Are you concerned employers won’t or don’t want to hire you based on age?
Ironically, as a coach, I hear about it on both ends. New graduates feel they don’t get a fair shake because they lack professional experience. And veteran professionals feel their experience is a liability.
However, age discrimination is only recognized by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in people OVER the age of 40. In other words, new grads can be discriminated against based on their age.
Age discrimination can include other situations besides hiring, such as firing, compensation, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.
But today’s discussion addresses hiring or job seeking situations only. There are things you can do to deal with ageism in hiring situations. Here are some things to consider.
Proving and Reporting It
Please first understand that ageism, like other forms of discrimination, can be extremely hard or impossible to prove. Sure, when someone says or writes about it openly, they should be reported. If you have evidence of ageism, report it to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
However, many employers keep their thoughts and biases inward, openly basing their decision on other factors. And, I believe, there’s a separate category I call “subtle ageism” that I will talk more about below.
Blessing in Disguise
I am all for transparency and forcing people to hire fairly – no question. And, hopefully, karma or the legal system will catch up to employers who discriminate in any form.
But beyond that, would you ever want to work for someone who discriminates based on the year you were born? If you sense someone discriminated against you based on age, consider it a blessing in disguise.
It’s a proven fact that people who discriminate in one way are often guilty of discriminating in other ways. The problem isn’t your age, the problem is that particular employer’s judgment, wisdom, and even common sense. They put superficial things ahead of ethics, and more meaningful objectives and goals.
Think about that. They put things that don’t matter ahead of things that do matter – even ahead of business prosperity. Is that the kind of employer you want to represent and refer patients you have built a relationship of trust to?
Now, let me touch on what I would characterize as “subtle ageism.”
I believe this strikes at a much larger sub-section of employers. I believe most employers do care more about prosperity over discrimination. I believe most employers will hire someone who is experienced or inexperienced, and base it on who they feel is going to help prosper their practice.
Subtle ageism, to me, is the kind where an employer will unwittingly or subconsciously base hiring decisions on assumptions or stereotypes tied to age.
For example, they may really like the personality and skill set of a specific new graduate, but because they are young and inexperienced assume they will not stay long-term with the practice. Or, the employer may really like how skilled and friendly a 30-year veteran is, but because they are older, assume they will be “set in their ways.”
I believe, is far more common than the more blatant form of ageism discussed earlier.
Dealing with Subtle Ageism
So what can you do? You want to get a fair shake before the stereotypes and assumptions are made, right?
Honestly, there are lots of ways you can influence an employer’s thinking about your ability to fit in and value your potential contributions, regardless of age.
Evaluate Your E-mail Address
I admit I have an e-mail address I use that hints at my age (firstname.lastname@example.org). No, I am not 88 years old (ha!)! But I couldn’t get email@example.com at the time, so I added the year I graduated from high school. Oops! I just dated myself!
People do this, but if I’m worried about ageism I would choose something different. End speculation by leaving numbers out. If you can’t get firstname.lastname@example.org then choose something that conveys a spirit of optimism or professionalism. For example, email@example.com or cindyRDH@gmail.com.
Your Work History
There’s no rule or requirement in resume writing for including an entire work history. In fact, it would be less favorable to include jobs that are irrelevant. Consider leaving a few early-career jobs off – especially temp jobs when you are a 20- or 30-year-veteran. All that matters is what you have done lately (last 10-20 years is plenty).
Leave High School in the Past
A lot of younger professionals tend to include high school graduation in their education history. It takes up space and doesn’t mean much when you have a degree from college.
A second tip for new graduates is to add that first temp job to your resume as fast as you can. Put as much space between your professional life and school life as you possibly can after you graduate.
Postcards are a great equalizer for everyone – you don’t have to indicate anywhere on them your years of experience (unless you want to). So a new grad can show the confidence of a veteran, and a veteran can exude the tech-savvy perceived image of new grads.
The College Years
Unlike your work experience, it’s okay to leave graduation years off your resume. Degrees and licensure matter more. The year you completed that first degree can be something used to calculate your age. Leave it on if you like, but leave it off if you are concerned about ageism in hiring situations.
Pictures can do a lot to show or hide your age. If you choose to include a picture on your resume, my best advice is to hire it out. Dress in interview-ready attire or a lab coat, and try to get several different poses to choose from. Tell the photographer the look you want – fun, serious, professional, experienced, or whatever you feel best exemplifies your brand. Good photographers will know how to help you achieve that.
I always suggest leaving hobbies off your resume, mostly because they do nothing to tell an employer about how great an employer you are.
However, if you are concerned about your age being a problem for someone and you are actually quite active (exercise and such), then that’s something you could consider adding to counter a false assumption that you are older and slower.
Again, I don’t generally recommend including hobbies, but this is one possible exception to consider.
Technology is another area where younger people have an advantage because of the assumption that older hygienists grew up without modern technology.
If you are older, you want to dispel that belief by communicating that you are tech-savvy and know your way around technology. List everything technical you can think of to get that point across.
It’s often assumed younger generations are glued to phones and posting things or taking pictures when they should be working. To combat that, don’t take your phone to your interview (don’t even let them see it while you are waiting). If given the chance, address the issue head-on about how you are productive with your time or something related.
Resume and Cover Letter Language
Finally, and most important of all, when I coach job seekers concerned about ageism, I say “play to your strengths.” Don’t look at what you lack and fear it will keep you from finding a job, look at what you have as the key ingredient or value employers need to make their business prosper. However, you have to be assertive in bringing those strengths to the forefront.
If you are young, use your resume and cover letter to communicate your enthusiasm and flexibility to learn. Experienced professionals might use them to communicate maturity and ability to effortlessly-influence patient case acceptance.
Own your strengths. Don’t ever let an employer walk away from your resume or interview not knowing your core strengths. That means repeating them over and over in different ways. Show them what you mean to them, and you will have fewer issues with ageism.
Doug Perry is an expert resume writer and job search coach. He and his wife, Tracie, who is a dental hygienist, created GetHiredRDH in response to the challenging dental hygiene job market and have helped thousands of dental hygienists through tips and individual services. If you need individual, click here to contact Doug.