Eighty-eight-year-old Betty White just hosted Saturday Night Live. She landed the gig after a couple of well-received performances including the recent Snickers super bowl commercial and an appearance in the movie The Proposal.
But it was probably the Facebook fan group, Betty White to Host SNL (please) that ultimately propelled White to the SNL stage. White landed the gig because she remains relevant to her fans. Other famous people who have remained relevant despite the perception of age include Warren Buffet, Cloris Leachman, Madonna, Cher, Buzz Aldrin, Dara Torres, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, and Hugh Hefner.
But what about job seekers? Age discrimination is a big concern for many. And everyone seems to have a different cutoff for what they think "too old" is. Some say 40, others say 50 or 60. Perhaps we should all take a lesson from Betty White and her cohorts and concentrate on relevance rather than age. Here are some proactive steps all job seekers can take to make sure age bias is minimized and relevance is optimized.
Group earlier experience into a category that reads "Additional Experience." Create an abbreviated overview of the positions you held more than 15 years ago. This allows you to be transparent about earlier experience but keep the focus on the more recent and more relevant accomplishments. Another strategy for older workers is to include a "hobbies" section on the resume. This can help combat age bias if you participate in sports that suggest an active lifestyle. In addition, if you have certain technology skills that prove you are current in your field, add that information as well in a section that lists your key skills and competencies. (Get FREE résumé help.)
Some job seekers believe that by not having a picture on online identity and networking sites, they decrease the chance of being discriminated against. I disagree. If you do not post a picture in communities where they are the norm, people will think you have something to hide. Sometimes people post pictures that were taken 10-15 years ago. This could damage your credibility when you actually meet the person who viewed your profile online. Your picture is part of your brand. Pay as much attention to it as you would your other marketing collateral. Lighting, makeup, clothing choice, and an updated hairstyle will help you present your best image while still being transparent and authentic. (See Getting Started with Social Networking.)
Sometimes when a hiring authority figures out your age, they draw the conclusion that you command a certain salary and that perhaps they won't be able to afford you. When interviewing, if you detect this feeling, be sure to discuss your interest in the position, your desire for meaningful work, and your flexibility. This can help the hiring manager to understand that salary in not necessarily your main motivator. The reality is that many older workers are not more expensive; if anything they are often behind market value because of longevity with a previous employer. Large salary bumps generally occur by switching jobs more frequently, not by staying with the same employer over many years. So the very thing the employer is concerned about might actually turn out to be a non-issue. Better to explore the issue than let the hiring manager come to his own, and possibly incorrect, conclusion.
No one is the right fit for every company. Some companies do have a more youth-oriented culture. But many do not and even tout themselves as best places for boomers or people over 50. AARP publishes a list each year called the Best Employers for Workers Over 50. By targeting the companies that embrace older workers you dramatically decrease the potential for encountering age bias.
It sounds so cliché, but it is true. If you believe you are old, others will believe it as well. If you refuse to put arbitrary limitations on age you increase the chances that others will reject these notions as well. Focus on the value you can bring to an employer, not the longevity of your career history. Leverage the latest social media technologies such as Twitter and Facebook to stay connected in current conversations. Ditch phrases such as "back in the day" and "when I was your age." Rewrite the rules.
I take my cues from the people I see making age a non-issue by remaining relevant. It's not just billionaires, TV stars, and rock stars who are doing it successfully. I see examples around me all the time -- and they teach me how to be a little bit more relevant every day.