7 Tips from Perspectives on Ageism in Hiring Leaders
Recently a 69-year-old man sued to have his age changed on his birth certificate. The “biological age calculator” shows him at age 45, and he has felt limited by sharing his true age when applying for a mortgage or dating on Tinder. On one hand, it made me chuckle and on the other, I felt empathy and a spark of genuine curiosity about how we approach people over age 50 when hiring. Being over 50, I set out to see if I could offer some positive energy to my over 50 cohort seeking new employment opportunities or considering a career change.
I’ve interviewed a few leadership search professionals, and hope you’ll be as energized as I am by their responses on the topic of ageism in hiring leaders. Thank you Tasha Hock, Max Hansen and Melissa Schoenberger for sharing their insights.
Do you believe ageism is an issue in hiring today and if so, how serious is it for job seeking leaders over age 50? Do you have any advice or guidance?
It is an interesting question, responds Tasha Hock, Leadership Search Director at Y Scouts. The workforce is full of people over the age of 50 who have reached amazing levels of professionalism and driven fantastic impact for the organizations they’ve served. You don’t get hired as a CEO straight out of business school. You have to grow and gain experience over the course of a career, and that takes time. While not denying the impact age can have when you’re looking for a new role or making a change, we place some of these limitations on ourselves. If we project concern with our age, others will pick up on that, and it can present challenges. Not to get too mystical here, but the things we are afraid of, are the things we draw to us. There are people negatively impacted by how companies and individuals might think about age, but it is how we show up in response that can make the difference.
Max, Hansen, Y Scouts CEO adds a similar perspective adding the data point, People are living longer and working longer. As many as 18.8% of people over 65 are still working today, versus 12.8% in the year 2000. He agrees with Tasha, age is an issue that needs to be addressed by the job seeking leaders. He adds, from the hiring standpoint, diversity is always better. Workers over 50 (or 40… or 30…) bring a style of diversity and perspective needed to tackle tough problems for organizations.
Tip 1: Build on the Momentum of Your Learning
Being on the north side of 50 myself, Tasha adds, I appreciate all that leaders in my cohort have learned through their years of experience. Leaders who have had a longer runway of experience can take advantage of the learning through both success and mistakes over the years, and recognize the value their depth of experience brings. Workers over 50 have much to celebrate. You can recognize for yourself: I have great years of practical learning. There are numerous missions I have supported! I’m a catch! You can do that in an authentic way of recognizing that you have a lot to give.
Build on the momentum of your professional life. You’re an expert at taking feedback and leveraging it to learn. Welcome it and pursue it. You’re always asking yourself and your team, “what went well and how can we build on it?” Older workers have spent time aligning to their purpose and work they’re passionate about. They know what excites them and are eager to dedicate themselves to it.
Tip 2: Stay Relevant by Staying Curious
Tasha’s insightful second tip advises staying current in your knowledge. Put yourself out there and listen. Join the conversation. Recently, she helped establish the Twin Cities Chapter of Conscious Capitalism and works to stay constantly curious about what others are doing. “We have a lot of proven theories at our age. Those are great AND we have to stay open to all possibilities of better and new ways to think and add value and impact.”
Part of the unique Y Scouts model in hiring is that we start with you, the person and who you are and what you really care about, before we consider your resume and its dates. Any company that wants to succeed will challenge and correct their outdated hiring practices. The way Y Scouts engages with talent mitigates this issue through a covert approach and a conversation rooted in core values, rather than your resume and its dates.
Embrace the opportunity to keep learning and reinventing. Ask yourself, how can I actively pursue more skills and knowledge? What are my gaps and development opportunities? What can I read, join, connect to? What are the communities I’m just discovering and how can I add value to them? Tasha shares, “Recently our CEO sent around a book, Big Potential and it challenges assumptions about individual heroism and reminds us that success is built-in systems. Such an intriguing and important notion! One I’m excited to continue investigating and working to leverage to improve my own professional practice. I’m excited to ask myself, ‘who and how can I help?’”
Tip 3: Make an Authentic Wish List
Move beyond simply creating a resume and updating your LinkedIn. Make a wishlist of your ideal vision for your next role and organization. Be real with yourself. What do you want to serve? What really matters to you? What fulfills you at the core? Think deeply to define these things. As you are able to articulate that ideal vision you will be much more able to manifest it. Share your wishlist with a potential employer. When the opportunity aligns, they will appreciate the authentic YOU and the work will provide the greatest fulfillment for you.
