By Josh McAfee
Generational divides and tension have become a cliché. From “get off my lawn” to “kids these days…” to “ok, boomer,” there have been unintentional walls thrown up between people grouped together by the date on their birth certificates.
Unfortunately, those walls can block us from finding talent or maximizing our careers.
Recently, I’ve come across several very talented leaders that are in the latter part of their careers. As they’re diving into the hiring process and interviewing for roles, they’re experiencing (or perceiving they’re experiencing) ageism.
Ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) towards others or oneself based on age.
It’s understandably frustrating and anxiety inducing, undercutting their confidence and causing them to not perform as well during the interview process. These are candidates that have worked hard to build strong skills sets and have substantial value to bring to any company.
So why aren’t they getting the job?
Sometimes it’s the way they’re coming across, especially if nerves or ego are causing them to overcompensate when discussing their skills and contributions. “I can do this job with my hands tied behind my back” may be completely true, but it doesn’t come across as being team oriented or personable.
When they think they’re communicating competency and excitement, hiring agents may think
- “Gosh, I’ll never be able to keep this guy happy.”
- “She wants a much bigger job than we have available.”
- “Oh there’s no way we can afford this person.”
- Or the dreaded “Oh no, they’ll want my job.”
That could cause some insecurity or at least discomfort on their part, turning them off of highly experienced and valuable candidates. It’s not uncommon for the person doing the interviewing to be on the younger side. The breakdown may not be ageism at all, but an issue of relatability, trust, and commonality.
To avoid that misalignment, it can be helpful to give the interviewer some slack and ask “Where was I in my career at that age? What would I have thought of myself?”
Reframing can go a long way in clearing up misunderstandings, fears, and bias. A stronger tactic would be approaching the conversation from a pain point and value perspective, focusing on how exciting it would be to work with their team, why you’re passionate about working with them to solve big challenges to help grow the company, and what is great about the organization. That is the kind of messaging that can overcome an age difference.
Remember, when you can turn what starts or feels like a conflict into a collaboration, you have a much better chance of getting the results you want. Humility, genuineness, interest, excitability, and most importantly, the value of your experience, successes, and what you’ve learned from your mistakes make you an amazing candidate. Don’t screw it up by being insecure about your age.
Knock it out of the park by humbly focusing (or refocusing them) on their business pain points and goals and how your experience and value solves those better and faster. Maybe even tongue and cheek throw in a little FOMO of less experienced candidates making mistakes you’ve already made and learned from on their dime.
Channel your inner Ronald Regan who when asked about his significantly older age against Mondale he stated resolutely, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
Perspective is important, but having strong support to help identify great opportunities and fine tune the value proposition is just as vital. That’s where a highly skilled recruiter can come in handy.
Get a whole team in your corner by reaching out to Humans Doing today.
Josh McAfee is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Humans Doing. With over 26 years of recruiting and team-building experience, Josh has worked with startups, SMBs, and large companies to determine hiring needs, develop our recruiting strategies and processes, and connect top talent to fuel growth. In 2021, he became a Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author with his book Measure Up: Mastering Your Career Search Like a Boss.
Humans Doing is an expert team of highly skilled recruiters specializing in filling critical tech and leadership positions for growing companies. Our greatest measure of success is the success of our clients and the candidates we place with them. We help people make great hiring and career decisions. Our team is ready to partner with you to find the right people for the right roles.