7 Qualities to Weave Into Your Brand to Overcome Ageism

 

I have covered ageism before, as it directly relevant and impactful to the demographic of talent I most often work with as clients – baby boomers. Sometimes perspective clients, even after walking them through the outcomes that they can expect by working with me, doubt that those results are possible for them because of their age.

Let me be clear – Age has stopped NONE of my clients in the past 12+ years from landing an epic job. Most of my previous content about ageism was aimed at helping people shift your thinking, refocus your energy, and inspire a greater sense of hope that landing a great job where their years of experience are appreciated is not just possible, but probable with the right brand, plan and execution.

Do companies sometimes discriminate? YES! They do. It happens, but it doesn’t have to stop you from landing a great job where you will be valued. You don’t have to work for @IBM, or any other company where age has seemed to impact employment.

It is absolutely important to make sure that your mindset serves you, but you do also have to have the substance that gets you hired.

Also, let me make it clear that I cam NOT condoning ageism, “or any ism, for that matter. Isms in my opinion are not good.”

This topic was specifically requested by someone in my network who responded to my previous blog requesting people to tell me what topics they want most. (This one’s for you, @BillGutches!)

So, I’d like to go into a few more specifics about the qualities that, if weaved into your brand and proven by your content and experience, will help you put age at the bottom of a list of reasons you might not get a job and inform you of some reasons that actually trump age as reasons you might not get a job.

While at the same time, I have to inform you of a caveat – your brand needs to be authentic. You can land a job by faking it, sometimes, but you won’t set yourself up for success by faking it. The good news is that, even if some of these qualities don’t come naturally to you, they can be developed, some of them more quickly than others.

Prove your brand is authentic by telling stories. When I say “tell stories,” I mean introduce them in your résumé succinctly by identifying the results, the outcomes that were possible because of those results and the skills you applied to achieve them. In your LinkedIn profile, you have more freedom in telling your story as you would, though you still have character limits and brevity is still valuable. Then there is telling your story to people with you network, and then also people with whom you interview. Each of these story formats have different requirements for being optimally effective. Contact us for custom-crafted content and coaching on how to do this.

  1. Value/ROI

A company’s budget is a company’s budget. Any company starting out or rebuilding is going to have to stretch what they have, and they may believe that hiring younger talent and training them enables them to get further faster. As a company starts to gain traction, growing and scaling, however, it becomes very clear that expertise is needed. This is a perfect time to strike.

I am NOT advising you to lower your salary expectations. Some of my former clients were willing to do this in order to step down from stressful positions. This created challenges they had to overcome in order to prevent being dismissed as “overqualified”. Too many believe that this will be the fastest way to land a job, and find that even after they decide to pursue something lower.

I am also NOT advising you to do this. Don’t apply for jobs that ask for someone with 3-5 years or less of experience when you have 15+ and expect someone to have an open mind. More about that here.

This particular article is about promoting your experience as something that will create value above and beyond what someone less experienced can offer. If you try to promote your value, but then ask for a low salary than what you are proving you can offer, you inspire doubt in your value.

Walk a fine line between promoting yourself as an expert and as someone who knows it all.

Tell stories that not only demonstrate that because you have “been there and done that” you can save the company money and accelerate their initiatives, but you have to also demonstrate how you listened, how you made mistakes, and how you trusted the expertise of your team members.

Disqualify employers who care about age as well as bosses whose egos will not appreciate when your experience can help them course-correct. That’s not to say that they will go with whatever you advise. You have to be able to articulate your case in business terms, and the first test of whether or not you can do this is how you promote your own value and fitness for a job.

Some employers have steered away from hiring more experienced workers who would report to less experienced managers because it didn’t work out in the past. You can’t refute people’s life experience. If you say “Believe me!” when their past experiences have proven the opposite, you won’t be influential. You can say, “I’m not the person who burned you, and I can prove it if you give me a chance.”

You can say, “I know how you feel; I’ve seen and experienced a lot, too, enough to know that one bad experience can change your mind, but that you also have to keep an open mind because sometimes going the opposite way isn’t always the right decision, either.”

Prove that you recognize that someone who has fewer years of experience than you, perhaps even a LOT fewer, can still effectively leverage and coordinate the expertise of his or her team, by telling a story like this. When have you yielded your years of experience to someone less experienced?

  1. Health

By promoting a commitment to your health, you can overcome stereotypes that more experienced workers are health risks. This is obviously another area where it’s illegal to discriminate, but hard to prove unless the person applying presents physical evidence of illness or unhealthy habits. However, if you come in NOT smelling like booze or cigarettes and share your passion for biking, hiking, yoga, martial arts, intramural sports or healthy eating/cooking, etc. on social media (yes, they are checking that!) then you can promote yourself as having a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle means fewer sick days, more resilience to stress, and better emotional stability.

