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How 40-plus tech job seekers can prevent age discrimination

CHICAGO – If you're on the Midwest technology job market today, you’ve learned something about writing resumes and cover letters. You've also learned something about interviewing, thank-you letters and follow-up calls to recruiters and hiring managers.

If you’re an older job seeker, though, you may have run into an obstacle that frustrates every attempt to surmount your search: your age. Wait. Isn't age discrimination illegal? You betcha. Does it still happen? Well, are Cub fans unlucky? Yes. Age discrimination happens.

Since the tech downturn started, the regulatory agencies (the EEOC is the federal one and each U.S. state has its own department of human rights) have seen an uptick in age-discrimination claims. Following are some thoughts on how to deal with age discrimination if and when you run into it.
First off, know the law. Age discrimination applies to people older than 40 and up to any age. While you can be a victim of age discrimination if you are 40 years and three days old, typically it's older (mid-40s and up) job seekers and employees who are affected.

Companies that tend to shy away from older job candidates on the half-baked theories that younger people have more energy, younger people adapt to change better or older workers will just be trained when they're ready to retire are the ones most at risk for severe age discrimination problems.

If you're a CEO and you look around your workplace and see nothing but Abercrombie & Fitch shoppers, you may have a problem.
Technology has gone through industry-shaking downturns in the past and older workers always seem to get the short end of the stick. One of the problems is that many technology workers were really experienced in one thing that became obsolete (like COBOL programming). It's expensive to retrain people and companies don't want to do it.

Companies also don't want to pay for skills and experience that they feel won't translate to their situation. Therefore, they pass over older job seekers in favor of young, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed whippersnappers and stand an excellent chance of both violating the law and overlooking some wonderful talent.

If you’re an older job seeker, here are a few steps to take to reduce your chances of being rejected based on your age.

First off, take a look at your resume. Most employers are primarily interested in your experience during the last 10 years or so particularly if earlier jobs aren’t hugely relevant (the technology is ancient history) or repeat what you've done more recently.

Don't include the year of graduation from college if you don't want to. You aren’t required to provide that information. You do need (not legally, but employers want it) your dates of employment, so do include the past 10 years and then add "additional experience in hardware sales; details upon request" at the bottom.

Make sure your cover letter is punchy and contemporary in feel (I mean, don't go overboard: ask a 30-year-old friend to look at it for you) by dropping out old-school language like "pursuant to your advertisement for a regional telecommunications director" or "dear sir or madam”. "Dear hiring executive" is great to use if you can't locate a real person's name.

Next, think, think and think again about what you’re selling: you. Lots of job seekers my age and older than me are still in the mindset that your experience should speak for itself. In other words, I did this, I did that and I did this again. That doesn't impress employers any more.

They want to know what kind of a difference you made for the company. They want to know how your years of experience will translate to their needs right now. They want to know that if you get the job you will jump in and start solving problems.

Let's face it. In a lot of Midwest technology companies (I'm thinking AT&T and a host of others), moving fast and knocking down barriers was not part of the corporate culture. You did what you were told and that was that. In 2004, that’s out. You need to have results all the time and you need to think on your feet.

When a project gets out the door (hopefully on time), a new one is waiting to start with barely time to catch your breath.

One thing the Internet boom gave us is the tendency of larger and larger companies to behave like Internet start-ups: move fast, focus on the competition and fix mistakes later. While this might not be Six Sigma, it's the way of the world. Adjust your cover letter, your resume and your interview persona to match that reality.

Think of concrete examples of times when you overcame an obstacle, made a save and had a breakthrough solution. Talk about how you deal with change. Work these things into the conversation before they're asked. Overcome any 22-year-old sense that the people your age can't hustle.

While you don't have to grovel by throwing pop-culture references into the conversation, do be aware that people feel more comfortable with people they can relate to. Unless it's really critical, don't mention that you were present at Ike's inauguration. It won't help you.

Also, consider your interview attire. Dress like a 30s-and-up businessperson rather than like a kid. Don't go the other way, either. I love men in hats (I wish more men wore them) but don't wear a hat to your interview. Don't wear a Perry Como cardigan sweater in order to be casual. Don't wear 1970s huge-frame eyeglasses.

