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Written by Marlijn van der BokMarlijn van der Bok

How to apply for a job when you’re over 50 and avoid age discrimination

19 min read
How to apply for a job when you’re over 50 and avoid age discrimination
Artwork by:Natalia Savinova
Research shows that older job seekers often face age discrimination. What can you do to prevent ageist bias? And are there regulations to offer older employees a level playing field? We will also show you how to successfully apply as an over-50 and how to create a convincing resume.

Age is just a number

'Age is just a number.' A wonderful retort from a teenager who senses her parents’ disapproval when she tells them how many years older her new boyfriend is. Age doesn’t matter when you are in love. But people over 40 will agree that age on the labor market can play a greater role after each birthday. As an applicant, your age is a factor and certainly not 'just a number.'

Statistical insight

"A poll by resume.io shows that half of people over 40 have sensed that they experienced age discrimination during the application process. This was most often the case when applying by email or telephone at another company (54%), or during a job interview at another company (48%). They were less likely to suspect age discrimination during an internal job application or promotion (28%)."

Research by WerkLabs and The Mom Project found that 75% of 700 over-40s in their survey experienced being labelled 'old' when applying for a job at some point. The spectre of ageism occurs at all stages of the hiring process:

  • For example, 67% don’t feel welcome because of sentences with words such as 'starter’ ‘young team' or 'great dynamics'. These kinds of terms are thrown around in digital marketing (81%), advertising (84%) and finance (85%) in particular. Many surveys have shown that age requirements are regularly imposed on candidates, either directly or indirectly.
  • During the job interview, recruiters and employers tend to downplay extensive work experience but place a lot of emphasis on the importance of modern technology, even if respondents demonstrate that they are tech savvy.
  • After a job application, for example, respondents were rejected because of a lack of 'cultural fit'. According to Pam Cohen, lead author of the study, saying "you don't fit in the team" is a way to mask ageism.
Ageism is impacting older employees

Age discrimination is common. Without justification, as over the years various studies have shown that older employees perform the same or better than younger employees. People over 55 can use the same technologies as their colleagues between 18 and 35 years old. In addition, they are more stable in their performance and levels of absenteeism are lower.

Unfortunately, being good at your job does not prevent age discrimination. That is why postdoc researcher Jelle Lössbroek from Utrecht University advises a mixed selection committee. His research showed that managers who are over 50 themselves discriminate less on age than younger managers.

Like any form of discrimination, age discrimination in the UK is prohibited – the Equality Act of 2010 came into force in 2012 and contains some far reaching provisions. Many have won such age discrimination cases, yet it remains difficult to prove. So, if you are a professional over the age of 50, what can you do yourself to minimise the potential bias? Below we offer plenty of tips for applying after the age of 50.

Job searching over 50: do your homework

The above studies make it clear that as an older employee you usually have no advantage when applying for a job. To become the teacher’s pet, you will have to pay extra attention to your homework. Perfect preparation for the application process is even more important for people over 50.

And that application process already starts when you still have a job. Life is unpredictable. You don't always know long in advance that you need to look for another job. That is why it is wise to make certain preparations in case 'later' suddenly turns out to be 'today'.

Homework from your 40th birthday

  • If you don't have a LinkedIn profile, now is the time to create one. It increases your visibility, helps maintain your network, allows you to search for vacancies and often you can apply from your LinkedIn profile.
  • Maintain your network and work on increasing it. The larger your network, the greater the chance that an acquaintance can help you find a new job.
  • Continue to take courses, training and further education. This is useful in your current job, and you automatically create a resume that shows that you embrace the principle of lifelong learning.
  • In this vein: keep learning new skills. Employers find it especially important that your technological skills are up to date.
  • Say goodbye to your Hotmail account (or another outdated system) and get a modern email address, for example from Gmail.com or Outlook.com. An old-fashioned email address gives the impression that you are not keeping up with the times.

Homework from the moment you look for a new job

  • Haven't you started your homework from your 40th birthday yet? Then start today.
  • Tell your network that you are looking for a job and explain what kind of employer you have in mind. The more accurately (and enthusiastically) you can outline your ideal job, the easier it is for your network to find the needle in a haystack.
  • Set your LinkedIn profile to 'Open to Work' and respond thoughtfully to interesting posts to increase your visibility.
  • Collect references and recommendations. That looks good on your LinkedIn profile, can come in handy when applying for a job and it is a good opportunity to let your network know that you are looking for a new challenge.
  • Send a LinkedIn message to an interesting employer. Do not tell them what you have done, but rather what you can do, would like to do and what ideas you have for them.
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What can you do to prevent age discrimination?

If you are actively looking for a job, then naturally you do not want to be rejected because of your age. You can avoid age discrimination when you apply with a resume that does not show your age. Omit your date of birth, remove graduation dates, and do not mention your first few years of work experience. The last 15-20 or so years will be fine. In that case, age does not come into the equation.

Benefits of Leaving Out Your Age on Your Resume

  • Age contributes to a recruiter’s mental picture of you. They can only complete the puzzle if they invite you for a job interview. If you are a good fit for the vacancy, you will have aroused their curiosity and you have a better chance of being interviewed by their client.
  • If the age factor is missing, the recruiter has to look extra carefully at your work experience, education and skills to form an opinion. This can work to your advantage, especially in jobs where experience is important.

Disadvantages of Leaving Out Your Age on Your Resume

  • Not mentioning or providing insight into your age can also work to your disadvantage. The recruiter may estimate your age higher or put your resume on the no-pile anyway because they don't feel like playing guessing games.
  • If you are allowed to go for a job interview because your resume gives the impression that you are a young employee, then you will still lose the battle. The recruiter expects someone in their twenties and sees someone in their sixties walks through the door. That's one negative first impression you want to avoid.