On the other hand, you might be promoting a high-risk lifestyle if you are a rock climber, mountain biker, motorcyclist, etc. Companies might perceive that you are at high risk for long-term disability with that kind of lifestyle. Other companies might perceive these as signs that you fit the adventure-seeking culture they are promoting. If you refuse to be anything less than yourself, just make sure you are targeting companies who will appreciate someone who lives life on the edge.

  1. Energy

Companies who have a 24×7 critical operation or high volume need people who can operate at a high level for a sustained period of time. Tell stories that demonstrate your ability to do this.

Demonstrating energy in an interview is a slippery slope. While some cultures are full of extroverted people who feed off of the high energy level of everyone there, most companies prefer a balance. Coming across as too energetic can cause just as many concerns as lacking energy.

Passion usually naturally expresses itself in greater animation in verbal and non-verbal communication. To many bosses, energy = passion. Passion is what will carry you through challenges when natural energy subsides. If you are not naturally high-energy, leverage your passion.

If you’re not someone who naturally comes across as high-energy, then promote yourself as the grounding influence. Every company needs this, but some fear that someone who will bring over-zealous visions down to earth might also be a stick in the mud, naysayer or even worse, a bottleneck to innovation. You have to be able to demonstrate that you can raise awareness around potential obstacles and limits in a non-threatening way and can also support viable solutions that overcome them.

  1. Agility

Here’s a direct quote from a comment left just today on a LinkedIn news article about former employees suing IBM:

“I don’t know to many folks over 40 interested in anything new related to technology. They change because they have too, leaving companies in an interesting position.”

If I had to guess how old she was, I’d say just shy of 40 – old enough to be a hiring manager, even an executive, though she’s not, thankfully – with that kind of bias.

Agility is not just the ability to pivot a project when new intelligence justifies that a different direction will produce a better outcome, but also your ability to change with the times and technology.

IBM claims that they didn’t let go of the workers for age-related reasons, but because they needed to hire workers with different skills. Except that the company could have just trained its workers with updated skills. However, the consulting arm of IBM released a paper in 2006 calling its boomers “gray hairs” and “old heads,” concluding that younger generations were more innovative and open to new technologies. This bias is why they didn’t just train their older workers.

Besides avoiding companies who allow bias to be so influential in decisions on talent, you can overcome this bias by proactively learning technologies that are coming down the pike. Being savvy with social media and how to present data in modern formats, such as in infographics, is a great way to demonstrate this.

Additionally, there was a day when making a 10-year plan made sense, and 18-24 month projects were commonplace. Now we are finding that the market and technology change too fast to make investments in these projects pay off. Everything has to be done faster, and this is why automation is a necessity. If you are in a job that stands to be replaced by automation, it’s time to re-skill NOW. Learn something that will still be needed – leadership (we teach that), strategy, communication, liaising, auditing, compliance, etc. If you insist on promoting the value of a function that in time will be automated, you will soon find yourself unemployable, while also demonstrating that you are the opposite of agile. You may also be inclined to advise based on your need for job security rather than advising based on what is best for the customers/clients. This puts you squarely in the category that creates bottlenecks to innovation.

Resistance to change is a natural, unconscious reaction. Become more self-aware and override the fear. If you can’t help steer the change, at least learn how to surrender to it.

Tell stories that demonstrate how you pivoted for the sake of the company or customer/client, even if a large investment of time and money was made.

  1. Optimism

I was accused of being an idealist by a former boss because I believed (and still do) that people could afford to pass over opportunities that didn’t fit them or pay them what they were worth, because great jobs were out there and with the right tools and campaign, they could land them. This was what my experience taught me after a few years as a career coach, and my clients’ success still affirms this 10 years later. However, he believed that with more wisdom and maturity, I would come to be more “realistic.” That’s what he considered himself. Had I continued recruiting, I might have grown to believe that people should take what’s offered to them, because from my point of view, offers wouldn’t have come along for everyone. The one who got the offer was one in thousands.

First, we have to admit that our views of reality are completely subjective. What one sees as possible, another will have determined is impossible. When we default to assuming things are not possible, we become cynical. This is deadly to innovation. An optimist will assume things are possible and see challenges as opportunities to provide solutions.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston S. Churchill

Which force do you think will propel us toward a better future?

Demonstrate your optimism by telling a story about a time when you were faced with a challenge and designed a solution, even if that solution ultimately failed, but especially if it worked and others doubted it.

  1. Future-thinking

This closely relates to being agile and staying up-to-date, but is better demonstrated by how you make plans. Are you accommodating future trends with plan Bs, or are you waiting for the future trends to become current trends? Are you able to complete a current project while lining up a future pipeline (that, of course, will remain flexible)?

This is the whole purpose behind the interview question, “What is your 5-10 year plan?” Though, as I stated earlier, a 10-year plan is hardly something that can be considered viable without knowing what industry, technology, politics, etc. are going to be like. That doesn’t mean they don’t have their benefits. A vision is a biological tool to activate the motivational centers of the brain. Having something bigger to reach for is exactly what makes being future-thinking valuable. Big-picture thinking, it can also be considered. These are the disruptors and visionaries. Many of these from the last few decades have come from the millennial generation, but most of them have achieved this status after earning their chops (and credibility) and gaining deep industry experience, by being able to see problems from various perspectives and vantage points to be able to better identify a breakthrough solution.

