By Dr. Ginger Raya
Faculty Member, School of Health Sciences, American Public University
Over the years, one of the greatest concerns I hear from job seekers is the fear of age discrimination, or ageism. They fear either no callbacks from their job applications or if they do get a job interview, it’s only with one person or a virtual interview. In some cases, they never hear back from the employer.
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Ageism is one of the more prevalent forms of stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination. Ageism is not isolated to any particular age demographic; for example, you may be discriminated against for looking too young.
But those more at risk who face ageism are older people. Between 2000 and 2050 the percentage of the world’s population over 60 years will double from 11 percent to 22 percent.
What Is Ageism?
Ageism can be categorized into three main areas:
Ageism also occurs intergenerationally. How many of us have heard stereotypes about Millennials? Or Baby Boomers? Ageism can lead to older employees receiving harsher reviews for poor work performance than their younger coworkers, which is detrimental and can lead to requests for transfer, resignations, demotions, or firings.
Interviewers Judge Job Seekers and Their Appearance within Milliseconds
So, what about job seekers? A study on facial age appearance published in Frontiers in Psychology found that within milliseconds, an interviewer associated appearance as a basis for competency and health status. An older appearance triggered impressions of poorer health and fitness — specifically, lesser physical and cognitive ability.
This means that older job applicants were perceived as not being able to handle complicated tasks or to quickly learn new skills. Some stereotypes that an applicant is likely to encounter and needs to manage include:
- Being seen as less technologically savvy
- An inability to learn new skills quickly
- A lack of adaptability
- An inability to handle pressure
Successful Tactics for Overcoming Ageism
According to the study, older applicants can utilize impression management (IM) tactics to overcome age bias. There are two classifying behaviors for these tactics: assertive and defensive. Assertive IM tactics are used to create favorable impressions while defensive tactics are used to repair or protect one’s image.
The ability to master impression management tactics is key to an applicant’s job search success rate. Tactics to counter these stereotypes in an interview include:
- Actively contradicting adaptability stereotypes
- Utilizing nonverbal behaviors, e.g., smiling, making eye contact, nodding or other hand gestures associated with higher interview evaluations
Self-promotion is essential in an interview, especially if you are trying to counter age-related stereotypes. It will be important either in an opening statement or throughout the interview to find a way to highlight the achievements that came from your successfully leveraging technology. That may sound something like “I had great success in launching a product promotion utilizing social media outlets such as….” or “I met my sales numbers by meeting with my team in person or via video conference.”
Questions related to your learning new skills or adaptability will also need to be answered in the interview to positively highlight your past success in a way that is directly attributable to your adaptability. That may sound something like “I learned and mastered the use of the company system and eventually became the go-to person to help others who were struggling with the technology.” It could also be a statement such as “I started off as a member of the operations team and then was promoted to the compliance team because I quickly became proficient in…”
You may find this research disheartening and validating your past challenges. But being prepared for an interview also means being prepared to counter the ageism bias — either conscious or unconscious — of an interviewer. But there are plenty of resources and companies that embrace age diversity.
For more information about ageism, check out the following resources:
- 10 companies that really care about their older workers
- Great Jobs for Workers Over 50
- Work from home benefits for older workers
The key is to stay positive, learn more about how to overcome bias, and don’t give up!
About the Author
Dr. Ginger Raya is a faculty member in the School of Health Sciences at American Public University. She has been a healthcare leader for over 15 years in academic and ambulatory medicine environment. Dr. Raya is an experienced faculty and a course developer in healthcare administration for over 11 years. In addition, she is a certified career coach specializing in helping graduate students find meaningful careers in healthcare.
Dr. Raya has a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Texas at El Paso. She holds a master’s degree in health care administration from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and a Doctor of Education in organizational leadership from Argosy University.
Dr. Raya was competitively selected and is a graduate of Leadership Texas (Class of 2015), a nonprofit social enterprise that is a nationally recognized, preeminent women’s education organization through Leadership Women, Inc. and was selected to participate in Leadership America, 2020 cohort and served on the Board of Directors for the local chapter of the American College of Healthcare Executives. She was also elected to the Board of Directors for Evolve Federal Credit Union, one of the largest credit unions in El Paso, Texas, and previously served as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for KCOS-TV, El Paso’s PBS Station.
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