Tasha shares, her list includes:
- Leadership that I trust and to whom I extend trust
- Laugh every day
- Be my best self every day
To research organizations that align with your wishlist:
- Look at the company’s website
- Talk with people that work there to get a sense of the Organizational DNA (look for a future post on how Y Scouts helps candidates see this!)
- Look at Glassdoor ratings (taking it with a grain of salt)
- Talk with former employees and find out what drew them away.
Remember that your wish list is the road bringing you to a place where your passion is ignited and you can drive the greatest impact. Purpose + Passion = Impact
Tip 4: Take Comfort in Knowing Yourself Better
We grow to know ourselves better as we age. Early in her interview process, Tasha shares her full arm tattoos with her potential employer. She needs to know that the company she works for accepts her authentic self. She knows she has to be accepted this way, to do her best work.
Remember, you are interviewing employers as much as they are interviewing you. Be discriminating. Have a clear vision of the organization. When you see an organization’s values on their website or lobby wall, ask the leader you are speaking to give you an example of how they have personally demonstrated those values in their behaviors recently. Ask yourself, do these responses represent my conduct and which do I have a curiosity about? Are they drawing me in? Values are not words on a wall, they are demonstrated by the behaviors of the people in the organization.
Tip 5: Set Up Informational Interviews
Think about where you want to be. Where do you have passion and curiosity? Which companies share your values? Look at your primary and secondary connections on LinkedIn and set up Information Interviews. Approach them by sharing:
- I have a curiosity about your work at (company x)
- I want to learn about what you do (invite them to share about themselves as most good leaders will share to help others)
- Your values resonate with me and reflect the kind of organization I’d like to serve
Why do this? This positions your personal brand and curiosity with this leader, so when an opportunity there arises, you will be on their radar. Let’s face it, leaders want to hire people moving towards something, not fleeing something.
Tip 6: Highlight Your Impact
Age is not a skill or a capability. It signals a collected experience set that highlights your stage of positive impact.
Good hiring leaders care a lot less how many years someone has done something and a lot more about what they have done in that time. 3 stellar years of exceptional performance is preferable to 15 years of the status quo, just waiting to collect a paycheck. We want to see a leader that has been driving forward and creating a positive impact.
Max reminds clients set on hiring an “up and comer,” of the positives of hiring someone older. Recently, a non-profit exec shared with Max how he has been hiring leaders over 50 for years and feels like he gets more from them, with their foundation of wisdom and proven skill set. He shared he also believes they are not as fixated on the money piece of it. Max adds, “I see age as a positive, especially as I start to get older (giggle, giggle). That is why the Y Scouts focus on purpose and values alignment helps clients hire candidates who will perform best in the role. Age is beneficial; an asset, not a disadvantage.”
Adding a similar sentiment, Melissa, Leadership Search Specialist at Y Scouts, acknowledges that age occasionally comes up with clients through our conversations, but is not a major issue. Once in a while a company discusses their desire for someone more green that they can coach up, and who will stay long term. Y Scouts works with those clients to help them understand who they are looking for in terms of the success they will help achieve. We do not discriminate based on age, LinkedIn photos or protected classes. Instead, We coach our clients and remind them of the benefits of rooting their consideration of candidates in values and impact as measured by prior positive impact.
Tip 7: Share Your 50+ Age as a Positive
Celebrate age diversity positively, just like gender. Visionary companies choose age diversity for a well-rounded team.
Max reminds us that while we are being assessed for a role we should also take the opportunity to assess the company, leaders, and opportunity. Be open and ask, what do you have to offer me? Interview them while they interview you.
Melissa adds, millennials have a reputation for being job hoppers, and older leaders have a reputation for being loyal. While this is a bit of a generalization, it is often the case and an amazing advantage for older workers.
I will close by sharing my personal gratitude that Y Scouts sees my career journey to 50 and beyond as an advantage. I wish you all the best as you navigate your career after years of learning, growing, and experiences. I hope you take away from this, there are more positives than negatives to being you! Embrace you, and your age.