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Wed, Jan 23, 2013

Career Management

Combating the Stereotypes of Older Workers

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Over the past few weeks I’ve had the privilege to speak to several groups of transitioning military personnel.  On the minds of most of the more senior folks is the fear of age discrimination. Now bear in mind that most of these people are in their early 40s which seems old in a 20-year career but for folks in their 50s and 60s, the threat of age discrimination, whether real or perceived, is paralyzing.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. It covers discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

That’s the law.  The letter of the law.  Does the law get broken?  Absolutely.

Maybe the real issues isn’t the age of a person, but the perception and stereotype that follows age.  These stereotypes are best explained using a model by Chris Argyris known as The Ladder of Inference, which you can see defined in this video.

If you’re the victim of this stereotyping, whether real or perceived, you have two choices:

  • Complain about it and try to take action against the person.
  • Get busy updating your skills and re-fire your career motivation.

I’m not a legal expert so let’s just focus on the second choice.

If you haven’t noticed, skill requirements have changed.  Automation, electronics and complexity have replaced most standardized tasks.  Many jobs require college degrees and/or certifications.  Whether or not you can do the task well isn’t as important as having the credentials.  When I was in the Navy as a dental technician, I could do the same job as a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH) but outside of the Navy, I would need the official RDH certification.   Never mind I can probably still out-scale a new RDH. I need that credential.

If you’re over 40 and truly interested in remaining employable and viable in today’s market, here’s a list of things you need to do:

  • Master your current job – all aspects.
  • Project how any future trends will impact your profession, and plan to meet them head-on.
  • Stay relevant in all current events related to your profession.
  • Become proficient in any new changes to your profession.
  • Serve as an adviser to any group that regulates your profession.
  • Obtain any new credentials or certifications required of new people in your profession.
  • If your current profession is becoming irrelevant, change professions.  Look for how your skills might transfer to the new profession.
  • Take an honest, objective look at how you’ve managed your career.  If you’ve neglected personal and professional development, fix that NOW!

For most of us, being over 40 is difficult to hide.  Stereotypes will be there no matter what.  We can’t control that.  What we CAN do is work to become and remain relevant.  Remember, your job is to sell experience, not fend off questions of age.  By maintaining and growing our credentials and experience in our field, we’ll be doing everything in our power to retain our place in the workforce.

So, if you’re afraid of being considered “old” by an employer, position your experience, backed up by examples, and demonstrate why you’re far more valuable than somebody younger.  Information breaks stereotypes.  Come prepared to inform.

 

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