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Battling Age Bias When Job Hunting

Finding a new job later in life can present some challenges when it comes to age discrimination. Here's how to combat them.

Older workers who are job hunting, perhaps to switch careers or pursue "bridge" jobs before full retirement, have a wealth of experience to draw on. But how can you ensure that the positive attributes of a long career, such as building knowledge and honing skills, don't morph into the negative headwinds of age discrimination? Happily, there are steps you can take, from tightening your résumé to prepping for interviews, to battle age bias head on.

Dealing with potential age discrimination on the job hunt is a challenge, and a recent U.S. Supreme Court action may make it more difficult for some older workers to prove they were rejected because of their age when they applied for jobs. The Court in June let stand a lower court ruling that found the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, a 50-year-old federal law designed to protect older workers from bias, doesn’t extend to job applicants in all circumstances.

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The ruling could make it tougher for older workers who seek to stay in the workforce. Nearly two-thirds of workers ages 55 to 64 say their age is a barrier to getting a job, a 2017 AARP survey found.

Hiring practices that can affect older workers include age-related questions on job applications and position openings or advertisements that set a maximum on years of experience, says AARP Foundation Senior Attorney Laurie McCann.

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"People have a preference for working longer," says Tulane University economics professor Patrick Button, who researches age discrimination in hiring. "That's why age discrimination is so important."

Turn Age to Your Advantage

Workers on the job are better situated to bring age discrimination complaints than someone looking for work. You can document incidents such as younger colleagues being promoted or chosen for training instead of you, and you may be able to pursue grievances internally.

But job seekers may face more subtle age discrimination that can make it a struggle to get a job. Protect yourself starting with your résumé, McCann says. Include only the most recent and relevant jobs; leave dates off wherever possible. And be a lifelong learner, she says. Show that you are willing to undertake training and learn new skills.

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When you get a job interview, take steps to counteract stereotypes. Don’t go overboard by dying your hair jet black, says Martin Yate, author of the Knock 'Em Dead job search guides, who runs a career coaching and résumé writing service at KnockEmDead.com. And if you're applying for a job where business-casual is the workplace uniform, don't arrive in a three-piece suit.

Be aware of what Yate calls "silent age discrimination." You might not be asked directly whether you are overqualified or uncomfortable working with younger employees. But raise the topic of age yourself, if you sense it might be an issue, he advises. For example, describe your advantages, such as bringing maturity to the job and a willingness to put in extra hours when needed. Cite examples of how you have brought a team together when things got tough.

Explain that you'll be a supportive business partner and will use your skills to help the company turn profits. Use the pronoun "we" to show your collegiality. "You're going in there to get a job offer," says Yate. "Focus on the needs of the job."

If you've been at a large corporation, consider seeking out smaller, growing companies where your experience will be especially attractive, Yate says. And look for jobs at age-friendly employers. Use SeniorJobBank.org, or check the Retirement Living Information Center for senior employment websites. AARP lists about 460 companies that have pledged that they value older employees and will treat them fairly.

Finally, be persistent. Keep sending out résumés even if you fear age is hindering your job hunting. "You just want to get in the door," McCann says.

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