A store called See Eyewear in Lincoln Park (also at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Ill.) has totally modern glasses for less than almost anywhere. Note that I am not in any way justifying any form of age discrimination (which is not only illegal but morally hideous and bad for business). I'm just trying to help you navigate the tricky, real-life waters in which you may well find yourself swimming.

Last point: think about what those years have given you. With any luck, those gifts include some wisdom, business acumen and an ability to stay cool in thorny situations. Use all of this. There are worse things than being hired into a place where people look to you to guide them through rough seas.

This can be part of your interview persona, too. Exude calm, maturity and a wry sense of humor. These are more attractive qualities than the sense of a person making a desperate attempt to fit in.

Look at me: a mother of multiple small children in the tech industry, which is one of the most male and kid-unfriendly environments outside the Riyadh Squash and Racquetball Club. You'll be fine. Just be sure not to refer to his honor as "the young Daley”. Have you seen him lately?

Liz Ryan is the founder of ChicWIT (Chicago Women in Technology) and founder of WorldWIT (World Women in Technology). She can be e-mailed at Her column Nine2Five, which appears on ePrairie every Friday, is designed to keep you up to date with career trends and advice related to working and managing organizations in the post-bubble technology world. This article has been syndicated on the Wisconsin Technology Network courtesy of ePrairie, a user-driven business and technology news community distributed via the Web, the wireless Web and free daily e-mail newsletters.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.


Jacqueline Homan responded 10 years ago: #1

This is all fine and well. It adressed the resume which hides age. However, in the face 2 face interview when you are sitting in front of a young recruiter or HR person in their 20's, those of us who can't afford plastic surgery, liposuction, etc in order to "look good" and look like a good fit in the corporate culture are SOL. Why? The simple fact that young execs don't want to hire someone who looks like they are in the same age bracket as their parents. I had a stellar resume, and applied for an entry level college grad job as an older lady who went back to college after being out of the workforce for 10 years. Now it is 14 years, because nobody wanted to give me a chance - they wanted the 23 year old grads with no experience. As a result of enduring a long, fruitless job search where I got passed over in favor of kids for jobs paying $20K/yr + health benefits, my family has been reduced to welfare dependency and poverty, defaulted student loans after my last allowable deferrment was used up, which adds just one more thing against me in addition to age for getting a chance for a decent career: bad credit. Employers check credit, too. Had I not been unjustly denied and equal chance at a local employer for an entry level job that paid a livable wage due to age bias, my student loans would not be in default, my husband and I would not be very poor, relying on welfare, facing foreclosure with nowhere to go and all my hopes, dreams and aspirations crushed.

Jacqueline Homan responded 10 years ago: #2

I wish to add that it was not merely one employer who denied me an equal chance for a job for which I was qualified (unless the qualifications include looking like Brittany Spears). It was over 4000 employers during my long, fruitless job search. I even tried self-employment but having no money, start-up capital or any way to get any financing because being very low-income, I could not go that route, either.

Stephanie responded 9 years ago: #3

I too, have had a bad time trying to find a living wage job after graduating from college in May. I am 39 years old and I graduated in May of 2005 after being a stay at home mother since 1984. I have worked the odd job here and there for pocket money but nothing serious. I worked part time during college to pay for extras, but again, nothing serious. I joined clubs in college, became the president of two, very active member of a third. I did everything right. I had great grades, was active in the school, networked with people as I was told to. It didn't work. I still do not have a job. I have had a few temp hourly wage jobs that don't even pay 1/2 my very basic living expenses but that is all. It is very distressing and I am also afraid I will default on my loans since they won't even give me a deferment!

I suggest young people who are reading this, especially young women, go to college young, graduate young, and work young.

Of course that did not work for one of my good friends. She had a really great job, a Masters degree in Computer Science, and was laid off a year ago, then her husband left her. She's 42 years old.

Hopefully people will start to realize that people close to or at 40 are great assets and personally I am willing to work for a lessor wage than I deserve as long as it is a living wage.

