Sometimes having too much experience can hurt you.
Age discrimination is the most prevalent kind of discrimination in the workplace, according to a study published in March 2015 of nearly 2,500 workers by the AARP Public Policy Institute. What’s more, 15 years of surveys on workplace age discrimination show that over 60 percent of workers have either seen or experienced age discrimination, says Lori Trawinski, director of banking and finance at the AARP, a non-governmental organization and interest group with members who are 50 years of age or over.
When asked the extent to which five specific types of discrimination negatively affected their ability to get a job, 51 percent said that age discrimination “greatly” or “somewhat” impacted their chances — compared with 25 percent for unemployment, 13 percent for race/ethnicity, 8 percent for gender and 4 percent for sexual orientation. The unemployed and long-term unemployed were more likely to identify some type of discrimination than the re-employed or short-term unemployed, the report concluded.
But there are things older workers can do to give themselves an edge. “Nominating yourself as a consultant is a very appealing option,” James says. “Who would be a better consultant — a junior worker or a senior worker with years of experience in that industry?” He says companies will begin to experience manpower shortages of middle and senior workers. Roughly 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 each day for the next two decades, according to Pew.
There are other job-hunting tricks that may prove controversial. Smoothing out a few lines on your face, while leaving your appearance broadly intact, might help older job hunters look slightly less world-weary, says Dan Schawbel, founder of WorkplaceTrends.com and author of “Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success” and founder of Millennial Branding, a management and consulting firm. But personal branding consultant Nick Gilham cautions about drawing a line between professional and misleading.
“There’s nothing wrong with age-proofing your resume,” Scott Dobroski, a career trends analyst with careers website Glassdoor. “You should have two pages maximum for most jobs and you should be able to capture this in the past 10 years.” It’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario, he adds, “but focusing on your most recent experience is a no-brainer. Going back any further will date you.” Similarly, Dobroski says there’s no need to put down the years you graduated from high school or college on a resume.
Older Workers Outnumbered
Complicating the problem, older workers are also outnumbered in the workplace. There are 89 million millennials (also known as Generation Y, born roughly between 1981 and 1996) and 75 million boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) in the U.S., compared with just 49 million Gen Xers (born between approximately 1965 and 1980). The labor participation rate hovers at around 81.7 percent for those aged 25 to 54, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared with just 64.5 percent between those aged 55 to 64.
This can prove expensive. “There’s no getting around the fact that companies are looking to retire older workers and hire younger workers,” says Mark James, founder and president of Hire Consulting Services in San Diego. Their greater experience and relatively higher salary requirements makes them overqualified for opportunities, he says, and expensive to keep. The unemployment rate for workers aged 55 and over is still below the overall rate: It was 3.9 percent in March, down from 4.7 percent a year earlier and 4.3 percent in February, lower than the overall 5.5 percent rate.
Other recent research found that age discrimination laws may be easily flouted in a difficult jobs market. A paper, “Did Age Discrimination Protections Help Older Workers Weather the Great Recession?” found that the opposite may be true “with stronger state age discrimination protections associated with more adverse effects of the Great Recession on older workers.” The paper, published last year in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, used U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects workers and job applicants aged 40 and over from age discrimination and applies to employers with at least 20 employees, government agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations with at least 25 members. Most U.S. states actually have stronger age discrimination laws that apply to employers with fewer than 20 employees. (The ADEA does not apply to elected officials, independent contractors or military personnel.)
However, during the last recession unemployed men aged 55 and over were unemployed five to six weeks longer in states with stronger state discrimination laws, the paper found. Before the recession, however, men aged 55 and over looking for jobs in states with stronger state anti-age discrimination laws — California’s anti-age discrimination law, for instance, has lower requirements than the federal ADEA to receive compensatory and punitive damages — had a median search that was four and a half weeks less than younger job hunters.
‘Ageism Is Alive and Well’
Why do older workers find it easier to find work in a stronger jobs market, even adjusting for the number of available jobs? “Age discrimination laws will reduce firing,” says Patrick Button, co-author of the paper. “But it may not protect older workers from discriminating from hiring.” And when companies downsize in an economic downturn, he adds, it’s easier to get rid of older, more expensive employees.
This demographic shift within the workplace will hurt the prospects of older workers, adds Tim Sackett, president of HRU Technical Resources, an information technology and engineering staffing firm in Lansing, Mich. “Ageism is alive and well in this country and it’s going to get way worse before it gets better,” he says. Younger hiring managers may believe that if they hire someone older, “they’ll just try and take their job, or they won’t be satisfied in the job because they have more experience,” he adds.
Some of this ageism may be subtle. Employers expect younger employees to follow their dreams and older employees to stay put, according to a 2014 survey by jobs listing site CareerBuilder, which polled more than 2,100 hiring managers and human resource professionals and more than 3,000 workers. Some 41 percent of employers said that job-hopping becomes less acceptable when a worker reaches his/her early to mid-30s, while 28 percent said the same for workers 40-plus. Of course, that may be because they expect more loyalty from older staff.
These kinds of attitudes may also have an effect on whether employees stay at their current company or go somewhere else. Some 57 percent of employees between the ages of 18 and 34 said that changing jobs every few years can actually help their career, compared with just 38 percent of professionals between the ages of 35 and 54 and only 22 percent of those aged 55 or older, a separate study of more than 300 office employees by Accountemps employment agency. The average for all office workers over 18 was 42 percent.
Studies also show younger workers may also be more ambitious than older workers who have already achieved many career goals. Some 70 percent of millennial men and 61 percent of millennial women say they’d like to be boss according to a 2013 survey of 2,000 adults by the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C. In contrast, only 58 percent of men from Generation X and 41 percent of women from that cohort say they want the top job.
Some older workers ultimately may be stuck: They don’t want the longer days and stress that comes with being the top dog, but they don’t want to answer to younger employees either, Sackett adds. Age, lifestyle and the years left to reach the top may also play a role in employees’ ambitions. “These attitudes are shaped in part by where people are in the life cycle,” the report concluded. “Young adults are more likely than middle-aged and older adults to say they’d like to be the boss someday, possibly because they have more time ahead of them to reach that goal.”
This article originally appeared on MarketWatch.com and is reprinted by permission from Marketwatch.com, ©2015 Dow Jones & Co. Inc. All rights reserved.