How to Outmaneuver Age Discrimination in The Workplace

Although age discrimination is illegal in the United States, it’s an open secret that it happens in the workplace. And perhaps more notably, it happens a lot during the hiring process. From companies not wanting to shell out for retirement to younger hiring managers tending to hire people who look and think like them, the older we get, the harder it can be to find a job.

That’s the cold truth. I won’t sugarcoat it. But there are things you can do now to lessen the likelihood that you’ll face age-based discrimination as you hunt for a job. The earlier you can get started checking these boxes the better, but it’s never too late to get started.

how to avoid age discrimination in the workplace

First off, Remove Graduation Dates from Your Resume to Avoid Age Discrimination

The year you graduated college can be a giveaway of your age. Be sure to remove graduation years from both your resume and your LinkedIn profile. This information may come up during your background check, but there’s no reason to advertise it before you even have a foot in the door. Get the interview first—make them see your value.

Focus Your Resume on Relevant Work History   

Although your job history might go back twenty or more years, there’s no reason your resume needs to. It’s unlikely that those jobs you held in the early part of your career are relevant to your current job search, so you can safely omit them.

While it is true that for certain positions you may need to demonstrate experience, you can show this without detailing the timeline of your work history. Job titles, detailed listing of your achievements in the role, and demonstrated understanding of the nuances and global challenges of your role, the business, and/or your industry can fill in for any lengthy work history.

Include Current Jargon in Your Cover Letter, Resume, and LinkedIn Profiles

A client recently told me that she wasn’t sure what “the kids” were saying in the workplace these days, and it showed on her resume. Trends and the way we speak about them shift over time, and if you are clinging to an outdated vernacular, you might be showing your age without even realizing it. To combat this, ensure that you use current, modern language when speaking or writing about the job.

If you’re not sure how to do that, parse your network and find yourself a Millennial to have coffee with. Pick their brain about industry trends, workplace dynamics—whatever it may be to fill in any gaps in your vocabulary. You can also ask them to look over your resume or cover letter, focusing only on your word choices. I once had a colleague who used the word “bugaboo” on her resume. (We fixed that up quick like a bunny!)

how to avoid age discrimination in the workplace

Demonstrate Flexibility and Commitment to Growth

One of the crutch excuses people make not to hire older workers is that they tend to be set in their ways. First of all, I think this argument is nonsense; age isn’t an indication that a person is set in their ways. I think a far more accurate indicator of how flexible someone is is how long they’ve been at the same company! Someone who has been at the same job for ten years is going to look more inflexible to me than someone who is over 50 but has switched up his company every three to five years. That said, you can’t help what your job history looks like at this point, but you can demonstrate a commitment to growth and change.

In your cover letter, consider talking about innovative or against-the-grain solutions that you have implemented. At an interview, tell stories about times an outside-the-box solution proved successful. On your resume and online profile, highlight accomplishments that demonstrate innovative or creative thinking.

It doesn’t hurt to continue your education or training, either. Attending conferences, taking classes, and keeping abreast of industry trends—and being able to speak intelligently about what you’ve learned—is always a bonus.

how to avoid age discrimination in the workplace

Demonstrate Expertise and Willingness to Mentor

One of the innate advantages that more mature workers have is the experience. But that experience is most useful to companies when you can demonstrate that you can share it with others. Part of being a senior team member is being able to pass knowledge on to those less experienced.

If you can speak at conferences, go for it. Even smaller scale operations like local meetups or knowledge sharing groups can be useful fodder for your resume. Post often on LinkedIn—share your thoughts around new techniques, strategies, up and coming challenges your industry is facing. Create and share short videos that teach an idea or an activity. Put yourself out there as an expert in your field and let recruiters and hiring manager see how much you have to offer.