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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Age Discrimination - Interview and Job Search Tips

This article went out with my NRWA newsletter and discusses a topic that many clients have been facing recently. Enjoy!

Age discrimination may not always be what it seems. Besides, if an organization is discriminating based on age, it will likely discriminate for a multitude of other reasons. This is not the kind of organization you want to have anything to do with.

However, there are challenges in the job search that mature job seekers must confront that younger job seekers are not burdened with. So what can these individuals do to turn age into an asset instead of a liability?

Here are some suggestions:

Knowledge: Your education should never, never stop. Go back to school. Take seminars. Do independent research. Do whatever it takes to stay up to date in your profession and demonstrate that knowledge through detailed presentation in your résumé or portfolio.

Industry Contributions: You should be active in industry associations, trade shows, symposiums. Notice I said "active." Simply being a member in name only does absolutely nothing for you. Give industry presentations. The presentation does not have to be on a nationwide level. It could be to your local association chapter. Get published. An article in a local association newsletter can demonstrate you are active and current within your industry. Reference these presentations and activities in your résumé.

Computers: The explosion of computer technology is part of our life. It is not enough to just be familiar with the programs that meet your day-to-day needs. Rather, show that you are state-of-the-art through your knowledge and application of new technologies and methodologies.

Health: Stay fit or get fit. You are more apt to be discriminated against for your weight than for your age. If you have a double chin and pot belly you will be perceived as a health liability who is lazy and without the energy or vitality to work hard, long hours with dedication and commitment. This might not be fair, but it is fact, so get fit. Crash diets are not recommended, but a conscientious effort to improve your health and vitality is imperative.

Appearance: Be contemporary. Too many mature professionals stick with old habits. If you are not contemporary in your appearance, then you will be perceived as not being contemporary in your ideas or knowledge. Get rid of the horn-rimmed glasses, ties that are too narrow, too wide or out-of-style, and suits, shirts or blouses that don't fit and are worn and frayed. If you look sharp, you will make a positive, energetic impression in the interview.

Artificial Obstacles: Although there is indeed actual age discrimination, some times it is due to tactical errors and can be overcome:

Interview question: Are you willing to relocate?

Mature executive response: "No." Or maybe, "I prefer to remain here, but I am open to relocation depending on the city, position, and income. Of course I expect a full relocation package."

Young executive response: "Absolutely! I will go anywhere that is necessary to get the job done. When do I start? I can be on a plane tomorrow!"

Unfortunately, all too often, when the young executive is selected the mature executive might jump to the conclusion that it was all age discrimination, but make sure you did all you could in your interview so you may know for sure.

Attitude: Nothing beats enthusiasm. Don't talk about your grandchildren. Talk about mountaineering, or the marathon you ran, or the tennis tournament you entered, or the college courses you are taking, or the article you just wrote for your industry trade journal. Avoid age issues. For example, don't make the following statements: "I'm looking for one more challenge before I retire," or, "Back when I was your age," or, "I'm 57 years old, but a young 57," or, "You're probably looking for someone younger, but I know I can do the job." Rather than bringing up age issues, you should focus on the needs of the organization and how you can produce results.

Your Résumé: Don't be afraid to mention dates. The minute you leave them out, you have raised a red flag to the employer. The notion that you can fool them and get the interview just doesn't work. If employers want to discriminate based on age, they will. Your résumé should focus on bottom-line contributions and accomplishments. Don't rest on your laurels and try to rely on past accomplishments. Continually prove you are contemporary with the ability to produce results in today's marketplace and you will be a winner.

The job seeker who can demonstrate state-of-the-art expertise with energy, enthusiasm, and a zest for living will have many, many years of a productive career. Age discrimination should not be a factor.

The author of this article, Don Straits, is CEO Corporate Warriors and is an authority on contemporary job search strategies for senior-level executives. I don't know Don personally, but he's got some great articles on his website - if you'd like more on this topic.

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