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Does Age Matter When Looking for Jobs? Most Boomers Say Yes

Survey finds the oldest and youngest workers share concerns about bias

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Many older adults are worried that age discrimination will hurt their chances of getting hired, according to a new survey, from the American Staffing Association (ASA).

More than 3 out of 4 boomers — 78 percent — said they thought their age would be a contributing factor when being considered for a new position, according to the ASA Workforce Monitor survey. The ASA is a membership organization for agencies that help businesses with recruiting and hiring workers.

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Boomers, who range in age from 60 to 78, show significantly greater concern about bias than do younger generations such as Gen X (51 percent) and millennials (39 percent). After boomers, the age group most worried about age bias is Gen Z, who range from 18 to 27 years old. Among that group, 55 percent of respondents said their age would be a factor when being looked at for a new job.

The online survey of 2,094 people ages 18 and older was conducted from Jan. 5–9, 2024, by the Harris Poll. The survey reinforces concerns that age bias limits jobs opportunities for older adults despite federal, state and local laws protecting people age 40 and older from discrimination in employment.

“Discrimination based on age is illegal and cannot be tolerated, but rooting out persistent and growing ageism requires much more than stepped-up legal enforcement,” says Richard Wahlquist, chief executive officer at ASA. 

“Policymakers and HR leaders need to work together to correct and overcome the misconceptions, stereotypes and biases — conscious and unconscious — of the past,” he says. “Mature workers have the knowledge as well as the workplace skills accumulated over a lifetime that America needs today and will need even more in the future.” 

Age discrimination in hiring also can cause older workers to stick with the jobs they have rather than pursue new opportunities that could lead to more money or career growth. In the ASA survey, only 24 percent of boomers said they planned to look for a new job this year. Other generations were much more likely to be on the hunt, with 69 percent of Gen Z, 50 percent of millennials and 37 percent of Gen X eyeing a job switch.

Tips to beat age discrimination in your job search

While age discrimination can hurt the job and career prospects of older adults, there are steps they can take to improve their chances of landing a new position. Wahlquist offers the following tips to older job seekers: 

Skip dates on résumé. “The biggest single challenge facing older workers looking for a job is not being given a chance to be interviewed because of their age,” he says. “Eliminating dates from a résumé will put the focus on skills, accomplishments and experience instead of graduation years and decades worked.”

Highlight new skills and achievements. “Résumés should highlight the technology and software applications that the individual has learned and used successfully,” Wahlquist says. “Whether it’s a LinkedIn badge or industry certification, provide examples of how you’ve kept yourself current with industry trends. This helps to overcome ageism biases and emphasize a commitment to lifelong learning.” 

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Audit your social media accounts. Take care that everything you’ve posted or shared is something you “are comfortable with a hiring manager seeing,” Wahlquist recommends.

Make lists to sharpen focus. “When preparing for an interview, older workers should make a list of the life experiences, skill sets and successes they’re bringing to the table,” he says. “Memorize that list so that during the interview you can focus on telling the story of your career journey so far, what you are bringing to the table and what you hope to gain from a new role. 

Emphasize skills. “Most importantly, focus on skills, including what used to be called ‘soft skills,’  ” Wahlquist says.

“Employers today are doing skills-based hiring, and they are looking for employees with competencies that are now being considered to be ‘essential’ or ‘power’ skills,” he says. “Essential skills include emotional intelligence, collaboration, critical thinking, leadership, creative problem-solving, flexibility, resilience, time management and, of course, communication skills — all things that you’ve developed and honed over your years in the workforce.

“Here is where older workers have an edge,” he adds. “Play that card to your advantage, knowing that your personal skills are at the top of the list of what most employers are looking for today.”

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