3 Tips to Get Around Ageism in Your Job Search

John Krautzel
Posted by in Career Advice

Ageism may be illegal, but that doesn't mean older workers don't suffer from age-based prejudice during a job search. Although you can't change your age, there are a few things you can do to fight employer ageism. Here are three tips to make yourself an attractive hire at any stage in life.

1. Don't Focus on Your Age

As an older worker, it's best not to mention your age during the interview. Instead, focus on your skills and accomplishments, bringing up examples of times when you've successfully delivered results. You can also put a positive spin on your age without mentioning it directly by briefly discussing the good qualities that come with age, such as maturity and experience.

Avoid making any statements that draw attention to your age. For example, instead of mentioning years and dates when talking about past jobs, just mention the employer names. Never state that your methods of performing certain tasks are outdated or that you haven't worked with a certain tool in many years.

2. Predict Possible Concerns

Even when age itself isn't an issue, older workers tend to provoke certain objections in potential employers. Employers may question your required salary given your years in the workforce or your willingness to work for a higher-risk startup as opposed to a stable employer. They may also wonder why an older worker with years of experience isn't applying for a management role.

Before the interview, place yourself in the employer's shoes, and brainstorm possible objections. Make a list of the objections you come up with, and address any of these concerns early in the interview if they apply to your situation. If the interviewer asks you to say a bit about yourself, use this opportunity to provide explanations and calm any valid worries.

3. Mesh With the Company's Values and Culture

Older workers shouldn't try to act or speak like their younger potential coworkers, but they should be able to blend in and mesh with the office culture. Study the organization's core values before the interview, and align yourself with these values without directly mentioning them during interview. For example, if one core value is customer focus, discuss a situation when you went above and beyond for a customer.

If possible, find an opportunity to speak with a current employee before the interview to get a feel for the office culture. Find parallels between your personal work style and the office culture, and mention them during interview. For instance, mention that you're happy to see that the workplace is a collaborative environment because you've always performed well in teams. If the office culture is vastly different from your previous work environment but you're flexible and open to make changes, let the interviewer know.

Employer ageism may put older workers up against unfair odds, but there's still plenty of hope. By focusing on your skills and accomplishments, predicting employer concerns and aligning with the company culture, you can increase your chances of scoring the job.

Photo courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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  • juliette g.
    juliette g.

    I think if they ask for my age or graduation date, I'd make a light-hearted joke, like, "You can be sure there are no prom dresses hanging in my closet." If they pursued the matter further I'd say, "You know how I like to look at the matter of age? You don't have to worry about me taking maternity leave or even time off to take care of children. I'm healthy, dependable and energetic, and I like to work!"

  • Alexandria S.
    Alexandria S.

    I am certainly not seeing the love or appreciation for the experience I have and earned being an older woman and employee. It has been a real battle for I literally got bypassed for someone who had 3 yrs experience over my 15+vast yrs of experience because she was younger and someone's friend. I have to remind myself repeatedly to never give up! and I am making and taking me my own jobs! When they finally see the value of me, it will be too late and more expensive :)

  • Endea W.
    Endea W.

    I had been out of the work force for 20 years. It took me 3 years to finally find a job. I couldn't hide my age for nothing. It was impossible considering all applications ask your school years and sure I could have lied and said i graduated in 2010 instead of 1983 lol. I had filled out so many applications i didn't care anymore. I think one application I actually said "wtf!" finally i went to a temp agency (never thought I'd do that) and got hired after 3 interviews( one with the temp and two with the company) by the grace of god I was hired. I just found out the other day i make more than my boss (wtf????) all i can say is hang in there and don't let nobody bring you down. If you are unhappy, keep looking. I never stopped even though i got rejection after rejection after rejection. I know it's hard but something will come up. Good luck

  • Terry W.
    Terry W.

    With all the info.. on the internet they can just look up your age.

  • Terry W.
    Terry W.

    It may be illegal, but every job I applied for has asked my age.

  • Diane DiSalvo
    Diane DiSalvo

    You know the funniest part about all this? Those of us deemed 'beyond hire-able age' can and do run circles around millennials on a daily basis. We were raised with a stronger work ethic and have never expected the world to be handed to us on a platter.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks all for the great comments. I guess I am kind of confused as to why you would even be called in for an interview if the company was not interested in hiring the best? They know how old you are before they bring you in for the interview! It is true that all they have to do is run a check on you, on the Internet, and they can find out just about anything they want to know about you - including your age. But they call you in for an interview anyhow. Could be that they are just trying to reach their quota for interviews so that they can make the offer to someone else who has already been identified. Many times companies will hire from within but they still have to post the position and they still have to interview so many people before they can extend the offer to the insider. I know it's not fair - I think it stinks that they do that - especially when we go in for an interview with positive attitudes, etc. and do our absolute best only to find out the truth. The fact that most of you who commented here are in their early to mid-50's - sure does scare me!

