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 Ageism: How to overcome stereotypes and bias

StopDiscriminationHandThe first step to conquering age bias is to be aware of it. Here are some hints for recognizing the pattern.

The second step is to make sure you aren’t the problem. If you have any of these attitudes about yourself and your work, turn them around.

Next, be ruthless in your self inventory:

  • Are your professional skills up to date?
  • Are you comfortable with the type of technology used in your profession?
  • Could you impress with bleeding-edge knowledge today? With a bit of study or training could you?
  • Is there a certification or course that would demonstrate your commitment to continuous learning?
  • What do you think about the multigenerational workplace? Does your attitude need adjusting? Think of three positive things daily about working with people the age of your children and grandchildren.
  • Have you mentored anyone lately? What would it take?
  • Has anyone mentored you lately? What could you ask for help to improve?
  • Do you look like you want a new job? Are you dressing to impress or to retire?
  • How is your physical energy level? If you lost 20 pounds would it be better? If you walked half an hour a day, would it improve? If you turned the TV and computer off at 9 pm, would your sleep improve?
  • How is your mental energy? When is the last time you brainstormed with colleagues? When did you last have fun solving a challenge? How long ago did you play?
  • How is your emotional energy? Do you show up as engaged and ready to rock? Are you approachable? Do people come to you for knowledge or encouragement? How often do you laugh? How often do you complain?

Finally, be your best self. Making any changes suggested above does not change who you are fundamentally. If you find yourself needing a personality transplant to land or keep a job, you are not the wrong person; it’s the wrong job.

Recently, I coached a woman who had been job hunting for more than two years. She had had a job she loved and was laid off because of changes in the company. Her employer loved her work, and her colleagues and clients loved working with her.

Unfortunately, the type of work she was so good at was not in plentiful supply in her community, so she began applying for sales jobs, administrative jobs, clerical jobs, just about any job that had one or more qualifications in her wheelhouse. She interviewed for many positions and was devastated each time she didn’t receive an offer.

“What should I have done to get this job?” she asked me after one particularly disappointing rejection.

“You’re asking the wrong question,” I replied.

“But isn’t that the point?” she asked.

“With the right job, yes. But this wasn’t the right job.”

“Why not? I have all of the qualifications on the posting. It pays well.”

“What did you learn in the interview?”

“That they are looking for a cut-throat, strong-arm sales gorilla.”

“Is that you?”


“Is that who you want to be?”


“Who are you?”

“A collaborative, supportive relationship builder who enjoys providing service.”

“How would you have felt after two months in that position?”


“So, what do you think now about not getting that job?”

“That I just dodged a bullet.”

Being your best self means being authentic. When you’re job hunting, it’s tempting to be a chameleon like my client was trying to be. Be yourself first. Then, fit the job to you.

Being your best self means owning who you are, age and all. Include the dates of your early career on your resume. If a hiring manager doesn’t want to hire someone older than 50, don’t waste your time fooling them into thinking you’re 30. You don’t want to work for them. If you don’t want to color your hair, don’t.  If you like listening to big band music on vinyl, listen. Being and showing your age isn’t a bad thing.

Here is the difference: Being your best self does not mean owning the stereotype of your age. The last time I worked for someone else, I was in my 50s, and I was one of the technology mavens. The 20-somethings came and talked to me about their new phones. I trained the new editors on the computer system and created the help file.

Being your best self means knowing what you want and having the courage to pursue it, at any age.

If you are having trouble with your job search, and you suspect your age is part of the issue, contact me to talk about strategies for overcoming the mindset and stereotypes of age bias.


Image courtesy Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

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