Job Search: Does Age Matter? Welcome to the Job Market Rip Van Winkle!

 In Career Tips

A lot of my friends are in job search mode right now. A lot of them. We’re all educated, experienced professionals in mid career – each of us caught up in the economic tsunami that hit us sideways andJob Search: Does Age Matter left us reeling.

Invariably, when we discuss how the job search thing is going, the subject of ageism comes up, and the conversation always goes something like this:

“I made it through 2 phone screens and finally got an interview. But I wish you could have seen the face of the HR manager when she shook my hand. She looked like she’d seen a ghost, and I could tell she was expecting someone much younger; honestly she looked at me like I was Rip Van Winkle!”

Now, call me Pollyannaish, but I’ve always held the belief that in matters of career, what’s important is experience, performance, skills and management acumen. It’s never occurred to me that I could be knocked out of the running for a job for which I am qualified because I am 51 years old. I don’t make a big deal about my age, I don’t post 15 year old photos in LinkedIn, I’m not trying to hide anything – but maybe I should.

Last week Andrew Wood, writing for Talent Zoo, posted a seemingly innocuous little piece called  Eight Universal Qualities of Great Employees. I suggest you go and read it now…and if you have any doubt about what a hot button the topic of ageism is, be sure to read the comment firestorm that Andrew’s piece ignited. Here’s an excerpt:

All things being equal, throughout my business career I have found the most productive employees are usually people in their late twenties to early thirties. By 28 or so, most people are partied out and looking for a career, and people of this age are far more likely to take direction than older employees.

There are, of course, a ton of great people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond… but they have kids, spouses, pets, aging parents, prejudices, and physical ailments that 28–35 year olds simply don’t have. They are also seldom willing to work all the hours God gave—including weekends and holidays—to get a start-up going.

You get the idea.

Matthew Rothenberger seemed to take a similar tact writing for BNET last year. According to Rothenberg,

A study conducted by David DeLong & Associates for the MetLife Mature Market Institute on the new realities of the job market for aging Baby Boomers found that most older respondents felt financial pressure to continue working into their 60s, and many of these older workers said they’re delaying retirement longer than they’d planned two years ago. The reason? Sixty-seven percent said they needed to rebuild their financial resources for retirement, while only 15 percent responded it was because they ‘enjoyed working.’

As a result, the study suggests, employers are concerned they may hire employees who are less passionate about their work than their younger counterparts.

And that would be because younger people who didn’t lose their retirement saving in the last two years don’t care about financial remuneration and would work just for the ‘love of it’, right? It just doesn’t make any sense.

It seems to me that this conversation about age discrimination in job search is very much like conversations about race in this country. No one wants to admit to his or her pre-existing concepts of what “other” looks like. We can site statistics about the cost of healthcare, and family leave. We can talk about technology acumen across the generations. But in the end it all boils down to one thing: One size does not fit all.

As for me, I am a runner. I can kick the butts, (aerobically speaking) of many joystick-pushing 26 year olds. I’ve never been hospitalized for anything, and I never take the flu shot because I never get sick. I regularly work 60-hour weeks (including many weekends), run several social networks, have taught myself HTML and Photoshop and religiously expand my professional knowledge by taking courses and online webinars. This is the face of over-the-hill.

The irony shouldn’t escape us. The generation that cried “Never trust anyone over 30” has truly made manifest its credo – with the worst possible outcome.

The important question is, what is the cost to our economy, indeed, to our society, when the best-qualified workers are idled simply because they posses more experience? What was (is) the social cost of keeping African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities, women and the disabled out of the work force? Sooner or later, we are going to have to come to terms with this ugly piece of the American heritage.

Methinks it isn’t Rip Van Winkle who needs to wake up this time.


Do you believe you have been subject to ageism in your job search? If you’re a recruiter, what are your practices and beliefs about hiring over 40?


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