Posted On 23rd September 2012

As youth unemployment in the UK has topped the 1 million mark, much of the media focus has been on our “lost generation”, the young people whose prospects and confidence will be compromised by a phase of joblessness in early life.

What is less well documented is what’s happening at the other end of the scale with unemployment for older workers. In this regard, a recent report by Policy Exchange (Too Much to Lose: Understanding and Supporting Britain’s Older Workers) caught my eye. This found that people aged 50 or over who lose their jobs are more likely to remain out of work for longer than people in other age groups.

What’s more, the report gives evidence for this. Policy Exchange made applications for more than 1,200 bar jobs and PA positions, both as a 51-year-old and a 25-year-old and the results demonstrated a greater inclination to hiring the younger worker.

As Policy Exchange assess, the issue of over-50s unemployment could lead to serious, long-term damage to the living standards for a major part of the population. It could also harm the economy as a whole owing to the loss to businesses of the skills possessed by those older workers.

There is a lot of speculation in the market as a whole about where the bias against older workers derives from. Whereas the young are often told they do not have sufficient experience that can be rarely said of the older worker who may, at the moment, be going to market with thirty or more years’ experience under their belt. The usual suspects (to name but a few) include:

  • They’re overqualified – which begs the question, “how”? Does this instead mean that the line manager might be intimidated by working with someone who might know more than he or she does?
  • We are looking to develop someone over the long term. This, when you come to think about it, is nonsense if you look at the jobs market over the past couple of decades. It has become commonplace for people to move on every few years. If anything, the older workers have better records of loyalty.
  • We’re looking for someone who can bring something new to the organisation. What’s to say that an older person doesn’t have new ideas? There’s also nothing to say that they will necessarily be “set in their ways”. I’ve also met intransigence from younger workers.

So, what to do? We already have laws to outlaw ageism but employers always find a more socially acceptable reason to reject candidates. You cannot, of course, hide your age if you’re actually invited to interview. However, what steps can you take to guard against age being a barrier to getting your foot through the door?

Trends change in what people expect to see in applications and laws change with regard to what they can ask, so here are a few ideas about some ways you might approach avoiding the age issue.

  1. Don’t include your date of birth. Until recently including it was the convention but since the Equalities Act, UK employers have not been able to ask for this information unless it is directly relevant to the ability of the person to fulfil the job. In short, they can’t ask so don’t offer.
  2. Don’t proffer information which might give away your age. For example, it is highly unlikely that family information will be relevant to the application, so avoid statements like “married for 25 years” or “2 grown-up children”. Unless you started very early, both these statements would put you at least well into your 40s. Again, you cannot be legally required to give this kind of information unless it is relevant to the job.
  3. Fudge the issue when it comes to some of the dates on your CV. For example, you don’t have to say which year you graduated from university. I also understand that in the US there is a tendency to remove all dates from résumés to mask the age of the applicant. This may, of course, be a two-edged sword. Furthermore, if you’re on LinkedIn, you will be required to enter dates under “Experience” and I wouldn’t advocate lying.
  4. Talking of LinkedIn, there is the vexed question of the photo. Firstly, your profile isn’t complete without a photo and you never do so well in search results without one. Secondly, most of the research points to people finding it more “human” to deal with someone whom they have an image of. On the other hand, there are those who worry that the photo requirement feeds ageism. I can sympathise, but don’t agree that not having a photo is the best idea.

Instead put up a photo in which you look your best, which, dare I say, is flattering. Also, while the photo has to be plausible (if you put up a photo of you in your 20s and then a 50 year old turns up to interview the blow to the trust the interviewer has in you may be enough to secure a rejection), it’s not your passport application: it doesn’t have to have been taken in the last 3 months.

  1. Think about your applications. What are you going for and what elements of your experience are relevant? Looking at what people want to know about you, rather than what you want to tell them, is especially important if you are aiming to change career. To know more look at our post called “Key Errors in CV writing“, and many of the others we’ve written about writing a successful CV.

It would be interesting to hear the tips of those who’ve successfully knocked down the age barrier for their first-hand experiences of effective ways of handling a job hunt. I’m sure there are many who’d value your knowledge.

Heidi Nicholson

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