Tell stories about previous pitches you have made while still delivering on current initiatives to demonstrate your ability to be a future thinker. Even if you don’t feel like you know enough about the future to know if your 10-year plan is viable, have one.

  1. In Tune

Yes, this can apply to trends and technology, but it also means being in tune with people and younger generations. Having emotional intelligence is a key need for employers everywhere of all kinds, as I have certainly covered in depth in previous articles. There is such a thing as reverse ageism, and I have heard some people, the same people who assume they are being discriminated against for being a senior professional, say some biased things against younger generations. I understand the hurt of being discriminated against because of your age. An emotionally intelligent person would empathize and not inflict that on another. Instead, they would give each person a chance to be appreciated for their individual strengths. The best innovations will transpire when all generations contribute their value and benefits as a collaborative force. Each generation has its strength. Ideally, younger generations would be able to learn from the past experience and trial and error of senior generations to avoid certain pitfalls while older generations can learn how to use technology to get more done with less.

Transcend biases, no matter what direction they are turned. Increase your self-awareness of your biases. Aim to understand and appreciate. Bring people together of all ages, races, genders, and credos. Tell stories about how you built a sense of community among a diverse group of people for a common purpose, while still allowing people to bring to the table what the do well naturally.

 

I realize that some of the content in this article may have struck a raw nerve. It just doesn’t feel good to expect that you won’t be considered good enough just being who you are. I’ve always been committed to crafting and campaigning authentic brands for my clients. You may be at a place where you plain and simple feel as though the years you put in, the previous value you’ve delivered, and the expertise you curated should make you good enough to earn the job. You’re not wrong.

The thing is, the job doesn’t always go do the most qualified. People get interviewed for their qualifications, but so many managers would rather train and develop up and coming talent, considering it something noble to create opportunity for future leaders. They’re also not wrong.

Ultimately, the offer goes to someone who demonstrates they have the aptitude to learn, develop and grow with the organization, the passion to endure growing pains, and the personality and values to thrive in the culture.

This is true for all professionals, even if the person being hired is expected to be the expert and authority.

Most people have some kind of challenge to optimizing their career transition. Age can be one of them. But, like all of them, with a strategic, authentic, powerfully demonstrated brand and campaign, they can be overcome.

Contact us if you want more help on crafting your authentic brand and executing a strategy that enables you to work smart instead of hard and landing an optimal job with optimal pay.

certainly covered in depth in previous articles. There is such a thing as reverse ageism, and I have heard some people, the same people who assume they are being discriminated against, say some biased things against younger generations. I understand the hurt of being discriminated against because of your age. An emotionally intelligent person would empathize and not inflict that on another. Instead, they would give each person a chance to be appreciated for their individual strengths. The best innovations will transpire when all generations contribute their value and benefits as a collaborative force.

Transcend biases, no matter what direction they are turned. Increase your self-awareness of your biases. Aim to understand and appreciate. Bring people together of all ages, races, genders, and credos. Tell stories about how you built a sense of community among a diverse group of people for a common purpose, while still allowing people to bring to the table what the do well naturally.

 

I realize that some of the content in this article may have struck a raw nerve. It just doesn’t feel good to feel like you won’t be considered good enough just being who you are. I’ve always been committed to crafting and campaigning authentic brands for my clients. You may be at a place where you plain and simple feel as though the years you put in, the previous value you’ve delivered, and the expertise you curated should make you good enough to earn the job. You’re not wrong.

The thing is, the job doesn’t always go do the most qualified. People get interviewed for their qualifications, but so many managers would rather train and develop up and coming talent, considering it something noble to create opportunity for future leaders. They’re also not wrong. The offer goes to someone who demonstrates they have the aptitude to learn, develop and grow with the organization, the passion to endure growing pains, and the personality and values to thrive in the culture.

This is true for ALL professionals. Most people have some kind of challenge to optimizing their career transition. Age can be one of them, but like all of them, with a strategic, authentic, powerfully demonstrated brand and campaign, they can be overcome.

Contact us if you want more help on crafting your authentic brand and executing a strategy that enables you to work smart instead of hard and landing an optimal job with optimal pay.

Bon Jovi – I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

Seven days of Saturday Is all that I need Got no use for Sunday Couse I don’t rest in peace Don’t need no Mondays Or the rest of the week I spend a lot of time in bed But baby I don’t like to sleep no I won’t lie to

 

Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a corporate consulting and career management firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play.

While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales.

Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer and Certified Career Transition Consultant and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot.

She was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business and recently instructed for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy at Cabrini College, where her students won the national competition and were named America’s Top Young Entrepreneurs.

 

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