How old is ‘too old’?

David Attenborough is arguably one of the most respected and admired broadcasters of a generation, he is also 89 years old at time of writing. Few would ever suggest that he is too old to do what he does best, yet despite the UK’s rapidly growing ageing population, older workers are sadly few and far between.

But how old is ‘old’ and does age really matter when it comes to searching for your next role?

In 2006 the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations came into place in a bid to outlaw the ageist recruitment practices that had been in place since the early 1980s. They were also introduced to protect a working population that will soon see one in three UK workers over the age of 50 by 2020 – a rise of 42% since 1992, according to Aviva analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics.

However, general assumptions are still made about people and their abilities to do a good job based on their age.

Indeed, studies in the US have found that applications purportedly sent by ‘younger’ people are 40% more likely to result in an interview request than those sent by ‘older’ ones. This leads us into the realm of unconscious bias.

Like it or not unconscious bias exists in all of us at varying degrees, and it is during the recruitment process that the extent to which our unconscious bias is clear to see. Much of the reason for this is a perception that older workers lack technical competence and will take longer to learn new things. That’s simply not true, as two reports from 2015 point out.

Age UK found that up to the age of 70, older workers are just as productive at work as their younger colleagues, while a study conducted by Business in the Community (BITC) found that mixed-aged teams increase the relative productivity of older and younger workers alike.

So what can ‘older’ job seekers do to overcome the ageism trap and position themselves as the candidate-of-choice?

The key is to sell yourself more on your proven ability and expertise and less on the experience that you have gained:

  • Consider using a skills-based CV over a traditional chronological CV because too many dates going back in time can negatively age your CV.
  • Match your expertise to the specifics of the job you are applying for.
  • Show your accomplishments throughout your career that are directly relevant to the job in hand and provide quantifiable metrics that demonstrate the impact of the initiatives you have implemented or projects that you have managed in previous positions.

Remember the 30-second rule – recruiters spend about 20 seconds scanning a CV, which means that you need to grab their attention quickly and give them a reason to keep reading your details:

  • Each section of your CV must be concise and contain information of most value to the advertised position.
  • Resist the need to provide a breakdown of every role that you have held throughout career. Instead, while there is certainly no harm in referencing some of these positions, recruiters will pay more of their attention on the roles that you have performed over the last 10-15 years. These most recent roles are the ones which you should provide more detail as they will provide recruiters with a greater understanding of you capabilities in the here and now, rather than early on in your career.
  • Remember that the recruiter will be looking for evidence that you are the right to satisfy the business needs of their client based. So focus on your most recent successes and not what you did twenty years ago – you are only as good as your last game, so don’t try riding the crest of a wave that has long disappeared over the horizon.

Even if you are in your 40s or 50s chances are that you have a good 15 or 20 more working years still to go. That’s some investment! So if you are going to talk about your years in the sector, talk about what that actually means to a recruiter – research shows that older workers are more loyal and dependable than your younger counterparts, and less likely to jump ship in search of career progression elsewhere.

With employers keen to keep hold of their best people and avoid incurring further costs if an employee decides to leave, knowing that you are more likely to hang around for sometime makes it so much easier for your recruiter to ‘sell’ you as the perfect candidate to a would-be employer.

Use the age card to your advantage by emphasising the current and future benefits of a recruiter taking you on, and let others concern themselves with how many years they have or don’t have under their belts.

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