It’s time to stop stereotyping older jobseekers

Are you worried you might be missing out on job opportunities because of your age? Don’t be.

According to the most recent government employment statistics, “The number of people aged 50 and over in employment has grown strongly in recent years,” increasing by 30% since 1984.

Yet against this background, ageism is still alive and present in today’s job market. The CEO of The Age and Employment Network agrees: “You really do have to be ready for anything in job interviews … you can always encounter ageism.” In their book, Finding Work After 40: Proven Strategies for Managers and Professionals’, Robin McKay Bell and Liam Mifsud outline seven stereotypes that job seekers over 40 may encounter, and how to deal with them.

Older people won’t work for a younger manager, or with a younger team

You could encounter a younger person who doesn’t feel comfortable managing someone older than them, or they assume that the older person won’t like being managed by a younger person. “If the job requires experience and skills that you have, age should not be a problem” the book argues, and recommends just asking the interviewer outright if success in the role will be measured by your ability to fit in with a young team, or your skills and experience are more important. It’s a bold move, but one that will expose the company culture.

Older people are often overqualified

“Some employers will interview an older candidate as part of a box-ticking exercise, with no intention of hiring them. In that event, shake the dirt off your feet and carry on,” the book advises.

However, the problem of being overqualified for the role could be that the employer will assume you will move on quickly to find something better.

One way to solve this would be to make your CV shorter. Only include the experience that is relevant to the particular job. Or you could bring the issue up at interview and assure them that you’re applying for the job because you want it long term, not as a stop gap.

Older people lack energy

Although this isn’t simply the case, unfortunately this is an assumption that can be made by employers. You just have to demonstrate you have enough energy and commitment for the job, and are able to sustain it. The book suggests projecting as much energy as possible during the application process, and dropping in examples of your active lifestyle outside of the workplace.  “If you’ve recently run a marathon, completed a cycling race or climbed mountains, drop it into a conversation,” it says. “But don’t worry if you haven’t. It’s the projection of energy and perception of health that matters.”

Older workers have health problems

The book stresses the importance of selling yourself, not just in terms of expertise, energy and experience, but with your appearance as well. “Investing in your health and appearance will demonstrate a positive attitude, which will always count in your favour,” it says. “However, under the Equality Act 2010, employers can’t discriminate on health and disability grounds, and they cannot ask questions about your health prior to the job offer.”

An older worker has money, so they don’t need the job

“Countering this prejudice is tricky,” say Bell and Misfud. “Being too needy is always negative yet appearing to be the opposite can also cost you an opportunity.” The interviewer or recruiter may assume that money is not an issue for you just because you’re older, but clearly this is not always the case, especially as older workers are more likely to have mortgages to pay, older children to help through university or even older parents to care for.

If you think that this assumption may be working against you, you can let them know your personal circumstances casually, but be careful to tell them your motives include ‘personal fulfilment, a desire for new challenges and experiences’, and your motivation for success, which can include financial rewards.”

Older people are not mentally agile

“Prepare for interviews by memorising salient facts about your prospective employer and your industry. With current knowledge to hand, you’ll appear as bright and ready as a younger candidate,” suggest Bell and Misfud. Essentially,the solution to this misconception is simply to prove your potential employer wrong.

Older workers can’t deal with change

Although perhaps true of some older workers, again, you have to prove that this stereotype does not apply to you.  “Mature people are often better than their younger counterparts at dealing with change in the workplace because they’ve already learned to adapt to variables of every sort,” says the book, which uses the example of the 2008 recession where many older workers had to deal with a very tough situation.

“Search your history to find evidence of where you changed in order to achieve new goals. Have several stories prepared to support your claims.”

But then again, The CEO of The Age and Employment Network suggests that maybe the best way to combat these ‘elephants in the room’ is to not think about age at all. Be yourself, excel in your interview and let your confidence, knowledge and experience shine through.