Job Hunting Over 50? How to Game the System

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I was invited to participate in a video interview for an international company looking for a remote writer for their political news curation. I utilized some SEO tricks I learned to get my resume noticed.

The employer had shared some of my own articles on their app which is no doubt why I was tapped for an interview. I wouldn’t be surprised if this article shows up there because, like me, they love statistics.

After five minutes of talking to me, you would know I am infinitely qualified for such a position. I have current, relevant experience doing this job.

We discussed where to find more in-depth thought pieces such as those on Medium. We talked about how the quality of Reddit had declined since China’s $300M investment and subsequent censorship and how the once-popular site was circling the drain like Facebook.

There were other questions about whether I used Slack and if I knew HTML, CSS, WordPress and basic SEO — and of course, the answer was “absolutely.”

I could tell there was a huge disconnect for these 20-somethings. I was middle-aged. I should not know these things. I was probably more active on social media than they were.

Two minutes into the interview — after telling me about the company and hearing nothing about me — one of them left to deal with a barking dog. I knew then I was the least important in the room and I had been summarily rejected.

I didn’t get the job. I didn’t even get a “no thank you” email. What were they going to say? They found someone who had better skills?

It wasn’t because I wasn’t qualified to do the work. It wasn’t because I didn’t have the requisite skills. It was a remote job so fitting in with the culture wasn’t an issue.

It was simply ageism.

I learned my ability to successfully game my way to an interview wasn’t going to work in the end. It’s probably not going to work for you, either.

When face-to-face with a 20-something hiring manager, you’re not going to be able to talk your way into a job.

Don’t Waste Your Time Getting Angry

You can get angry and complain about it. You’ll just sound like some old coot screaming at the neighbor kids to get off their lawn. No one cares because they have been told it is your fault you can’t get a job. You didn’t make good choices. You didn’t plan better. Pfffft.

The government churns out propaganda about employment numbers. People are struggling to make ends meet working two shitty part-time jobs and a side gig. This is what constitutes full-time work.

If you’re over 50, you know your nagging suspicion about your lack of job prospects doesn’t match up what you read on the Internet. I am not going to belabor the point as many older workers have firsthand experience. Politicians and employers are quick to blame you and not acknowledge the system is rigged and the economy isn’t as great as they promote.

Research published in the Journal of Human Resources found younger women were over 40 percent more likely to be offered an interview than equally-skilled, older counterparts.

According to the US Bureau of Labor, in five years there will be twice as many women over 55 in the labor force as those who are ages 16 to 24. That means more older women will be competing for fewer positions with companies willing to interview them.

Not only are they refusing to address the problem, but they also aren’t acknowledging it.

Plenty of employment specialists will tell you that Baby Boomers are hopelessly outdated in the required job knowledge. A survey published by Harvard Business Review does not bear this out. Maintaining skills does not decline for aging workers. Job seekers who gained relevant skills say it didn’t help them.

It is doubtful that anyone experienced in the working world doesn’t understand they need to keep their knowledge fresh and relevant. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about 40 percent of those over 55 are working and another 2.5 million are looking. This means that a sizeable number of older job seekers are acquiring new skills in their current positions.

They still have problems finding work.

Federal Agencies are Powerless

In 2016, 23 percent of the complaints to the EEOC alleged age bias but accounted for only two percent of its merit resolutions.

When the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 was first passed, age-bias complaints numbered between 1,000 and 5,000 annually. In 2017, the agency received more than triple that number — 18,000 complaints. Labor officials ruled there was no reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred in over 70 percent of the cases.

Why is that? The reasons have to do with the law and how a complaint is found to have merit. A 2009 US Supreme Court ruling, Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., made proving age discrimination difficult. Complainants must show that age discrimination was the primary motivation for demotion or dismissal.

Courts may find that employers didn’t discriminate but made decisions based on “reasonable factors other than age.” This means that a reduction in staff targeting the highest-paid employees may be justified as a financial reason and not age bias even if those laid off are over 40. Employers only need to send a memo telling HR to RIF the highest earners to have proof they didn’t discriminate.

Companies realize the chances of anyone proving ageism are pretty much nil.

Why Employers Don’t Hire You

You’ve heard about changing your resume. You tried coloring your hair and dressing younger. None of that worked for you for one good reason.

You aren’t being rejected for your skills. You’re being rejected because of your age. And it is easy for hiring managers to discriminate against you.

Older workers expect better treatment, want higher pay, and are less likely to put up with being exploited. They are likely better qualified than their superiors. No company seeks workers with these qualities.

Understand this is the primary reason you’re not getting hired. It is also worthless to fight it while the ruling stands.

There are fewer jobs open to older Americans, and a larger pool of the most experienced workers competing for them.