  • Peggy K.
    Peggy K.

    I was told by a career adviser from the professional society that I am a member of, that he could try to 'de-age' my resume but all the recruiters know those tricks so the chances of me getting a job in my field were nil due to my age (I was 51 at the time, I'm now 53). Remind me again why I pay professional dues? Since then I have been on a few interviews with no success. I am employed part time with an athletic company for minimum wage but it gets me out of the house and allows me to share my passion for running. I still keep up my professional development obligation by volunteering however, I keep hoping to find an employer that isn't age biased.

  • Adolfo Ponce de Leon PE
    Adolfo Ponce de Leon PE

    thanks. But I was told by case manager at the GA labor dpmn that i am too old to be looking for a job and is almost impossible to prove age discrimination Micheal live in lala land..

  • David H.
    David H.

    Ageism was a factor when I was a teenager too. I started working part-time when I was 12. When I was 17, I was living in my car. I couldn't get a decent job that paid enough to pay rent. There were many times I went without food for a few days. I told the next possible employer that I was 19. I got the job, and a place to stay. I've always felt bad about doing that, but it was a case of survival, and staying healthy.

  • Debra R.
    Debra R.

    I resisted recognizing ageism as a probable or possible reason for my inability to take the interview process to the offer stage. But after 3 years and dozens of interviews, I had to admit it was a factor. Assumptions about people in their 50s and older include that we will have health problems, be resistant to change and learn slowly, retire in a short time, are not promotable, and be out of step with younger teammates. I don’t list all of my years of experience but I don’t try to appear younger because the minute you are face to face with an interviewer, it’s apparent. So I sell myself now as accomplished, creative, professional, adaptable and offer a steadying hand in times of growth and change. I am seen as an expert in my field and I offer that to my manager and team to make everyone shine and be successful. I know I will still be overlooked for many positions and I remain hopeful that a company will see the worth of someone who thrives working with energetic early talent. I don’t know what else to do.

  • James B.
    James B.

    Question very common in interviews: What year did you graduate from High School? End of conversation. Now, this appears on Application forms, too. Or what year did you graduate from college? Same objective. All kinds of "tricks" are used to elicit ones age. Sad.


    I know that it is inappropriate/illegal to ask for age when hiring. However, how can a company be called out on ageism, if there is not a mechanism to track age of applicants? For example, ALL applications include screening for race, gender, disabilities, etc, so how about an appropriate question to screen for age bias. For example, how many years of experience in this field with the last entry to include say 15+? They could counter and say the person is overqualified, but really what difference does it make if the the candidate is willing to accept the salary range. Are medical concerns an issue? What about 20 and 30 somethings that are putting insurance claims for giving birth?

  • Jannette O.
    Jannette O.

    My former boss told me on the second week on the job that in order to "make it " I had to work as hard as the 26 year old. I am 50 with a lot of experience working with all age groups in very demanding environments. Needless to say, I resigned and she was moved to another division. I am looking now for a job where my skills, talents and experience can be appreciated.

  • Michael Volpone
    Michael Volpone

    Great feedback and ideas. Be yourself and let your personality blend in. Know as much about the company and how you fit in. Good luck

  • David H.
    David H.

    I've been to interviews where one of the first questions asked was, "How old are you?" I know they're not supposed to ask your age, but they do ask quite often. Since most of the positions I apply for now, are driving positions, employers require a driver abstract, which has my birthdate on it. One time when I voiced my concerns about age discrimination to a government job coach, I was told to dye my hair and get some plastic surgery.


    Sometimes it's difficult to shy away from the fact that you still hold onto dignity, courage and integrity as a guide as opposed to the 'Keyboard Commando' Tactics of these So Called Modern Day Executives..... Values before Victories.

  • Lynette P.
    Lynette P.

    If only it were that easy. Worked for 1 co, 20 yrs, 2nd 10 yrs. Moved to another city and even w my impeccable. Reputation, finding a job in my field is like looking for a needle in a haystack ( I'm in the beauty industry- worked in NYC)

  • William C.
    William C.

    No matter what you state on your resume or say in an interview it only takes about 5 minutes on the internet to figure out how old a person is. I have interviewed several times over the past 1-1/2 years. I even had one employer tell me after the interview that it is extremely difficult for people my age to find a job.

