience will depend as much on the existing employee and client mix they have and how they feel this aligns. They may have plenty of ‘you’ already! So, you need to tell a better story and make them see why you’re different to the other ‘yous’.

An Approach to Circumventing Age-Related Stereotypes and Maximizing Your Success

1. Take Responsibility  – Discrimination is real. That said, many I speak with do not take responsibility for giving themselves the best chances to actively considered.

2. Understand the business and culture of the organization where you’re are applying for a job – Very often individuals haven’t done enough homework. Obtaining a clear understanding of the hiring company, its’ culture, where it makes money now and might in the future allows you to make (or know you can’t) a compelling case that far from your age being a reason that would hold the hiring company back, you are the right person to propel them forward.

3. Be The Anti-Cliché  – Don’t live the clichés of ‘being old.’ Key, always assume (despite all your experience) you know a little less than ‘nothing’ every day. Have an open mind/Be keen to learn.

The Future

We have an ageing population which might indicate greater product/service opportunity for more mature employees. At the same time, there is a real shortage of experience which gets greater each year. And, societal obsession with youth is if not being changed, it’s being tempered and with it will the black and white perceptions of what old and young means. And, digital is no longer the domain of just the young.

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