Combatting Age Discrimination in the Job Search: Part I of III

The first article in a three-part series on conducting a job search later in life.

As many of you mentioned in your comments on my previous article, not everyone who’s 50 years old or older has the luxury of an encore career.

Many job seekers need a full-time job with full-time pay, and are feeling the negative effects of a down economy. I’m not going to sugarcoat it – finding a job in general is more challenging than ever. Trying to find a new job later in life can be even more frustrating. Studies have shown that employees in their 50s or older are not only more likely to be laid off during hard economic times, but they’re also known to have longer periods of unemployment before they are able to re-enter the workforce. There are a number of factors at play here, including age discrimination.

It may not be fair, but it’s real — age discrimination is alive and well in today’s workplace. We could talk for hours how recruiters, hiring managers — society as a whole — should change their mind-set, but that isn’t going to help you land a job any faster. What we really need to discuss is what you can do to compete against other candidates — regardless of their age — in today’s job market.

I’ve broken my advice into six sections, which we will publish in three parts: Preparation, Search & Close. These insights and tips are not based on my coaching experiences and research alone. I’ve reached out to career coaches, recruiters and HR professionals I’ve worked with or met throughout my eight-plus years at Ladders to provide both overarching advice and practical tips you can use right away.


Your state of mind can unknowingly boost or sabotage your job search efforts. If you think the age issue is standing in the way of your job search, then it will. I’m not saying age discrimination doesn’t exist. If you feel your employment rights have been violated, you can file a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). But getting angry about it doesn’t help. It wastes valuable time and energy that could be better spent on your search efforts. And it makes you less marketable. No one wants to hire a candidate – whether they’re 25 or 55 years old – who comes across as bitter and resentful.

You have a lot of value to offer a potential employer. Your experience, industry expertise and maturity are all selling points. Workforce Engine Director of Talent Acquisition Jennifer Scott has worked within the recruiting and talent acquisition space for more than 14 years. While she admits that age discrimination exists, she says that in her experience, if you can sell your expertise and demonstrate your value, companies will value that.

Don’t hide from your age, Scott says. Be proud of your experience. Scott adds that age is a state of mind. Demonstrate a positive, upbeat and energetic persona, she continues, and don’t show any sign of cynicism. So put on a smile when you’re networking or speaking with a recruiter during a phone screen – even if you don’t feel like it. Your goal is to come across as confident, passionate and full of energy and expertise. Fake it till you feel it.

Job Goals

Before you can begin your search, it’s important to clearly define your job goals. No one is an expert at everything and, in fact, employers won’t expect you to be, as today’s job market requires subject matter expertise. Take inventory of your strengths and preferences to guide the direction of your job search. Chances are you’ve worn many hats during your career. Focus your current goals on the key skill sets and strengths you’ve utilized, particularly within the past 10 years of your career.

Consider the accomplishments you found to be most satisfying and rewarding during this part of your work history. What was the focus of that work? What was your motivation? What role did you play? What was the work environment like? What core values guided the project? This will help you uncover the skills and organizational culture that work best for you.

Be flexible as to how you get back into the workforce. When you’re nearing or past the 60-year mark, often your best bet is to pursue something other than the traditional full-time job, such as part-time, consulting or freelance work. Scott advises job seekers not to be afraid of consulting opportunities. Gigs often turn into jobs, she says. These less traditional roles can also help grow your network of connections, uncover additional opportunities and boost your resume following a period of unemployment.


In a research study conducted by Ladders, we found that the average recruiter spends six seconds reviewing a resume before deciding to chuck it in the garbage or set it aside for closer inspection. You have six seconds to make the right impression. Before your resume even reaches a recruiter or hiring manager who is more knowledgeable about your line of work, it must first get past a piece of software (known as an Applicant Tracking System or ATS ) and a junior level sourcer or HR coordinator who conducts the initial screenings.

Your goal is not only to have a resume that supports your job goals, but also make sure it’s easy to read and is ATS-friendly. Here are seven tips to help you get there:

  • Restrict the amount of experience you include to the last 15 years, and remove college graduation and certification dates that fall outside that time frame. The emphasis should be placed on the most recent years of experience.
  • Limit your resume to two pages. This shouldn’t be as difficult, now that you’re only displaying the last 15 years of work experience. Considering the amount of time a recruiter spends on resumes, anything longer than three pages won’t get read. Resume writers will rarely create a resume that’s more than two pages.
  • Avoid the jack-of-all-trades approach. Although you may have worked in a number of different roles throughout your career, your resume shouldn’t be a laundry list of everything you have done or could be capable of doing. Instead, it needs to align with your current job goals. Tailor the information to highlight the accomplishments that reflect your qualifications for your desired role.
  • Incorporate common buzzwords, terminology and key phrases that pop up in the majority of the job descriptions you’re interested in applying to (assuming you have those skills). This will help you make it past the initial screenings – especially with an ATS – and on to the recruiter.
  • Don’t include embedded tables, pictures or other images in the resume – it confuses the ATS system. Also, don’t use the header or footer portions in the Word document for the same reasons. Create your resume heading outside of this area, at the top of your document.
  • Use one of the following font types that are considered highly readable and don’t confuse the ATS systems: Arial, Calibri, Cambria, Tahoma, Book Antiqua or Franklin Gothic. Times New Roman is also fine, but I recommend against it since it’s so common – your application will look like everyone else’s.
  • Include one professional-looking email address (we recommend setting up a free email address with Gmail), one phone number (where you can control the voicemail message, who picks up the phone and when), and a customized URL for your LinkedIn profile at the top of your resume. This will help control communication and steer the recruiter toward the right online profile.

Tomorrow’s installment will focus on personal branding and the pursuit of new opportunities. Click on the following links for more information on your mindset during the search and writing your resume.

*Note: click on the following links to access Part II and Part III of this series.