  • Marietta S.
    Marietta S.

    I worked a two year contract for the state of Colo...and ageism is poison in the workplace. I had a nasty manager tell me that I would be selected for jury duty because "lawyers like elderly women." His staff invites everyone to their drinking staff get-togethers EXCEPT the three older women in the group. Suggestions I make are sneered at, then theee sentences later picked up by a young counterpart and suddenly they are told it is a "great idea!" And later you have to live with hearing about how "Sam's idea" is doing great. Laid off a week ago and immediately moved in with my kid as I went through a four year search to get THAT job so I know I may never work again though Social Security says I can't retire until 67. I'm interviewed positively and constantly from a strong resume. But then no hire.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Cathy C thanks ever so much for letting us know it really works within HR. @Ray Hibbard thanks but I have to disagree. I have many senior friends living and working in CA - no issue on ageism. But, then, having said that, they could be the exception. Maybe instead of going through a recruiter, you could go through the network of people you have garnered throughout your career and see if that leads anywhere. Sometimes it's not what you know but who you know. I hate to say that because I have always hated that statement but, if you are having that much difficulty, maybe it's the best way for you to go. @Steven Burrows - the devil is in the details!

  • Steven Burrows
    Steven Burrows

    The point that I was making earlier on ATS was not that recruiters could or would necessarily tell it to screen out for a maximum acceptable age. An HR person would probably take great pains to avoid any appearance of overtly blocking older workers. After all, if anyone ever was caught doing that they would be wide-open for an age discrimination lawsuit. However, if the age-rejection mechanisms of the ATS were hidden within a compiled program (opaque to the end user), that end user would not be liable for any discrimination that was executed without their active request. I would guess that the legalities of this situation would be similar to attempting to sue a gun manufacturer for a death that resulted from their product.

  • Ray Hibbard
    Ray Hibbard

    It doesn't work this way in the real world. Recruiters will call you back, even after submission to the client, and ask when did you graduate from college. If you balk at the question they will say its because of the clients submission system in order to prevent duplicate submissions or some other nonsense. After you tell them that will be the last you hear from them. In any case it is a trivial matter to determine someone's age if you have a name, address, and phone number. Add to that a work history and you can narrow done quit quickly as to what their age is. Bottom line is if your over 45 and your skill set isn't the absolute highest in your field don't even think about working in California. If you are already there and out of work, move! Ageism is a regional phenomena, and it is very much alive and well in California, if they can get the skills they want and youth they will discriminate against the older worker. You can stay and let it crush you are you can move away from it. Your choice.

  • Cathy C.
    Cathy C.

    I worked as a recruiter using very state of the art ATS. There was no way that I can think of in which I could screen for any qualification related to age unless you put the info on your resume/application. Don't put graduation dates and go back farther then 10-15 yrs employment history. If you have experience that goes back farther than 15 years I would consider it not RECENT experience which is not what an employer/recruiter is looking for anyway. I am 60 and agree with what you are saying. There a

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for all of the great comments. We know that ageism is alive and well. How to get around it is the question. I know that the ATS is set up to look for certain things on your application and sadly, that means your age. To answer the concern about DOB - it is an illegal question. Anything to do with age is "supposed" to be illegal but we all know how that works. Can you fight it? Maybe - if you can find a good lawyer to work pro-bono since most of would not be able to afford a lawyer if we don't have a job. But I have to wonder - is it really worth it? I mean - say you won your case. Woohoo. Now what? Would you really and truly want to work for a company that made you take them to court for ageism? I know I wouldn't. @Avelino (Bill) d. thanks for your comment. Unbelievable that the interviewer would try to find out your age. Seriously - he already pretty much knows that you are within a certain age range - say 55 - 65. They knew that before they brought you in for the first interview. @Steven Burrows - yes ATS is alive and well and growing. It used to be that only the larger companies had this technology but now - most companies use it. @Julie Pruitt thanks ever so much. I agree 100%. Salary is not everything. I had that dream salary myself and I was miserable. I was on the road 90% of the time and - well, it just wasn't worth it. I ended up resigning and taking a position for 1/3 of the salary but was much happier. I could come home - to my home, not a hotel - every night. So - true - sometimes you have to look past that salary. @George W - we don't live in a utopia. We know that the statistics are totally out of whack and that the only reason the unemployment rate is so low is because multitudes of folks have just stopped looking. In four years, when a new President is in the White House - where do you think the unemployment figures will be? I am guessing that they will rise back up to 7-9% during this administration. All we can do is keep trying.. keep applying.. .keep networking and try our best to keep our spirits up.

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