01 Mar 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.