How can I avoid being labeled by my age in the workplace?

Whether you are fresh out of school or have been working for decades, I’m sure you’ve come across this common discrimination. Truth to be told, age discrimination is all too common. In both directions – being perceived as too young (and therefore too inexperienced) or too old (outdated a not current.)

Unfortunately, many recruiters and employers don’t even acknowledge that it is actually illegal. So before getting into what you can do, I want to give you some background.

The legal side of age discrimination

The Age Discrimination Employment Act was passed in 1967, making age one of the “protected characteristics” in the workplace. This means that employers cannot discriminate against their employees based on their age; this would include hiring, firing, promotions, and assignments.

However, keep in mind that – as of now – businesses of less than 20 employees are excluded from this, meaning if a recruiter asked Sherry about the year in which she graduated from university to learn her age, they might have been walking a fine line of legality, or they may just be victims of their own biases.

Regardless, this is all too common, especially in three different stages of the career.

  • First, within the job search. Often younger applicants are favored simply due to their age; this is especially common when employers assume an older person does not have the skillsets of someone younger… for example, in managing technology.
  • Second, once you are on the job, it is common for younger employees to be given more opportunities to grow and learn. This may look like additional opportunities for training, faster promotions, or more chances to show their skills within the workplace.
  • Finally, seniors are often the ones within a workplace targeted for layoffs or encouraged to retire when a company is struggling.

If any of these sound like struggles you’ve faced, here are 9 ways to combat it…

Always play to your strengths

Here are some tests for those who want to take a career-related quiz to determine their strengths.

Also, find out what your first impression says about you:

Invest in your personal and professional growth

Next, and this one is important, always continue investing in your growth and knowledge within your industry. By staying current, you will always have the skillset an employer is looking for, regardless of age.

Fight the stereotypes

It is so common that people say older employees don’t do well with change, or that they cannot pick up on new methods quickly. Don’t be another example of this stereotype. Be flexible and open to change, excited about new methods, able to handle the latest technology, and keep your energy high.

Toot your own horn

Something many of us struggle with is being able to toot our own horn. Often, it just gets harder and harder the older we get. However, remember that if you can’t even market yourself and show others how valuable you are, who else will do it for you?

Expand your network

A great way to practice this is to keep your network open and active. Regardless of your age, never stop networking.

Update your materials

Continue to update your resume, LinkedIn profile, and any other social media you use. Use current photos, language, and by emphasizing your networking, you will always keep your options open.

Take the focus off the numbers

Speaking of your resume and Linkedin, take the focus off the numbers. When writing about job experiences, you don’t always need to include exact dates. Make the focus on your skills, not the numbers.

Keep your stories current

Try to only go back a few years when talking about past experiences to avoid you dating yourself. On top of that, by writing too many stories about “the good old days,” it comes across like your workplace owes you… when in fact, they don’t.

Confidence is key

The way you talk to yourself affects how you act. If you are constantly telling yourself you are too old or outdated for your job; you will continue sending those messages to others as well. Be confident in your skillset and what you bring to the table. What does it take for you to feel confident in your skin? Maybe touch up the greys, dress a bit younger; however, remember that you can go too far on either extreme.

Remember, even if your age or photo is not listed on your resume, recruiters usually can access this information with a simple google search. So rather than feeling self-conscious about if they know your age or not, be the best version of yourself possible and show them that age is just a number because you are the best candidate.