Does age discrimination exist in the job market? Absolutely! But it’s not always that simple. It’s possible that if you’re over 50 and having a difficult job search, the reason could be beyond age discrimination. It will serve you well to recognize it, sort it out and resolve it!
Real or perceived?
Yes, age discrimination exists. But as I’ve experienced with many of my over-age-50 clients, many are quick to point the finger of blame at age discrimination, when it might be something else.
- Money. It’s common that those who are older also earn more. But I don’t believe that salary discrimination and age discrimination are the same thing, although they’re typically linked together. Why? Power. If salary seems to be an obstacle in finding employment, you as the job seeker can change the salary you ask for. No, it’s not simple. But it’s more possible than changing your age. In fact, it’s achievable. It may mean selling why less is okay to an employer. It may mean actually putting your time in and stepping back a bit if you choose to do something different. But everything’s negotiable to some extent.
- Entitlement. Some folks over 50 seem to feel they’ve paid their dues. John did. He also felt that his record of employer loyalty and longevity should speak for itself. He admitted he initially felt it would be his ticket. That sending the resume and interviewing were just formalities. John’s attitude was unrealistic in today’s economy. Broader than that, it’s not realistic in today’s technology-driven, competitive global job market. After coaching around his situation, John realized his skills were a bit outdated. His past was not enough. But here’s the interesting part. I also work with lots of 20-something clients. And all ages in between. These folks feel it’s been an unusually challenging market too. They’re under qualified. They have the catch-22 of need experience to get experience. There are as many unique situations as there are unique individuals.
- Job. Bart, at age 57, was chalking up his job search frustrations to age discrimination. With a bit of digging and brainstorming, he realized that was not the case. It was more complex than that. He and his family had decided to move from the West Coast to the Midwest where they were from. Bart had an 18-year career in the semiconductor industry. His industry was very niche; so were his skill sets. His future city and state did not house one business of this kind. And of course, he had the issue of a long-distance search. Once he realized the challenges, he figured out ways to address them. He networked in the new area. He took some classes to take his strong skills into another related industry represented by a number of corporations in his new destination.
So, for many of those people over age 50, the problem is perceived discrimination. It’s the despondency of not seeing encouraging feedback in the market and throwing in the mental towel too quickly. The job search has been challenging for most people – not just those over 50. There are also many success stories for those over 50 and every other age in the workforce.
Don’t hit the cow
I heard this story back in school, and I think it applies here. Emma was an American living in New Delhi, India where her husband, also an American, was employed. Emma was determined to carry on her free-spirited ways. The first thing, she decided, was to get used to driving in the huge city. She was driving fast to keep pace, yet unfamiliar with where she was going. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a man standing at the side of the road. He yelled out, “COW!” A big-boned woman, Emma thought he was referring to her. She glared at him, yelled out something I won’t print, and sped ahead. Hitting a cow, sacred to many Indians.
The point here is that Emma was so caught up in her own world and preconceived ideas, that she immediately made an incorrect assumption and missed the more important message. How many times do you or someone you know, who is over 50, approach the job-search process with misleading beliefs?
If you’re feeling frustrated in your job search and pinning it on age, ask yourself what you would do if you were 40 instead of 50? 30 instead of 40? Do those things. Forget about your age and try to tackle the other issues, including – and this is key – your own discouragement and self-defeating thoughts. Your career path may have 15 more years, or maybe not. But don’t let your perceptions about your age undermine your enthusiasm to achieve your career goals. Yes, you may need to negotiate. You may need to compromise. You may need to strategize. But the important thing is, you can position yourself as a success and move forward.