Age bias in the workplace is a reality that affects many older workers during their job search. In this post, we discuss this phenomenon and how to write a resume to minimize its impact.
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What is age bias in the workplace and why does it happen?
Age bias, often known as ageism, is the unfair treatment or prejudgment of people because of their age. This type of discrimination can take place in different environments, such as the workplace. It usually arises from entrenched stereotypes and incorrect beliefs about various age groups, affecting both younger and older workers. The reasons for its occurrence include:
- Stereotyping and Assumptions: Common stereotypes include beliefs that older workers may not be as technologically adept, adaptable, or as energetic as their younger counterparts. Conversely, younger workers might be perceived as lacking work experience, maturity, or stability.
- Cultural and Social Norms: Societal attitudes that glorify youth and view aging negatively contribute to ageism. There’s often an emphasis on innovation and new ideas, which are typically associated with younger individuals.
- Economic Factors: Employers may believe hiring younger workers is more cost-effective due to lower salary expectations or reduced healthcare costs. Conversely, in some industries, there’s a preference for older workers perceived as having more experience or authority.
- Fear of Change: In some cases, there might be a reluctance to change established ways of working, and older employees can be viewed as barriers to this change.
- Lack of Awareness: Many organizations and individuals may not be fully aware of their biases or the implications of ageist attitudes, leading to unintentional discrimination.
- Workplace Dynamics: In environments where there’s a significant age gap between groups of employees, misunderstandings, and lack of effective communication can lead to biased attitudes and behaviors.
To combat ageism, the United States Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) in 1967. This significant law serves to protect individuals who are 40 years of age and older from discrimination in the workplace. The scope of the ADEA is broad, encompassing a range of employment practices such as recruitment, promotion, compensation, and termination. The fundamental goal of the ADEA is to guarantee that employment decisions are made on the basis of an individual’s merit and capabilities rather than their age. Despite such laws, age bias remains a challenge, calling for continued efforts in corporate policies, societal attitudes, and legal frameworks to create a more inclusive and fair work environment for people of all ages.
Ageism: A workplace reality
Ageism is a widespread problem in numerous work environments. It appears in different ways, impacting everything from recruitment processes to opportunities for career growth.
The following are some instances of how age bias occurs:
- Hiring Practices: Older job applicants often face challenges in being hired. Their experience can be seen as overqualification, or there’s an assumption they’re not adept with current technology.
- Promotions and Advancements: Younger employees might be favored for promotions due to assumptions about their energy or long-term potential, overlooking the work experience and stability older employees offer.
- Training Opportunities: Older employees might be passed over for training or professional development opportunities under the assumption that they are close to retirement or not tech-savvy.
- Workplace Culture: A workplace that values youth-centric ideals and overlooks the contributions of older employees fosters an environment of ageism.
- Redundancy and Layoffs: Older employees are often more vulnerable during layoffs or restructurings, with a perception that they are more costly or less adaptable to change.
When older job seekers navigate the challenges of ageism in their job search, it’s important to focus on what one can control, particularly the resume and the cover letter. These documents typically serve as the initial point of contact with a recruiter or hiring manager. While we cannot control an employer’s biases or perceptions, we have the power to shape how we present our specific skills and experiences.
Resume tips for older professionals
When formatting your resume, choosing the right style is crucial. A chronological resume is often recommended over a functional resume, especially in a professional setting, for several reasons:
- Familiarity and Preference: Employers are typically more familiar with the chronological format. It presents your work history in a clear, linear progression, making it easier for hiring managers to follow and understand your career trajectory.
- Highlights Career Progression: This format allows you to showcase your career growth and development in chronological order. It highlights how you have advanced in your roles, showcasing increasing responsibilities and achievements.
- Transparency: A chronological resume helps in presenting an honest and transparent account of your career, including any gaps. This can build trust with potential employers.
- ATS-Friendly: Many companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to scan resumes. Chronological resumes are generally more ATS-friendly as they follow a standard structure that these systems can easily parse.
This is your chance to make a strong first impression and tailor it to the job description. Instead of focusing on the length of your career, emphasize your relevant skills and how they align with the job you’re applying for. Highlight your adaptability, technological proficiency, and any recent training or certifications. This sets a tone that showcases your value as a professional, irrespective of age. Your resume template should be concise, ideally no more than two pages.
Here’s an example of a senior product manager with 20 years of experience:
A senior product manager with B.Sc in Computer Science specializes in driving innovative products from concept to market, aligning closely with business objectives. Skilled in Agile methodologies and data-driven strategies, excel in creating customer-centric solutions that drive growth and meet evolving market needs.
In this part, focus on skills that are in high demand in your industry, particularly those you have updated or acquired recently. This might include tech skills, software proficiency, or methodologies that are current in your field. The goal is to show that you are up-to-date with industry trends and capable of contributing to a modern workplace. Try to integrate and include keywords from the job description.(link)
An example skills section for a DevOps manager with 25 years of experience in the cybersecurity space:
- Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD)
- Cloud Computing Platforms: ( AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform)
- Containerization and Orchestration: Docker, Kubernetes
- Cybersecurity Compliance and Risk Management
When detailing your work history, there’s no need to include on your resume every job you’ve ever had. Focus on the most recent and relevant experiences, ideally focusing on the last 10 to 15 years. If needed, update your resume to keep it fresh and relevant. When describing your roles, highlight achievements and how they impacted the organization rather than just listing responsibilities (link). This demonstrates your effectiveness and expertise. Employment dates beyond the most recent 10-15 years should be listed in your resume only by title, company, and years/dates, without detailed descriptions.
An example of a customer success manager with over 15 years of experience
- Account Manager, Global Tech Inc. (2003 – 2008)
- Client Services Coordinator, TechNet Solutions (2000 – 2003)
Education Section: If your education was completed more than 15-20 years ago, don’t include the graduation dates to avoid highlighting your age. Instead, focus on your degree and any ongoing professional development or recent courses that demonstrate your commitment to continuous learning.
For example, this is how the education section for a senior engineering manager who graduated 20+ years ago:
- Master of Science in Electrical Engineering University of Texas at Austin
- Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering Georgia Institute of Technology
- Advanced Project Management Certification Project Management Institute, 2021
- Leadership in Engineering Management Course Cornell University, eCornell Online Learning, 2019
- Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) Scrum Alliance, 2018
A few last writing tips for a modern resume:
- Modern Email Address: Use a professional email address, preferably one that includes your name. Avoid outdated or unprofessional email service providers. Emails like ‘firstname.lastname@example.org‘ are ideal.
- No Personal Details: Do not include personal details like your date of birth, marital status, social security number, or a photograph. These are irrelevant to your job qualifications and can lead to unconscious bias.
- No References: It’s no longer necessary to include “References available upon request” at the end of your resume. Employers assume you will provide them if asked.
- Avoid Clichés: Steer clear of overused phrases like “hard worker” or “team player.” Instead, demonstrate these qualities through specific examples.
- Link to Online Profile: If relevant, include a link to your professional online LinkedIn profile. Make sure your profile is updated and consistent with your resume.
- Use of Colors and Graphics: If you’re in a creative field, subtle use of color or graphics can make your resume stand out. However, for most industries, stick to a clean, black-and-white format.
- File Format: Edit your resume in Microsoft Word and save it in a PDF format to preserve the layout and formatting. This ensures it appears the same way on any device or platform.
- No Salary Information: Avoid mentioning current or expected salary in your resume. This is typically discussed during the interview or negotiation phase.