As a career coach with more salt than pepper in my beard, I’ve met many laid-off people who complain of age discrimination. More than 15 years in career transition coaching in the US and Australia has shown me that we often give employers the opportunity to knock us out of contention for jobs because of how we present ourselves.
1. Understand what employers want. Do some introspection. Why is the job there in the first place? No, it’s not just because the previous person quit. A job exists because there is a business need. You’ve been around the track a few times, so figure out what that need is and demonstrate how you are the solution. And, if the job looks like it has been written for you, don’t just apply – take the time to network into the decision maker. You’ll stand out amongst the others who are simply clicking “Apply” on the job board.
2. Get in shape. If you’re 50 or older you may need to lose some weight and exercise more. If your doctor tells you, your spouse tells you, and your kids tell you, maybe they’re right! Get up out of the easy chair and get some exercise every day. Eat better – fewer carbs and sodas, and more fruits and vegetables, is a good start. And if you have an interview over lunch, make a good impression by ordering the salad not the burger and fries.
3. Look at how you look. Maybe the wide-lapel brown suit, yellow short-sleeved shirt, and wide tie was the height of fashion in 1975, but it sure ain’t now! Find someone with a little 2016 fashion sense who can help you update your wardrobe inexpensively and age-appropriately.
4. Update your skills. Technology is not cyclical, contrary to the pager salesman on “30 Rock”. Computers are here to stay, so learn some basics. For a start, find someone under 30 with the patience to show you how to use email, search engines, and the cloud. Do some free online tutorials on basic Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Learn keyboarding so you can type with more than your two index fingers. And become familiar with the go-to software tools in your field, so you can hit the ground running in your new job.
5. Be enthusiastic. Rather than telling prospective employers what you won’t do, show them how eager you are to contribute. Capitalize on your extensive experience, by being a positive role model. Be a mentor, calming people during times of crisis. Reassure less experienced hiring managers that you are not after their jobs. You have seen the ups and downs of the business cycle and know how to help them and the business survive and succeed.
Employers worth working for do not start their screening process by discriminating on age. They want people who have the skills to do the job, are eager to work, and will fit their culture. Show that this is you, and age will not be an issue. For ideas on how to use age to your advantage, check out Robert de Niro in “The Intern”.
Brian Hinchcliffe is Director, Executive Career Transition Services, with Career Partners International in Houston, Texas. He prepares executives for their next career opportunity. This article was posted on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter on March 30th, 2016.