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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Combating age bias in the workplace

Dec 30, 2019 03:49PM ● By Karen Telleen-Lawton

Older adults have recently emerged as the fastest-growing labor segment, both in the United States and around the world. A number of factors explains this trend, including low unemployment and difficulty recruiting and retaining talent. Less quantifiable is the notion that our generation is arriving at retirement age with higher expectations and less financial hardiness. Job hunting has morphed into the new senior hobby.


It’s a demanding hobby, to be sure. Young job seekers, fresh out of school, are wisely counseled to “meet with their future self,” listening to workers in positions they’d like to hold in a decade. This can set up a mentor-mentee relationship that helps draw the job seeker into their desired field. But what if the job seeker is older than their potential mentor?

Senior job applicants need a different angle to make an impression.

The reasons for hiring an older worker far surpass the disadvantages. Seniors generally have experience in a wide variety of situations and deep knowledge in specialized areas. We have learned when to roll with the punches and when to take a stand.

AARP research provides an additional reason to look at mature applicants.

“The relative productivity of both older and younger workers is higher in companies that utilize mixed-age work teams than in companies that do not,” the AARP 2016 publication found.


How can older workers’ resumes avoid ending up in the circular file? A resume for a 50-something could run for many pages, but the last 15 years or so are the most relevant. Concentrate on your highlights. It almost goes without saying to mine your personal network. Check with friends whose work, industry, or work situation you admire. Determine the roles for which you might be qualified in their organization. Consider nonprofits where you’ve been a volunteer or donated over the years, and think about where you could fit in.

Some industries are more conducive to older workers. Again, nonprofits are a good fit here. Consider other areas where seniors are a target market, such as medical sales or patient advocates. Many careers benefit from people with maturity and perspective: dietitian, accountant, personal trainer, writer or editor, or any type of customer service representative.

Part-time jobs are great for showing your prowess and can grow to full-time work if there’s a match. Tutoring and virtual assistants fall into this category. Other ways to package a job successfully are to offer contract employment, assuming you have other access to insurance. If you can afford to do so without compromising your retirement, you could consider starting a business or buying a franchise in an area you understand.

Some employers fear an older worker may quickly become bored in a job for which they are considered “overqualified.” You may choose to address this head on with arguments such as, “I’m looking for an encore career in a different but related field” or “I’m more interested in applying my skills in a new area, with a good work-life balance.”


Perhaps your concern is the opposite: a perceived lack of skills. Many women especially find themselves needing supplemental income but feel as if they’ve been out of the workforce for too long to qualify. In that case, check out the senior services in your area, which may be available through the workforce center. Be on the lookout for job training or resume writing workshops. You likely have more skills than you think!

The bottom line is, age bias is real. Nevertheless, the facts are on our side. We have wisdom, energy and perspicacity. As with any task, the hardest part is inertia. That’s why it’s important to look inside yourself first to uncover where your enthusiasm lies.

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