Even though you put lots of effort into figuring out how to show potential employers you’re the best candidate for the job, there may be one key factor that you’ve been overlooking. While your many years of professional experience arm you with valuable skills, to some employers your long work history might just signal that you’re old. And despite laws that prohibit age discrimination in employment, being older often can be a barrier to getting hired.
For example, in one experiment conducted for the National Bureau of Economic Research, more than 40,000 résumés were sent to employers who were hiring. For each job opening, hiring managers received résumés from candidates in three age groups, based on the work history each resume showed. Despite all groups having similar skills, applicants in the youngest group (ages 29 to 31) received many more requests for interviews than those in the oldest group (64 to 66). The youngest group also generally received more callbacks than people in the 49–51 age range except for janitorial positions.
Statistics like these can be frustrating. Your age is not something you can change. There are, however, ways to approach your job search that may lessen the impact that age bias has on your chances of being hired. Here are four ways to age-proof your job search.
Your network is your secret weapon
One way that previous work experience may help you is through the contacts you have made with people in your industry. Because they have personal knowledge of your skills and achievements, they can recommend positions and employers that would be a great fit for you. And, just as important, they can be your key to the hidden job market — roles that get filled without ever being advertised.
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There are many ways to build and use your network successfully. LinkedIn and other social media sites can be an efficient way to reach out to former colleagues. Keep in mind that your younger co-workers may also have valuable advice about strategies for finding jobs today. You can find more tips about how to network successfully by clicking on this article.
Make sure your résumé fits the newer formats
You likely already know not to include your college or high school graduation dates on your CV because that information effectively tells employers your age. But there are some less obvious age-related details you may not know to remove from your résumé.
As younger workers enter the job market and employers try to home in on applicants with the best skills for the position, résumé formats are constantly shifting in small ways that can make a big difference in who gets an interview. For example, if your résumé still includes your street address or an objective statement, those details may give hiring managers clues that you are an older applicant. Even your email address can potentially reveal your age. When hiring managers see an AOL or Yahoo address, they may assume you’re older and opt for an applicant whose .edu account suggests they’re a recent college graduate.
Get ready for age-related interview questions
According to an AARP survey, in 2020, 41 percent of older job seekers said they were asked (either on an application or in an interview) to provide their birth date, graduation date or other age-related information. For older applicants who are worried that their age may prevent them from getting hired, questions like these can make an interview even more tense.
For instance, what should you say when asked a question like, “Are you sure you don’t have too much experience for this job?” You don’t want to downplay your skills, but boasting about your experience too much may cause the hiring manager to choose a younger, less experienced candidate. Career coaches suggest saying, for example, that the new position would enable you to use the skills you developed earlier in your career in new ways that could help the company.
For more guidance on how to get ready for tough interview questions, read this article or take this quiz.
Show you can follow up effectively
For older applicants, it can be particularly important to demonstrate to the hiring manager that you are genuinely interested in the role. One way to do that is to send a thank-you note or follow-up email after the interview. An October 2020 survey by TopResume found that more than two-thirds (68 percent) of hiring managers agree that it's more important for candidates to send thank-you notes or emails now than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Your messages — which you should send to each person you interviewed with at the company — don’t have to be long. A few details about what you appreciated in the discussions you had, along with a few relevant insights about how your skills can fit what the employer is looking for, could help convince the hiring manager that you are the best choice. For more advice on how to follow up after an interview, read this article.
Kenneth Terrell covers employment, age discrimination, work and jobs, careers and the federal government for AARP. He previously worked for the Education Writers Association and U.S. News & World Report, where he reported on government and politics, business, education, science and technology, and lifestyle news.