I recently read an article whose subject was how to tell if someone online is over 50. Two of the telltale signs listed include having an AOL email address and putting two spaces at the end of a sentence. Some others include using “thou” in place of “you” or inviting your colleagues for lunch at the automat, although those seem to be coming back! (Eatsa)
The implication of the article is that it’s in your best interest to eliminate these old-timey habits in order to mask your age, particularly when searching for a job. Now, it has been ingrained in all of our heads that age bias exists in the employment market. Many of us believe that, given the explicit choice, a company will hire a younger employee for any number of reasons: cheaper, easier to train, less likely to leave for a better opportunity, etc. While I’m not going to argue that age bias doesn’t exist, I do think its prevalence is overstated in today’s hiring environment.
My rationale relates to the undeniable shift in the way companies and individuals view employment over the past 20 years or so. It has become more and more about the work rather than the social contract that employment has historically entailed. What matters more is that the relationship between the company and the employee is mutually beneficial and works to achieve a common goal. When that mutual benefit dissipates, so does the relationship (as it should). These relationships are getting shorter and shorter in duration, as the tenure of US employees averaged 4.6 years in 2014. As a result, companies care less about the age of the worker because, more likely than not, they will be gone before they get too enfeebled to carry out their duties.
As this relates to a job search, employers require immediate results, and it’s my experience that the plug and play candidate (usually older) has gained an advantage over the candidate who needs to be trained up (usually younger). To paraphrase James Carville, “It’s the skills, stupid,” not the age, that drives the hiring decision. So, if you are out there and possess the necessary skills, believe me when I tell you that you are a valuable commodity in the job market, whether you are 30 or 60. If you don’t have the skills, then you are screwed, regardless of your age. Look at the workers on the opposite ends of the pay scale; both tend to be young. They either work at McDonald’s (low skilled related to older workers) or at Google (high skilled/differently skilled related to older workers). Age has nothing to do with it. If you are a 65-year-old expert in the latest streaming technologies, Reed Hastings will send an Uber to get you to work every day, or better yet, let you work from home.
There is, however, one place where age bias remains an unquestioned problem: between our ears. If you think it will be an issue for you in a job search, then it assuredly will become one. Listening to those doubts in your head may cause you to do some stupid things. You might take some career counselor’s crappy advice and leave the first 10 years of your career history off your resume, or you might omit the year you earned your degree on an employment application. You might work against yourself in a salary negotiation or be too focused on convincing a hiring manager that you won’t leave for a better opportunity as soon as it presents itself. In essence, you will send a message to an employer that you aren’t confident in your abilities; that you, not they, think you are too old for the job. Just don’t do it. If you have the skills required, you will get the job, whether you leave one, two or even three spaces at the end of the sentence. I promise.