Many candidates carry outdated assumptions into their job search. One of these is the fear that age discrimination is so ubiquitous as to be paralyzing. "No one will want to hire someone old like me," is a common excuse for inaction and defeatist procrastination. In fact, organizations throughout the economy are increasingly turning to older workers to address talent gaps and skills deficiencies. Far from being a debilitating limitation, extensive life and work experience can be competitive advantages in a job search when the seeker knows how to leverage and position them.
Every generation complains that the one that follows "doesn't get it." What most of these employers mean is that the younger workers have yet to attain the characteristics that more seasoned talent can offer. Recruiters and managers can take a chance that a young employee will grow on the job or they can shortcut the process by hiring for maturity in the first place. The older job seeker, therefore, needs to remind the recruiter or manager of these virtues during the contact and interview stages.
Maturity has many connotations, but at its core refers to the ability of people to act correctly, effectively and ethically in a myriad of situations. Mature people understand the "big picture" and leverage their life and work experiences to intuit what is important and what is less so. Older workers have often quite literally "seen it all before" when it comes to scenarios with employees, customers and other constituents. While some younger people are wise beyond their years, most have not seen enough diverse circumstances to truly qualify as mature.
The older job seeker will model a centeredness and seriousness of purpose that a skilled interviewer will recognize immediately. During interviews, it is wise to offer illustrations of situations where your maturity was instrumental to achieving organizational goals. Experience, even in a seemingly unrelated field, breeds confidence and maturity in the older candidate.
An experienced job seeker can communicate in no uncertain terms that he or she will be at work early and among the last to leave; and that they understand that personal toughness is a virtue worthy of emulation. The older candidate will have prepared anecdotes from his or her career and life to emphasize their reliability under any circumstance.
Older workers rarely expect to be promoted within the first few weeks of a new job. They understand the importance of building credibility and paying dues. Mature individuals contribute first and seek reward after having proven themselves. This sense of realism extends to job tenure and compensation as well. When reminded, employers love the idea of workers who know the value of their work and are less likely to change jobs for a small raise or title change. Experienced workers have had truly bad bosses in the past and they know that a manager who is perceived as unreasonable by the young team members might be no big deal relative to other "true nightmare bosses" of the past. In addition, older workers know that having an exacting supervisor can be a prime opportunity to grow and improve on the job.
Mature job candidates should find ways to communicate that they understand and live by a code of "old-school values" like loyalty, appreciation and dedication. By being ready with anecdotes and supporting evidence for their value, these job seekers will shine in comparison to their younger colleagues.
Efficiency and focus
Older workers tend to have less drama in their lives. They come to work to, well, work. Where there is sometimes a biased perception that older people lack energy and focus, these concerns are easily dispensed by the effective use of body language, eye contact, firm handshakes and insightful and observant conversation.
The job market can be intimidating for employees who are on the back half of their working lives. Our popular culture and major media can at times worship youthfulness to the apparent exclusion of the more mature. When one considers what organizations need to succeed, however, it is clear that employers and candidates alike need to retune their thinking.
With national unemployment at historical lows and yet workforce participation also low, it is time for older workers to rethink their assumptions and come back to work. American companies and other organizations will only be able to reach their goals if they think logically and with an open mind about their talent needs. It is left to seasoned talent to know their worth, sell their benefits and reap the rewards of their tenure.