Age Discrimination And Job Search With A Buzz.

Recently, I’ve been asked on more than one occasion by job seekers over the age of 50 about age discrimination, and whether or not they have lost out on job opportunities because of their age. While I’m “golden” in years, and may have some bias regarding the matter they may be right.

The reality is that discrimination occurs in various forms in both conscious and unconscious manners.  Rather than debating the merits, perceptions, realities, and legal recourse of each situation, it seems practical to focus on why discrimination may happen.  Then we need to figure out how someone affected might handle it effectively.

Why does age discrimination occur in the workplace?   It’s simple.  They’re young and stupid. Sorry; well sort of.  Look, when perceptions are challenged, the people holding the perception become uncomfortable.  A younger hiring manager may feel uncomfortable managing or directing an older employee.  Our workplace culture holds that older people in general are not technically savvy or as physically and mentally agile as those who are younger. Further, older employees are more likely to drive organizational cost due to higher life, health, and other benefit plan premiums.  Our culture perceives the older worker having higher salary expectations, with less “career runway”, and has having the potential to abruptly retire.  So, how do we deal with this?

Flip the paradigm & drive your personal brand towards the following:

  • You are stable, mature, and consistent.  You have no real interest in becoming the next Global VP.  You desire an opportunity to provide that stabilizing foundation every organization requires.
  • Your experience will reduce your learning curve, and you will create a positive return on investment from “day one.”
  • You will not be distracted by day-care issues, divorces, teenagers, etc.  Your time and energy will be focused on this organization and supporting their initiatives.
  • You will provide to anyone who is interested historical industry perspective that may minimize organizational and strategic errors going forward.
  • You will bring several degrees from the school of reality & hard knocks as opposed to a recent MBA.  Your real-world practical knowledge will support theoretical principles.

Build the new paradigm into your search

Now that we have established the attitudinal foundation for the search, we need to maintain, and build upon it as we move forward with the resume, networking, interviewing, and compensation discussions that will inevitably happen.


  • Think “gross”, and write “net.” Your focus needs to be on those deliverables and achievements from your past that are relevant now and in the future, relative to the jobs you are seeking. No more than two pages; period.  No one is going to read, and nor do they really care much about what you accomplished prior to the year 2000.  Certainly not prior to 1995.  The average resume reader is looking at a resume for no more than 7-12 seconds. 
  • If you have held numerous jobs over the last 20 years include those that are relevant to the position you are seeking.  Don’t be overly concerned with “gaps” in employment in reverse chronological years 10-20 of your resume.  The reader probably won’t get that far, and you’ll have time to explain during the interview process.  Remember, the resume is not intended to secure the job, but rather the interview.
  • Don’t be afraid of the computer or social media.  You’ll need both.  Go to Teach An Old Dog New Tricks right here.  There are many like this in most areas.  Your resume will need to be emailed, and organizations like this can teach you how to do this, and sign up for sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Nearly 80% of the candidates coming through the outplacement company I work with had their first contact with the employer through social media.  In the early 1980’s I was astounded that a piece of paper would travel through a telephone line, and they called it a fax machine.  I still don’t understand how it works, but I plugged it in and it did.  Think of this as getting plugged in. It scared me too, but it really was that simple. Work with your kids, and grandchildren to learn it.  They will think it is so cool, and provide you with another way to connect.


  • This is where you should shine.  Your network is probably deeper than your youthful competition. You’ve been around longer, and know more people both personally and professionally.  Leverage both.  Do not let pride and ego get in the way of reaching out.  Simply say “I’m really serious about getting back into the workplace, and I would love to speak with you about it.”  Most want to help, and when they do its’ as simple as “I know I can provide a great value for someone with my experience and stability.  Would you please help me think of 3-4 people or companies that you think might have a need for someone such as my-self?”
  • The above is the off-line piece, and it will generate leads, but you also need to get involved with industry associations, the local Chamber of Commerce, and even volunteer your services. I’ve known quite a few that have landed full time jobs after providing consulting services to organizations on a pro-bono basis.
  • I know we covered this a bit already, but you really need to learn the basics of LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Facebook.


  • You will probably be interviewing in a panel type of setting; no less than two, and no more than four.  Don’t obsess about remembering names as you’re about to be able to shine again.  They’ll be looking for “how” of what you accomplished.  A potential question might be “Mary, tell us about a time when you had to achieve a individual goal that conflicted with a departmental goal.”  This is where your maturity and experience will elevate you above the competition.  You’ll be able to speak to how you took the time to assess the needs of the various stakeholders, and then how you were able to work collaboratively with then to ensure that the concerns of all were allayed, and that both the individual and departmental goal were achieved in tandem.
  • You will want to focus on the things we spoke of earlier in “Flipping the paradigm” earlier in this piece.
  • You will want to be energetic, and be sure you dress in a business appropriate fashion.

Stay disciplined, and focused.  Much of this is a numbers game, and you must not allow yourself to become discouraged.  You’ve added value and been a contributing member of this society for decades.  What has changed is the manner in how that value is communicated to prospective employers.  Once you learn a few “tricks of the trade” regarding the value proposition, you’ll be fine.  You did not get this far by sitting on the sidelines, and not helping the employers you worked for generate value for their customers.  Do not allow yourself to go to the sidelines now.

Buzz Smith is SR Curmudgeon & VP Consulting Services OPI National Outplacement.  OPI National Outplacement and Career Transition Services Located in Knoxville, Tennessee.  865.531.9154.


About Buzz Smith

Welcome. My name is Charles “Buzz” Smith and I’m the SR Curmudgeon of Consulting Services at OPI National Outplacement. My role, in addition to agitating our sales personnel, and consultants is to take the lead on delivering outplacement and career transition services that are effective. I blog about career stuff when my wife of 40 years, Linda banishes to the garden.

Posted on June 7, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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