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August 8, 2017 > Strategies for older workers in the workplace

Strategies for older workers in the workplace

By Anne Chan, Ph.D., MFT

Question: What do General Mills, Twitter, and Hewlett Packard have in common?
Answer: All three have been (or are being) sued for age discrimination.

These three companies are not alone; numerous lawsuits have been filed against many big-name companies. Since 2012, over 90 age discrimination lawsuits have been filed against a dozen Silicon Valley companies, including Apple, Facebook, Google, and Cisco Systems. These lawsuits point to a disturbing, but perhaps not surprising, phenomenon in high tech. After all, the average age of employees in companies like Facebook and Google is 30.

State and federal laws protect older workers in several ways: employers cannot hire a younger candidate over a more qualified older one, nor can they deny benefits to younger workers. The good news is that there are strong laws on your side if you are 40 years and older. The bad news is that these laws are difficult to enforce and are easily ignored.

So what is an older worker to do?

First, itÕs important to know what you might be up against. My advice would be to be aware of stereotypes about older workers and be proactive in proving that you do not fit these stereotypes. Last month, I highlighted stereotypes about older workers that may be on the minds of interviewers and supervisors ( These stereotypes are unfair and untrue, but they might be influencing the people controlling your future.

Make a list of these negative stereotypes and note the many ways in which you differ from these stereotypes. Whether you are looking for a job or are employed, be sure to highlight these positive attributes and skills. For example, there is a perception that older people are not tech savvy or are uncomfortable with technology. You can combat this stereotype by highlighting your tech knowledge and skills, both in your resume and during the interview.

You might also be dealing with a perception that you are overqualified. There are several things you can do in this situation. First, review your resume and include only the most recent ten to fifteen years of your employment history. Second, be sure to target your resume to the job you are applying for. This is especially important if you are taking a step down. For instance, say you used to be a manager, but now you want to be in a non-managerial position. Be sure to remove and de-emphasize all your previous managerial responsibilities. Instead, highlight skills and experience relevant to the non-manager job you are applying to. At the interview, be prepared to explain (with enthusiasm and confidence) why you are seeking a non-manager position.

Last, but certainly not least, be sure to play to your strengths whenever you are crafting your resume, interviewing, or handling a work situation. Make an inventory of the tangible and intangible skills, qualities, and experiences that make you a standout employee. Have you been exceptionally loyal to your previous employers? Have you always been on time? Have you completed impossible projects? Are you known for your positivity? Do not short-sell yourself. I invite you to ask your friends and trusted colleagues to help you in this exercise.

There are plenty of negative stereotypes about older workers, but YOU donÕt have to accept or believe these stereotypes. Create a new definition of what it means to be over 40. Start with Betty FriedanÕs thought that ÒAging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.Ó

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