A lot of older job seekers I work with are concerned that ageism is hurting their job search. And they may very well be right. But I believe the decisions we make through our lives have a profound impact on how we are perceived once we reach the point where employers may be biased against us.
Let’s face it, employers aren’t generally biased against our age, they are biased against what they associate with age. Consider two stereotypes for older workers. We probably all know at least one of each of these types:
The Al Bundy Curmudgeon. He’s grumpy and unpleasant to work with. He’s seen it all and is contemptuous of everything. Millennials? No work ethic! Technology? Who has time to keep up with all this new crap! Social media? Don’t get me started! A new way to do something at work? I’ve been doing it this way for 30 years and I have nothing to learn from you!
The Betty White. She’s hip, she’s funny, she knows the difference between Twitter and Reddit. She embraces new technology (and all the other changes life has thrown at her) with enthusiasm and zeal. She’s open minded but discriminating, and brings a wealth of life and professional experience to everything. She’s always happy to share her wisdom, but she respects that everyone has his or her own ideas and perspectives. She’s an invaluable resource to employers. [Editor's Note: Betty jumped on Twitter at age 90. At 88.5, she appeared on Saturday Night Live as a result of Facebook votes.]
The fact is, we get to choose which stereotype we resemble as we age. Do we keep open minds? Do we keep up with the latest technologies? Do we work hard to find common ground with new generations and workers from different backgrounds? Are we receptive to new ideas and ways of doing things at work? Where we stand on matters like this is only too apparent to employers.
Which are you?
The fact that there are so many older workers who embody the “Curmudgeon” stereotype makes it harder for all of us “Betty Whites” by perpetuating employer’s biases. All the more reason we have to actively endeavor to avoid “hardening of the attitudes” and embrace your inner Betty.
George Blomgren is the Director of Recruiting Solutions for MRA – The Management Association. George has more than 20 years of talent acquisition (aka recruiting), MarComm, technology, and operations experience. Prior to joining MRA, George ran the advertising and marketing department for one of the country’s fastest growing network of local employment web sites.