Malcolm Davidson responded 9 years ago: #4

I echo the sentiments of your bloggers: I have been looking for work for nearly a year without success. I have a Master's Degree in Computer Science, am an EE and have mastered the latest web based technologies during the past 2 years. It is soul destroying to be deemed useless in my mid 50's. I am creative, hard working and very intelligent. What values do the business community have to cast aside myself and others who can make a contribution.

It does not bode well for the future. Do we not appreciate and value the Wisdom of our Elders.

.."A scented orb was lost amidst the dash
And headlong rush towards tomorrow"...

from Autumn by Malcolm F. Davidson January 2006

J. Ella responded 8 years ago: #5

Having recently closed my small business (one that I opened because of the difficulties of finding work after I turned 30) I searched for a job in my field, design, and found a younger workforce. Although my pre-30's work experience puts me ahead in some ways, I feel a little uncomfortable at the competition involved with today's younger professionals.

My wife also works, and I'm still trying to land yet another design job before trying to reopen my small business, a business that, without my wife's work couldn't honestly suport both of us.

Because I am from California, married and over 40, I find some current work situations extraordinarily stressful, personally, so I seek solace in California-based work therapy groups, if I can locate them, that offer work placement options, or online chat groups that offer design-based chats for older unemployed workers...I hope that this post helps...

KJP responded 8 years ago: #6

Within our work force today, the ability for someone to become employed over the age of 40, is getting pretty bad. In the U.S. today, employers want everyone to speak both Spanish and English. They want someone who is young because, it allows the corporations to take advantage of their young employees who are too immature to know when the corporations are goosing them.

They say that the Patriot Act was to help protect America. BS! It was created to give businesses an edge up on consumers, take a look at the bankruptcy reforms. Folks we have lost many of our rights since President Bush first took office. Within our workforce today, the ability for someone to become employed over the age of 40 is getting pretty bad. If the Patriot Act had to use credit scores to get new recruits in for the “War,” President Bush would have a problem. The use of credit scores for employment is nothing more than BS.

While working for the Dept. of Defense, it would be safe to say that possibly more that 80 percent of the employees had bad credit and about 30 percent filed for bankruptcy. What a sad joke! I had subordinates that were working for me and I personally knew that their credit report was so ruined that, they will never be able to get the report in good standings. They were hard working and preformed their jobs with great professionalism.

In the US today, employers are wanting everyone to speak both Spanish and English, they want someone who is young because it allows the corp. to take advantage of their young employees because they are too immature to know when the corporations are goosing them.

The Patriot Act is such a big joke that, that the only reason it was signed was to give companies more of an edge to discriminate. Hell if the Patriot act had to use your credit score recruit new troops, we would have a problem. The use of credit scores for employment is nothing more than BS. While working for the Dept of Defense, one could safely say that more that 80 percent of the employees had bad credit and about 30 percent filed for bankruptcy. Usually after an employee is hired for government employment, they would have to file bankruptcy or have problems with their credit, still keep their jobs. The Patriot Act was meant to help protect the people of the United States, but its real intension was to give companies more of an edge to discriminate and take from our pockets. The use of credit scores for employment is simply nothing more than BS!

B. Gardner responded 7 years ago: #7

Attempt to hide your age makes your experience worthless. And you've now heard from those of us out here in reality.

As of March 2008, age discrimination in I.T. is rampant, it's everywhere, it's practiced daily, and getting worse by the minute. It's time to fight it, and that's easier to do than we're being led to believe.

The Feds don't have to look at a whole company, but simply at their I.T. department. When they can't find one employee over 40, they'll see the problem.

This is what will now be required to wake up the H.R. departments of these organizations. It's the direction every 40+ I.T. job seeker must pursue, or it will only get worse.

