Rundles Wrap-Up: Overcoming Age in the Job Market

Are your age and experience deterring you from getting a job?

I am, as they say, “of a certain age.”  Yes, I am taking advantage of Medicare, and I am happy to take the senior discounts on public transportation, at restaurants, museum and movie tickets, travel and a host of other “benefits.” I put “benefits” in quotes because, frankly – and just like about everyone else I know near my age – I would rather be in my 30s than my 60s, but I just haven’t yet come across a time machine or the fountain of youth.

In reality, I don’t feel old. Indeed, physically and mentally I don’t feel any different than I did 25 years ago, and in many ways I actually feel more up for the tasks at hand than I did back then. It’s called experience. I have a wealth of it, and I can and do often draw on it in productive ways, insightful ways, that no 30- or 40-year-old can.

Not that it matters. A few years ago, having found myself in the job market once again, I sent out many resumes and actually got a few interviews, but I could tell from the conversations I had that my age – and my experience – were negative factors. The actual length of my resume, which in my younger years had been a positive, led it straight to the trash can because, I believe, it revealed my age.

One of my 30-something children, reviewing my resume and making suggestions, recommended I take out the markers of age, such as the year I graduated from college, and the years I worked at such and such jobs, but with a career spanning 40-something years, it’s difficult to disguise the length of one’s path. I recall two fairly recent and promising job interviews I went on, and I could see in the face of the interviewer that the (older) face of the interviewee (me) was a deal killer the moment I reached out to shake hands.

This is, of course, illegal age discrimination under a variety of federal and state laws, but that and $3.50 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. It makes me think of all the women and minorities I have known over the years who could sense – who knew! – that their gender and/or race aced them out of an opportunity, protection under the law be damned. As women and people of color have known for decades – and I have personally discovered since my hair has taken on a whiter shade – you can legislate and even litigate, but you can’t eliminate innate bias.

There’s a new survey out by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research that tends to support the obvious: Older workers or would-be workers believe they are/could be an asset to a company – and to the economy at large – and younger workers tend to think of older workers as less effective and less productive.  And rolled up in that is simply a turf war where younger workers, particularly those of the now middle-aged Gen X, think we aging baby boomers stand in the way of promotions and higher pay. In 20 years, of course, they’ll feel differently and butt heads with the millennials. Every generation, I suppose, thinks it’s God’s gift to society; we boomers sure did. So I guess those younger folks can argue it is not age discrimination but self-preservation, a very old concept.

But it still stings. I am reminded of one of my favorite movie lines, from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”: After a tough day fighting Nazis, Indiana Jones is sore and comforted by Marion. She says, “You’re not the man I knew 10 years ago,” to which he replies, “It’s not the years, honey; it’s the mileage.”

Yeah, I’ve got some mileage on me; I get that. But I know the roads, and I remember firsthand who built them and how they were developed. As a young business journalist, I used to seek out the older people for interviews because I knew they had wisdom and perspective, and in many cases, I knew they knew where the skeletons were buried. It helped a lot, and I have institutional knowledge stretching back generations.

These days, that and $3.50 will get me a cup of coffee at Starbucks. 

Categories: Human Resources, Magazine Articles