I probably don’t need to tell you that age discrimination is a very real issue in Australia, particularly (though by no means exclusively) in the work arena. A recent South Australian study found that around one-third of workers as young as 45 (yes, 45…) had experienced discrimination at work or in looking for work.

Much can be done to educate employers and recruiters about the value of older workers and the importance of an intergenerational workforce. But changing attitudes at this societal level takes time.

So, if you are an older worker and you need a job now, what can you do to maximise your chances? Here are some tips for creative ways to circumvent the barriers:

  1. Don’t believe it yourself
    Stereotype threat happens when an older person believes the (untrue but widely circulated) stories about older workers being less competent, or less likely to get hired or promoted or whatever – and then changes their behaviour in line with the stereotype. It might be that you discourage yourself from applying for jobs, or decide not to bother asking to go on a training course. Do whatever you can to avoid this trap, or you will be sunk before you begin.
  2. Use your networks
    Older people often have extensive networks and can tap into them to find out about jobs, research companies and get tips. If you don’t have good networks, then start now to build them. Try these tips from one of my earlier blogs.
  3. Find the good ones
    Track down employers who do value experienced workers – media stories or case studies are a good place to start. Some sectors are much more age-friendly than others, if you ask around or do a bit of searching online you’ll soon find out where best to concentrate your efforts.
  4. Get a second opinion
    If you are not sure how you come across, ask someone else for their candid but compassionate view. It might be about updating your look, your interview performance or your CV. Invest in clothes if you can, keep your LinkedIn looking shiny and make sure your CV is modern. Here are some more tips on acing the interview process.
  5. Upskill and ensure you are tech savvy
    I have had clients who want to make major career changes without doing any retraining. I always tell them that it is very hard these days to remain relevant in your existing career without doing short courses, reading about new trends and so on, let alone when you’re trying to make it in a new field. Please do yourself a favour and assess your skills honestly, plug gaps, do an online course or get some relevant work experience. If your tech skills could be challenged by an interviewer, make sure you include your LinkedIn URL on applications, mention a Twitter post you read, put your smartphone on the desk in an interview – do whatever you can to dispel any assumption about your digital competence.
  1. Be flexible
    Perhaps the most important strategy of all is to be flexible. You may need to take a sideways step to get a foot in the door or take a pay cut in order to move into a more satisfying field. Even volunteering or doing an internship can be good (provided it’s a genuine opportunity to learn and contribute, not thinly-disguised free labour).

In short, if you come up against obstacles, don’t despair – take some time to think about ways around them rather than trying to batter your way through. It could make all the difference.

Joanna Maxwell


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