If you're over 40 and in the hunt for a new job, you may be wondering why it feels so much harder than it used to. Especially, when the news keeps saying we have the lowest unemployment in decades and companies are complaining about how they can't find enough talent. It doesn't take too long before even the most positive and enthusiastic seasoned professional starts to wonder if age discrimination is the culprit. I personally don't like to call it age discrimination. I call it "experience discrimination," because it's a more accurate explanation of what's happening. Here are three reasons why:

1. Why buy a Porsche when a Kia will work just fine?

I work with a lot of over-40 job seekers who get enraged when they are told they're "overqualified" for the job. After years of working hard to gain their knowledge and skills, now it's essentially working against them. They don't want to hear the realities of business. Companies want to make money. If they can do a job with a less-expensive employee, they will. I often use the example, "How can a employer justify paying for a Porsche if they believe they can get from point A to point B just as well with a Kia?" As a seasoned pro, you have a bunch of bells and whistles the employer doesn't want to pay for. And with over half the workforce being Millennials, it's the law of supply and demand. In the minds of employers I've spoken with, Millennials have fewer bad habits, are looking to impress and please them as a way to climb the ladder, and are cheaper to boot. 

2. You say you'll take the lesser job. But is your ego really OK with it long-term?

After months and months of looking for work and being told your overqualified, you can see why over-40 workers might start to rationalize accepting a lesser role with less pay. Unfortunately, employers don't buy it. Why? Just like you, they live in the me-centric culture that has taught us all we deserve more, i.e. "You worked hard for this. You've earned it." Going backwards in pay and job status isn't easy to take in a society where answering the question, "What do you do for work?" is so tightly tied to our personal identities. Out of desperation to seek employment, you can rationalize the pay cut. But long-term you'll more than likely want to focus on finding a job that matches your perception of your worth. Employers know that. It's why they don't want to hire you. Why train you when they know you'll leave once something better comes along? Moreover, who wants to manage an employee who deep-down feels they're in a role that's beneath them?

3. Studies show we're not as self-aware as we think we are.

In this new age of emotional intelligence, many people think they're more in touch with other's feelings toward them than they really are. Unfortunately, we tend to over-estimate our skills in this area. Studies show as much as 85 percent of workers don't realize how they're being perceived in the workplace. Which means, you may think you're a tech-savvy, hip, 40-something professional. But it's more likely you're seen as frustrated, overly worried, longing for the gold-ole-days, and losing your edge. Especially, to Millennials who are still stinging from years of being called "lazy" and "entitled." There's a boomerang effect to chastising a younger generation. When they come of age and dominate a workforce, the payback is real. 

The solution? Think "specialist", not "generalist."

Many over-40 workers think marketing themselves as a Jack or Jill-of-all-trades is the best way to get hired. In my experience, it isn't. Of course you're a generalist. You've been in the workforce a long time. You've got a wide variety of skills as a result. But now you need to convey how you will leverage your advanced capabilities to solve a specific problem and alleviate a big pain for employers. In short, what's your specialty? There's an expectation 
all those years on the job trained you to excel in a particular area. And therefore, are worth paying extra for. Strip away your vast array of skills and focus in on the ones that will save or make the company enough money to justify the cost of paying more for you. 

P.S. Job interviews are where most 40+ job seekers deliver the wrong message.

In my experience, the decision to not hire the seasoned pro happens in the job interview. The hiring manager gets the wrong impression based on the attitude and focus of the over-40 candidate's responses. Without realizing it, many seasoned pros give off a vibe that makes them seem opinionated, inflexible, and a know-it-all. Sadly, employers don't tell you this. Instead, they lie and say, "we think you're overqualified and would be bored here." If you're someone who has left a job interview saying, "I crushed it. They were hanging on my every word," only to get the overqualified rejection, you may fall into this category. The solution is to learn techniques for answering interview questions that send the age-appropriate message. When you were younger, what you lacked for in knowledge you were expected to make up for in confidence and enthusiasm. But as we mature, the expectations shifts. Employers are looking for more humility and situational awareness from seasoned pros. In spite of all your knowledge, they want to know you sincerely believe you have a lot to learn -- from co-workers of all ages.

Published on: Apr 22, 2019
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