When faced with discrimination and no recourse to fight, many older workers simply give up. According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, 60 percent who experience involuntary job loss end up retiring.

How Employers Block You

What is the easiest way to discriminate against you? Don’t invite you for an interview.

This should explain why many online postings ask when you graduated but never verify it. There are other clues that you’re older. They might ask if you have experience with a software program that isn’t used anymore. Have you ever used PageMaker or FrontPage? You’re over 40.

Employers may discourage you from applying by requiring you have a significant following on all social media platforms. Few full-time parents are posting daily on multiple sites. Older job seekers won’t apply because the qualifications sound outside their skill set. They don’t want a job “interacting with social media influencers” so they don’t apply.

Job postings are designed this way for a reason. Many times, you eliminate yourself.

Trying to game the system to get an interview is a waste of time. You can be successful, but you won’t be offered the position.

The employer has no intention of hiring an older candidate regardless of what you do to get your foot in the door.

Job Boards are Not the Way to Find Jobs

I know some of you are going to continue to look for openings on job boards because you’ve been conditioned to answer advertisements throughout your career.

Understand the chances of getting called for an interview average about three percent for all jobs. This does not mean three percent of the jobs you are applying for, but for all jobs advertised.

You’re older and not applying for entry-level positions, which means the success rate is probably significantly lower for your demographic.

My estimate is that if you’re looking to make more than $15 an hour, the success rate is less than one out of 100 and probably closer to one out of 1000. Even if you manage to land an interview, you still have a much greater chance of being rejected for a position than a younger candidate.

The question now becomes a mathematical problem of identifying how many interviews you would have to land in order to find an employer who will consider you for the position despite your age and whether you can win the job.

Are Jobs Even Real?

The reason I am down on job boards is that I don’t think many of the advertisements are legitimate. Most of the big sites are full of scams, recycled postings, or companies fulfilling a legal requirement to advertise an opening.

This is not like it used to be when companies had to pay to post a job in the local “want ads.”

If you are using job boards, this should only be a jumping-off point. Research the company and go to their website to apply. Validate the job exists. If the job has been scraped from the web and published on any sort of career website, it is going to receive exponentially more applicants.

If you are paying to subscribe to a site, realize the publisher has a stronger motivation to post fake jobs so it appears there are opportunities that are not advertised elsewhere.

Most job seekers instinctively know something is wrong when you see the same jobs advertised over and over again. Out of the hundreds of resumes the company received, no one was qualified for an entry-level office position?

I realized this a few years ago when I spotted a job posting for a blogger on a website for writers. Either they couldn’t find a candidate out of the hundreds of thousands of writers paying to find jobs through their site, or they were using Indeed to suck in new subscribers. They knew if they posted a sweet job that many people would sign up to get a leg up on the competition.

Other companies advertise non-existent jobs so they have established a relationship with you and can now legally spam you or get your cell phone number. Some post jobs to get your contact information so they can offer you commission insurance or driver gigs unrelated to your experience.

Legitimate companies advertise so they can survey applicants salary requirements.

Sure, there are some legitimate opportunities, but how many?

What is the Solution?

I recently lost a full-time social media marketing position to a much younger candidate but was contracted to do content writing.

Our first meeting was to discuss how to reach their market of educated women over 30 who also had disposable income. I suggested articles targeting LinkedIn and Twitter in addition to shares on other platforms, but their social media guru was only familiar with Facebook and Instagram.

She scoffed at my suggestion and derisively announced, “Instagram is the only relevant social media. No one uses LinkedIn or Twitter anymore.”

The owner responded, “I do.”

What Ms. Guru meant was that no one in her age group used anything other than Instagram, and to her, those were the only potential customers who mattered.

By the end of the meeting, I was asked to take over the LinkedIn marketing.

From an employer’s perspective, your experience and age mean you want more money. You are very qualified, and you’re probably a smart cookie.

You’re not wanted as an employee.

You can game the system by opting out of the job hunting hamster wheel.

As a vendor, all those qualities work in your favor. You aren’t a threat, but a partner. Because companies have been cutting out the best candidates, it creates an opportunity. That 20-something employee they hired over you doesn’t have much in the way of experience. Companies have lost the expertise of their older workers and they are hurting for it.

The knowledge you possess can work in your favor as a consultant or business owner. While freelancing isn’t as stable as a regular paycheck, it is often more reliable and profitable. If you’re over 50, it is usually considerably easier to get into than to land a job.

Instead of spending your time chasing after the elusive one in a 1,000 interview, older workers would be better off transitioning into their own gig. You will have greater control over your success.

One of the first things you’ll want to do is make sure your social media is up to date.

I recommend you start with LinkedIn.

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Complicated subjects accessible. Politics, Basic Income, Philosophy. I follow back. Ghostwriter.

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