By Dave Opton, CEO and Founder of Execunet, AARP member, exclusive for WWDS.
Ed. Note: Oops, sorry, I forget what I was going to say here.
If you are anything like me, while you always knew there were laws against age discrimination on an intellectual level, it wasn’t until you got out there in the real world looking to make a change at say 45+ that you came to internalize emotionally age discrimination was more than a phrase you read about from time to time but actually came with raw nerve endings. To understate the case, not a great feeling.
Given the make-up of our membership (average age 49 and nearly 70% with advanced degrees) we get lots of feedback and war stories from people facing this issue and they often ask me what my feelings are on the subject.
Maybe it’s my own age kicking in (for all intents and purposes 70) or just that in combination with the life experiences that have gone along with it, but what I usually tell them is that it seems to me there is a spectrum – on one end are people whose minds you will never change and on the on the other are those whose minds you don’t have to worry about changing. The rest of us tend to fall somewhere in-between which means to one degree or another, while we all have a bias, we are influence able.
My own “awakening” in this particular arena came when I was 48 and was in the process of trying to figure out what my next gig was going to be having found myself “out” as the result of being part of the acquired company.
While all this took place a couple of recessions ago (i.e. ’88) I was getting interviews. Still, it took me more than 6 months before it started to dawn on me that my age was an issue. I was speechless (which for anyone who knows me takes a lot). I had just finished running in the NYC marathon for Pete’s sake! What in the hell was going on here?
So now it is some 21 years later, and I while I am no longer speechless, I’m still pretty ticked off, and the passing years have not reduced the number of ExecuNet members we talk to all the time who suddenly realize the reality of such phrases as “over qualified” or “not more than 10-12 years experience.” They are pretty ticked off too and certainly the current ‘sellers’ market doesn’t make it any easier to take.
Our stats here at ExecuNet clearly show two things:
1. Age discrimination is alive and well, and
2. While it usually takes longer, (the 35 year old ends up getting about twice as many interviews as the 50 year olds) it is not insurmountable.
Once one starts to manage the anger and realize that the skill and experience you have acquired over time is simply not available by googling, taking pills or injections. The fact is you have a USP that is really worth a great deal. What you bring to the party is maturity, experience, and judgment that has been gained out there in the market place where they shoot with live ammunition.
Said differently, you aren’t going to get past someone’s age bias if you approach your search with an attitude that telegraphs, “I know I’m older, probably overqualified and would really rather be retiring than reinventing myself.” What does convince (at nearly any age), is projecting energy, commitment and genuine interest to go along with the fact that you come armed with information that makes it clear to the organization that the aspirin for their headache is sitting across the desk. [And BTW, an up-to-date shirt, good grooming and glasses from this century don’t hurt either.]
Bottom line as they say: It depends on how you want to spend your time and energy.
The fact is that you need to go to work somewhere and if you elect to go the suit route, aside from the time and expense, the “real world” probability is that no employer is going to be real excited about bringing you on board for fear that they would be next on your list, and in this day and age, finding out that you are involved in a legal battle would not take long.
Not an easy choice for sure, and it doesn’t help with the deep anger that one feels, but maybe what reality dictates as the best choice for you and your family.
Would that it were a perfect world.
Are any of you experiencing this problem? Has anyone found a way around this? And, am I the only person in the world that thinks this is BS? I’d really like to know what your experience is.