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4 ways to fight ageism in your job search

Career coach Jill D. Griffin says that while DEI initiatives should address ageism in the workplace, there are a few ways experienced employees can take matters into their own hands.

4 ways to fight ageism in your job search
[Photo: Three Spots/Getty Images]

“Hi Jill!” the interviewer said in a chirpy voice while typing on her laptop. As she looked up, her expression shifted to a slightly displeased frown. “Thanks for coming in today,” she added, in a newly-dejected tone.

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I was at an interview for a marketing position that I believed I was the perfect fit for. Someone high up in the company tipped me off and sent through my resume on my behalf. But less than three minutes into the interview, the interviewer briefly looked up from her computer before saying: “So I think I have everything I need from your resume. Do you have any questions for me?” 

Her eyes didn’t meet mine when she said this. “What am I missing?” I wondered. I asked about the responsibilities and scope of the opportunity. Her responses were brief and she didn’t ask me a single question.

The first time this happened I passed it off as the interviewer being busy or distracted. But then it happened again… and again. When I brought it up with colleagues who were also over 40, they confirmed that I wasn’t imagining things. We were persona non grata. 

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In a recent report by Generation, the organization surveyed 3,800 employed and unemployed people, as well as 1,404 hiring managers across seven countries. Their findings reveal a consistent pattern of bias against workers aged 45 and older—across geographies.

So does this mean that anyone over the age of 45 doesn’t stand a chance of advancing their careers or landing an opportunity? While DEI initiatives should address ageism in the workplace, there are a few ways experienced employees can take matters into their own hands.

Create a personal board of directors

The motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Building and nurturing professional relationships can make or break your professional success.

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I recommend creating a personal “board of directors” (BOD). Your BOD should be people you view as mentors or advisors who can share their knowledge, experience, or be a strategic sparring partner.  

To find your BOD, I suggest identifying all of the character traits that you want around you. Next, identify a diverse range of seven to eight people in your orbit who fulfill the criteria. These are the people you can rely on for valuable insight and diverse feedback. 

Capitalize on networking

I recommend creating a “networking resume” that links your objective to a compelling career narrative to give out at networking events. It should have an objective, detail the prospective roles you are a fit for and how your career history translates into these roles, list the type of companies you want to work for, and include a clear call to action (such as “I would be appreciative if you could share this with any connections in X companies.”)

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Another great habit is strategically thinking about manageable weekly networking goals. I keep things in a simple 3-2-1 format (for instance: outreach to three people, have two questions ready, and manage it one week at a time). Not only will you benefit from these relationships but it will also enhance your knowledgeability about the workforce and give you excellent fodder to discuss in interviews. 

Create the resume for the role you want

The Application Tracking Software (ATS) is often the first barrier to entry since this AI software weeds out resumes before they reach human eyes. For this reason, it’s important that your resume is crafted for the exact position you are applying for. 

Here are a few ways you can do this:

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  • Make your title specific

For example, if your title is product director, it can help to define your experience further by adding that you are actually product director of Consumer Banking and Credit Cards. You can also adjust your title depending on the role you are applying for if you have the relevant experience and skills.

  • Do keyword research on Google and LinkedIn

What words are included in the job listing? Include these words in your resume. Does the skill section of your LinkedIn profile match the job description? LinkedIn allows for 10 “skills” and you can customize the “skills” on your profile to match the job description. 

  • Demonstrate the unique value you have to offer

Rather than simply listing your career history, your resume should showcase you as a “leader” and not just a “doer” (especially if you are applying for a leadership role). This could include demonstrating how you have faced strategic challenges or any notable leadership obstacles you’ve led your team through.

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Continuously refine your skills

A common myth about experienced employees is that your skills are outdated. And so, you have to be exceptionally intentional about demonstrating that you have the up-to-date skills desired for your industry.

A few ways to do this include completing online courses through platforms like Grow with Google or LinkedIn Learning. The benefit here is two-fold. First, you can list these courses in your resume and LinkedIn Profile. And second, they offer great networking opportunities. Another way you can refine your skills is to propose a trade exchange (for example, you could offer executive consulting or mentorship in exchange for technical support).

While dealing with ageism in the workplace is humiliating and frustrating, it’s important to remember that you are bringing wisdom and experience to an organization. As Brene Brown would say: “Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Stand your sacred ground.” Developing a strategy to face these barriers will enhance your confidence and provide you with a powerful action plan. 

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Jill D. Griffin is a career strategist who’s spent 20+ building strategy and strengths-based cultures for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and Samsung. She’s the host of The Career Refresh podcast.


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