Older job seekers may want to deflect age concerns

  • An AARP report found older workers - age 55 and older -- remain out of work longer than their younger counterparts.

    An AARP report found older workers - age 55 and older -- remain out of work longer than their younger counterparts. Associated Press file

Published: 6/9/2009 12:01 AM

NEW YORK -- It may seem like it was just yesterday you were turned down for a job because you didn't have enough experience. But if "yesterday" was 30 years ago, you may find you have nearly the opposite problem now

Nearly 2 million of the 14.5 million Americans currently unemployed and looking for work, are age 55 or older, according to government data released Friday.

The reality is that older workers remain out of work longer than their younger counterparts -- nearly 28 weeks, versus less than 23 weeks for those under 55, according to an analysis from AARP.

The extra difficulty older applicants have finding jobs likely reflects several factors, said Dave Carhart, a recruiter for an engineering search firm in Milwaukee.

"What I've seen the most is that people have the perception that an older worker won't necessarily be able to adapt as quickly," he said. There is also concern that they may not be aware of the most recent developments in their field or the most recent technology.

Carhart said he's seen issues like that influence potential employers more than a fear that a more experienced worker will seek a higher salary.

Ironically, some of the issues that may stand in the way of older applicants getting hired today are a reversal of recent worry voiced by employers.

Just a few years ago, Carhart said, the pending retirement wave among Baby Boomers sparked fear of a large scale brain drain that would leave the work force short of experienced, knowledgeable people. "That's gotten put on the back burner right now," Carhart said.

Federal law prohibits age discrimination in hiring decisions, but the tight job market has led some job seekers to de-emphasize the very experience they worked so hard for. Some try creative measures, like organizing resumes by skill sets rather than by jobs. But if that creates a confusing resume that takes time to decipher, the move might backfire and send a busy hiring manager on to the next applicant.

That said, there are some moves that may help an applicant get past the screening process without calling attention to the potential of a few gray hairs.

Carhart said it makes sense to do things like remove the years you attended college from your resume, making it harder to calculate exactly how old you are. And trim back the number of prior jobs you mention to include just the last 10 years or so of career history.

It's also smart to avoid noting that you have a specific number of years (or decades) experience in an objective statement or cover letter, he said.

To counter concerns that you might not be tech-savvy, one step to take is setting up your own Web site, advised Scott Ginsberg, an author and consultant who contributes to the careers Web site TheLadders.com.

But don't try to put up a site on the cheap. "The worst thing you could ever do is have your 16-year-old daughter do it," he said. For just a few hundred dollars, you can hire a Web designer to set up a simple one-page site "that's clean and crisp and professional," he said. Include a photo, a resume, published work and other relevant items, and it will be among the first things that comes up when a potential employer does an online search of your name, he said.

He also suggested putting expertise to work by blogging and building a following online that values your advice.

One piece of advice from Ginsberg may reflect the dilemma older job seekers face in just three letters: AOL.

Ginsberg maintains that using an e-mail address that contains "@aol.com" sends the wrong message to prospective employers. "You're probably over 50," he said. "It gives away your age immediately."

But others disagree. Carhart said he doesn't pay much attention to the domains of applicants' e-mail addresses, and said an AOL address could indicate that an applicant was an "early adopter" who got online before the rest of the crowd.

He said it's more important to make it clear you're up to date with changing technology, especially through the use of professional social networking sites like LinkedIn, along with sites targeted for specific industries.

"I've personally placed a number of people in my recruiting who've been anywhere from 40 to 55 and older," Carhart said. "There are plenty of people out there who are really working to keep up with the latest in their field."