Ageism: Does it exist even when you're the best candidate for the job?

interview job search Nov 01, 2018

Without a doubt, there are organizations that appear to foster and nurture a youthful, millennial-filled environment. However, there are also many who welcome the diversity, experience, wisdom, and, dare I say, a vitality that is offered by professionals who have 20+ years of experience under their belt. 

I was retained by a fast-growing, global start-up to hire a Director of Professional Services for a newly formed team. They wanted a young, dynamic, high-energy candidate to build and lead the team. I asked what age they considered 'young' and why they felt someone more mature may not be a fit? 

After discussing further, we agreed that what was needed was a candidate who demonstrated stamina and youthful energy.

I presented and screened a slate of qualified candidates that had an approximate age range, if I had to guess, of mid-thirties to late fifties.

Can you guess the profile of the candidate they chose to hire? A dynamic, high-energy, seasoned (and white-haired!) professional that was in the late fifties age range. 

Another circumstance involved a $1BN non-profit that was looking for a new CEO/Executive Director. The company was 98% male-dominated and the prior leadership team and board was 100% male. 

Again, I presented a slate of qualified candidates. 

They chose a woman (who was in the early to mid-fifty age range, I would guess) to lead their organization. 

As a career coach, I work with many professionals (men and women) who feel they are being aged out of the work environment. However, after digging deeper into their challenges, I find that age is often not the key issue or obstacle stopping them from landing their next job. Rather, these professionals' core challenges are due to:

  • an inability to articulate their experience & the professional value (via their resume, LinkedIn profile, and during the in-person interviews) so it aligns clearly with the position of interest and the prospective employer
  • a tendency to apply for positions of which they are not qualified
  • a pattern of underutilizing (or under developing) their networks 
  • changes in the job requirements and qualifications of the role and the individual hasn't stayed up to date with new developments in their field

The good news is all of the above challenges are ones that I have helped professionals solve and successfully work through, so they land interviews and get hired!

Based on my experience as a recruiter and career coach, you will not experience ageism, if you continue to: a.) excel in your areas of expertise, b.) stay relevant, c.) demonstrate passion & energy, d.) remain visible amongst your peers and industry leaders, and e.) embrace change and constant learning. Rather, you will have exciting job opportunities available to you or have your dream job presented directly to you via your LinkedIn profile, even though you weren't looking (as was the case in the above-mentioned story)!

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