As far as we are concerned, hiding your age is therefore not an ideal solution.

The best solution to fight age discrimination successfully

Be open about your age. Embrace your seniority and provide a convincing resume that shows that you are enthusiastic, energetic, eager to learn, involved and experienced.

The older employee's resume

If it's been a while since you last applied, your resume needs extra attention. With these tips, your resume will be completely up-to-date again and you will present yourself optimally:

  • Refresh job titles and adapt old-fashioned names to current positions. For example, a chief is nowadays called a team leader or manager and a vendor is called a sales manager or key account sales coordinator.
  • Mention your date of birth if you choose to, but stay away from statements about your age. Don't make comments like: “despite my respectable age, I'm still…” or “young at heart” or “active member of the senior team”.
  • Optimize your resume for the Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). With an ATS, HR employees track their applicants throughout the application process – from the receipt of the resume to the final hiring. The ATS searches resumes for keywords and qualifications entered by the employer. It then selects the resumes with the most hits. As a result, only a small selection of all resumes received actually land on the employer's desk. Therefore, use keywords in your resume that also appear in the vacancy text and choose a design and file format that is suitable for an ATS scan.
  • Pay extra attention to the personal profile on your resume. In it you show in a few sentences who you are as a person and where that matches with the vacancy and the organization. The personal profile is at the top of your resume and is well read by recruiters. You can enter information about your achievements, explain your ambitions and show that you are experienced and eager to learn.
  • Add hobbies and interests to your resume. You can show that you lead an active life. You can also demonstrate that you have certain skills and it gives the recruiter an insight into your personality.
  • In the work experience section, focus on the last 10-15 years, as previous work experience is less important. The employer wants to know what knowledge, experience and skills you have acquired recently and can bring to the table.
  • Add skills and personal qualities and align them with what the employer is looking for. Read the job description carefully to find out which skills are important to successfully perform the position.

Profiling yourself as over-50 in the job interview

Have you landed an invitation to a job interview with a compelling resume? Get ready for questions that are directly or indirectly related to your age. The employer may have some concerns and prejudices about your age. Make sure you can explain in detail why your extra years of experience are an advantage in the workplace. Remove prejudices about your eagerness to learn, salary requirements, software knowledge and work pace. Focus on:

Experience: With years of work experience in your locker, you have seen many office trends come and go. You know what works and what doesn't, you aren’t easily misled and work with a quiet confidence.

Involvement: You now have a picture of what kind of organization suits you and which tasks you do well. You are committed and like to work for a higher purpose.

Stability: There is a good chance that as a person over 50 you have a stable home situation, that the hectic pace of a young family is behind you and that you have more self-knowledge than twenty years ago. That makes you the stable presence in a young team.

Productivity: Plenty of work experience makes it easier for you to perform certain tasks and take on new tasks more easily. You have mastered the subject matter, have seen it all, and you know how to solve unforeseen problems. That boosts your productivity.

Loyalty: Where young employees like to have a job-hopping career, you are a loyal employee. You don't change jobs for the slightest reason, and you try to get the most out of your position, getting going when things get tough.

Broad employability: As a person over 50, you have usually held various jobs and positions. This means that you possess a lot of knowledge in different business processes. That is why you can help colleagues with their tasks when they are busy or intervene in the event of illness. In short, you are a great person to have around.

Regulations and assistance for older jobseekers

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulates the equality of employment for older workers in the United States

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) forbids discrimination against workers who are aged 40 and over, while the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) prohibits employers from denying benefits to older workers. Any employment decision or practice that is age related and not based on a reasonable factor other than age (RFOA) is potentially a cause for complaint.

A recent 2018 report by Victoria A. Lipnic, the chair of the EEOC shines a light on the current state of age discrimination in U.S. employment practices as the working population gets older.

The following fact sheet issued by the EEOC can also provide further information.

Working after retirement

More and more people continue to work well into their retirement period. They like to have a daily rhythm, structure in their days, to stay among people, to share their knowledge and to keep making themselves useful.

After reaching retirement age, this group often continues to work for the employer where they have been active for many years. In addition to their wages, they will also receive retirement benefits and any additional employee pension. It is also possible to postpone the payment of extra pension.

Are you of pensionable age and do you want to get back to work? Nowadays there are plenty of job boards especially for the elderly. For example:

Actively get started with your job hunt at 50-plus

You've been applying for a job for a while, but with no luck. Time to broaden your horizons and give your job hunt a boost in the right direction. It is important that you do not sit still, because employers mainly look at what you have done in the past three years. If you were unemployed during that period, that does not create a good impression. Therefore, make sure that you stay busy, for example with training, voluntary work or an internship. Our tips:

  • Do a course, training or education. Gaining new knowledge is always valuable. Check this site to see which courses suit which profession.
  • Not working in your current industry? Orient yourself towards a career switch in which you combine learning and working. There is a glaring shortage in healthcare, education, IT and technology. One or two years of remote study is often enough to start a new career path.
  • Consider an internship. During an internship you can show what your added value is and prejudices about your age disappear. You will not be the first to transform an internship into a permanent position. Search job boards for 'internship' and the name of your desired profession.
  • The same goes for volunteering. Perhaps you can put yourself in the spotlight as a valuable employee via this route. If not, at least it will look good on your resume.
  • Visit the open days of companies. Nowadays, this is also possible online, which makes it even more accessible to get a taste of the atmosphere at various employers.
  • Do you experience rejection after rejection? Then consider working as a freelancer. An ideal way to take charge yourself and work for customers who consciously choose your seniority and associated expertise.

And finally: Keep networking. Many senior positions are not listed on company websites but are instead shared only internally or through networking, so make sure your network knows you're looking for a job and profile yourself as a job seeker. Good luck!

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