7 ways to mitigate age discrimination in your job search

Here's how to make your age an advantage, not a deterrent, to landing a great job in the IT industry

avoiding age discrimination
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There's no good reason your age should hinder your job search. But that doesn't change the very real perception, especially in the IT industry, that age is an impediment to innovation, efficiency and, ultimately, success. While you can't do much to change the widespread unconscious biases against older workers, you can take steps to mitigate their impact on your own job search.

1. Look for a cultural fit

Whether you're 24 or 64, finding a good cultural fit is imperative for success and for your own happiness in the workplace. To that end, research companies that are known to be friendly to mature, seasoned workers - you'll have a much better chance landing a job, says Ford R. Myers, career coach, speaker and author of "Get The Job You Want, Even When No One's Hiring."

"You won't fit in at a cutting-edge, new-age, groovy Internet ad agency if you're 67 years old; you have to be smart about where you're looking. There are plenty of companies out there that really want -- and need -- 'adult supervision,' and a more mature perspective and wisdom to counterbalance the millennials they're also hiring," Myers says.

Make sure to focus on a cultural and environmental match in your job search, otherwise, you're tilting at windmills trying to get into a startup tech firm that doesn't hire anyone over the age of 26.

2. Stay physically fit

Sure, you're just as sharp, insightful and intelligent as ever, but make sure your physical abilities are on par with your mental acuity, says Myers. Staying physically fit allows you to take on challenging projects, keep up with the fast pace of business, and get things done efficiently.

"There are 21-year-olds who act like they're 94, and vice versa. You have to project an aura of energy and vitality and bring a sense of urgency to everything you do. So make sure you exercise to stay fit, show up early, move fast throughout the day and work hard.

Don't be the old codger in the corner who's slowing down the pace," Myers says.

3. Pay extra attention to your personal appearance

First impressions count, so make a deliberate, consistent effort to present yourself in the best light. Take an honest, objective look at your appearance and the way you dress, and then adjust as necessary to be more contemporary and stylish.

"I've had clients who come to me and they're wearing a suit straight out of Saturday Night Fever -- you have to look in the mirror and say, 'Do I look like I belong in this era?' I'm not talking about spending thousands on a new wardrobe, or getting a facelift or hair implants. But you have to update your image, within reason," Myers says.

It's easy to lose perspective as we age, and become so comfortable with our own status quo that we don't understand how our appearance can work against us, Myers says, especially in a job search. While you shouldn't go too far to the other end of the spectrum and wear clothing or a hairstyle that's too young for you, make sure you're stylish and age appropriate; otherwise, you'll be rejected before you even begin, he says.

4. Leverage technology skills and stay current

Now that appearance is taken care of, make sure you're also current on technology and skills needed in the current workforce, says Myers. Employers are much more likely to hire mature workers who can demonstrate strong computer skills and possess a demonstrated comfort level with technology. If your technology skills are lacking, now is the time to get additional training, he says.

"When you walk into an interview and you're over 50-years-old, it's automatically assumed that you don't have tech skills. Your first job is to dispel that myth. You're guilty until proven innocent, so you better have the killer skills that will put those concerns to rest, immediately," says Myers.

Even as a digital immigrant, not a native, take advantage of tutoring, classes and training that can boost the skills you already have or add new ones to your repertoire. Especially in technology, there's no excuse for not knowing and understanding topics and skills that are relevant to your work.

"As an older person, you must emphasize your accomplishments as a way to highlight your technology skills and business knowledge. Businesses who are hiring want to know if you can make them money or save them money, and if you can do that by leveraging technology, they'll want to hire you," says Rick Gillis, a career coach, author and speaker.

The future of the IT job market lies in the newest generation to enter the workforce, so make sure you're at least familiar with the types of technologies they're using, says Gillis.

"I'm always disturbed when I talk to clients who are 50 and older who're looking for a job but aren't spending time studying, learning and adding new IT skills to their portfolio," Gillis says. "I don't care if you have to hire your teenage grandkid to help you -- you need to keep up," he says.

5. Shift the paradigm

Stop thinking of a job as simply a nine-to-five, work-in-an-office-Monday-through-Friday pursuit, says Myers. In today's world, there are many more opportunities to pursue a temporary, part-time or contract position, and your age and accumulated knowledge and wisdom could be key to a lucrative consulting gig. Volunteering, providing pro bono work, taking on a consulting contract or completing an internship or apprenticeship are all great ways to show potential full-time employers that you've been engaged and productive, even during periods of unemployment.

"If you've left your job, or if you've lost your job, understand that it can take longer as an older person to get a new job at the same level. Take the opportunity to blow the old paradigm that the only real job is a full-time, full-benefits job with retirement. There's a much more fluid, flexible job environment out there today," says Myers.

6. Emphasize your strengths -- including your age

Chances are, you've accumulated a lot of knowledge and experience over the years. You've been there, done that, and lived to tell about it. Many organizations are eager to tap into the depth and breadth of experience, so make sure you're highlighting where you've been and what you've accomplished over the years.

"You have a hell of a lot of advantages based on your experience and your wisdom. That's something much younger workers don't have; it'll take them years -- and a lot of mistakes and mishaps along the way -- to get to that point. Use that wisdom," Gillis says.

7. Use your network

After all these years in the job market, you've probably got a huge, extensive network of contacts, right? Now's the time to use them. "Don't hesitate to use it [your network]; especially leverage former colleagues, business partners, customers and clients, as those people have worked with you, know your abilities and your work," he says.

"You can't change your chronological age, so don't waste mental energy thinking too much about it. Older workers who understand that their maturity and expertise are true assets are more likely to land the job they want," says Myers.

This story, "7 ways to mitigate age discrimination in your job search" was originally published by CIO.

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