Cid Livingston responded 6 years ago: #8

I to am a victim of job discrimination it is amazing to me that in the year 2008 female discrimination can be so widely practiced in male dominating positions.
Divorced at 36 I returned to school thinking I would finally be able to overcome the just above minimum wage or "just over broke" (job) history.
Unaware that ITT-Tech was not recognized in the world as acceptable education you sure don’t notice the difference by the student loans that I am now in default of. I assume that at one time ITT had a lot to offer there students but corporate profit lines that must show pleasing results for investors made books written by non English speaking scholars in India to save costs took the place of certified tech books written by people who actually are accredited scholars. Software to complete the necessary assignments could not be given to the students to take home so homework or class work for that matter was shared on the computers in the school who never mentioned that some computers would not recognize work done from older computers and many time if our projects were eaten or destroyed work that was half done had to be redone and so on and so on. I suffer from the "got you when you walked through the door syndrome". The counselor or salesman that encouraged my course of education without giving aptitude or personal interests test to see if becoming an Electronic Technician was the right course of education for me. No interests in my highs school transcripts proving my extremely poor math abilities I was on my way to the accelerated education with the poorest of references and tools to complete my degree. They myth about education grants was really enlightening and the lack of financial help for educational tools or cost of living that you hear are available for adults returning for higher education that was quite a disappointment. The counselor or salesman who forgot to mention all of the required certifications for any technical job that were given right there at the school but not offered in the courses for get a job that you need after you graduate along with about 5 years of experience in the electronic field to be considered for a reputable job. The big forgot to mention was the fact that being a female in this type of field was still totally a serious discrimination and good luck overcoming that one little problem. I did get a job through the school with a company who lied to me from the minute I walked through the door about benefits education tuition the duties and expectations of the job itself. They old me during slow times I could do my homework at work “what slow time”? Even though this company recruited the position from my school turns out they did consider my school accredited so they would not pay for my education. Then came management change and brought in with him a new schedule with 12 hour shifts and new requirements for being a tech. I was thrown in like fish food into a pool of piranhas that treated that spoke to me like the butt end of a blonde joke and basically survive you if you can. The lack of Tech manuals, equipment info computer program information and basically no effort in troubleshooting advice I somehow managed to get through the real rough stuff and earn some respect.
Completely beat down and hanging on by a thread the final straw was the bonus promised if I would stay on while the new boss got his feet wet if we could stay within our budget and keep equipment down time for equipment at a minimal the rewards would be financially satisfying well the end of the year all conditions met the bonus was being reviewed because another department had messed up on a job and put the company in a financial bind so bonuses if paid at all will not meet what was offered. Even though had to quit school work exhausting shifts wait for coverage from new hires in the works to take vacations or even call in sick the boss leaving for six months without any mention to me the bonus was only half of the original determination and not even put into a separate check or gift taxed they slapped into my paycheck to which the Federal Government taxed so hard they completely ate up my weekly pay and a good portion of the bonus which arrived 6 months later then promised. I watched the new hires come in not one other female in the bunch they were given jobs never once offered to me the experienced employee. They were not even forced to work the long shifts like the old employees, then I was let go in March of this year their reasons were numerous absences "not even applicable any part of my work history, Thanks to the Right To Work state of Nevada they don’t have to give you any reasons. Here I am job market at one of the all time low’s, bad credit no car, a partially finished degree in a male dominated position.. Prices are going up gas skyrocketing job requirements for anything in my chosen field too demanding and school loans needing to be paid for the quality life style that I should now be embarking upon. Even though I was holding a position in top security management for airport my clean criminal history and DMV that should be rewarded a metal of honor for 12 years accident free and violation free in this city my bad credit is going to knock me out of so very many positions I am qualified for. Job performance means nothing and always overlooked by the company’s that I gave more then 100% of myself and dedication to. Unemployment does not offer extended benefits during this time of severe layoffs and closures of so very many businesses due to the highest cost of living in all of history. I love being a 43 year old girl in America the land of opportunity.

Frank Mills responded 6 years ago: #9

Although everyone's comments are extremely depressing, they are also on-target. I am 46 and was laid off a year ago from a job I held and excelled in for 22 years. I was unemployed for eight months and am now in a very low-end, low-paying job. My financial situation is a disaster.

In the past year, I have applied for at least 100 different positions, the vast majority of which I am very well qualified for. I have excellent references and a stellar job performance and track record. Despite all of these things that SHOULD be going for me, I have had only a handful of interviews and exactly one job offer (for the job I now hold.)

I recently did the "resume tune-up" thing to remove some of the clues to my age, such as my college graduation date. But, as others have commented, there is no way to hide your age when you go on an interview, and age discrimination is really the only plausible explanation for the terrible results in my job search when I am so well qualified for the positions I have applied for.

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