How To Combat Ageism During Your Job Search Process

Updated May 24, 2023

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While employers are responsible for following applicable anti-discrimination laws and continuously critiquing their hiring processes to remove bias, there are several steps you can take as a job seeker to set yourself up for success that may help reduce potential age bias from employers and recruiters. Learning about these tips may help you succeed in the hiring process, regardless of your age. 

In this article, we discuss why age bias exists, describe how to combat it and give some examples of specific ways you can prepare for ageism in the hiring process.

Why age bias exists

While many employers may not intend to discriminate based on age, we know that it can happen. Age bias can be especially prevalent in some industries, such as tech. Some employers may have baseless concerns about hiring candidates over 50. According to Dr. Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania — an expert in human resources, public policy and talent management — “Discrimination has common roots in fear of differences,” he explains. “Myths persist when we don't see evidence, and we haven't had [a contradictory] experience ourselves.” Some examples of those myths might include:

  • Older workers are counting the days until retirement

  • Older workers don't have today's skills

  • Older workers won't report to younger managers

  • Older workers only accept high salaries

Maintaining such beliefs may simply hinder the success of a business and be harmful to company culture. Contrary to common myths about mature employees, research indicates that multigenerational workforces are not only more productive but also have less turnover than those without age diversity. Here are some studies on age bias and age distribution in the workplace:

Indeed Study

In an Indeed study of 1,011 currently employed tech workers in the U.S., 29% of respondents said the average employee age at their company is between 31 to 35. Furthermore, 17% said their company's average age is between 20 to 30. By contrast, three in 10 respondents say the average age of employees at their company is 36 to 40 years old, making them members of the younger end of Generation X. Individuals over 40 make up the remaining 26%.

In other words, this study shows that close to half of employees are millennials. And yet, only 23% of survey respondents think they overrepresented this demographic at their workplaces. By contrast, under 1/5 (18%) respondents feel that the baby boomer (1946-65) generation is underrepresented at their company.

Related: Baby Boomers Seeking Jobs 'Hiring Immediately'—Top 5 Searches

AARP Study

According to a study by AARP, 61% of respondents over the age of 45 reported having seen or experienced age discrimination in their careers. Additionally, according to a 2017 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, job candidates from ages 29-31 received 35% more callbacks than those ages 64-66. Age bias also seems to disproportionately impact female job seekers — according to AARP, 72% of women aged 45 to 74 said they think people face age discrimination at work as opposed to 57% of men in the same age range.

Related: What Is the Average Salary by Age?

Finding the right company

When searching for a job, you likely have a list of non-negotiables and preferences such as company values, salary, benefits, leadership style and more. These are great ways to filter your job search to find the best, most relevant opportunities for you. If you're a mature job seeker, another quality you might consider is age diversity tolerance, or in other words, a culture built and maintained to equally support, employ and advance individuals regardless of their age.

One way to do this during the job search phase is by paying close attention to the language employers use throughout the hiring process, starting with the job posting. Find phrases like “high energy,” “overqualified,” “ninja/guru,” or “digital native.” Language like this often refers to young candidates, and if you see it in a job description, it might signal that the employer or culture may not be supportive and inclusive.

Related: How To Age-Proof Your Resume

Benefits of a multigenerational workplace

Here are some of the benefits of a multigenerational workplace:

  • Increased creativity: A multigenerational workplace can lead to increased creativity and innovation. Each generation brings unique perspectives and experiences to the table, which can lead to more diverse and creative solutions to problems.

  • Improved knowledge transfer: Knowledge transfer is also a significant benefit of a multigenerational workforce. Older employees who have been with the company for a long time can pass down their knowledge and expertise to younger employees, helping to develop and train the next generation of workers.

  • Better mentorship opportunities: A multigenerational workplace can also help to foster mentorship opportunities. Younger employees can learn from the experience and wisdom of older employees, while older employees can learn from the fresh perspectives and new ideas of younger employees.

  • Less stereotyping: A diverse workplace can also help to break down stereotypes and reduce biases. Working alongside people from different generations can help to challenge preconceived notions and foster greater understanding and acceptance.

  • More support: A multigenerational workforce can lead to a more harmonious and supportive workplace culture. By valuing and respecting the contributions of all employees, regardless of age or background, employers can create a more positive and inclusive environment that benefits everyone.

Related: How To Make a Good Impression in a Virtual Interview

How to avoid age bias in your resume

Because your resume is typically your first chance to make an impression on the employer, it's also the first chance the employer can introduce age bias into the hiring process. While you may have 15 or more years of professional experience, including jobs older than 15 years may distract employers from your wealth of skills and qualifications and give away your age. Consider removing less relevant jobs that may not add value to the specific role for which you're applying.

Reviewing job descriptions can also help you identify your industry's current words, skills and qualities that align with employer expectations. Using this language in your resume and cover letter can show you're up-to-date with the latest industry standards. If you're unsure whether you've got the right information in your resume, you can get professional help by filling out our resume feedback questionnaire.

Read more: Listing Professional Experience on Your Resume

How to avoid age bias during an interview

Preparing for your interview ahead of time can help you appear calm and confident, as well as help you to address any inappropriate, age-related comments or questions. It can help to research common interview questions in general, as well as for your specific industry.

It's also helpful to prepare for behavioral interview questions that test your situational skills and ability to respond thoughtfully on your feet. Use the STAR response method in these cases. Also, you should prepare to answer (and possibly demonstrate) any relevant skills-related questions, particularly about required technical or hard skills. Here are some additional ways you can succeed in your interview as a mature candidate:

  • Emphasize your excitement for the role. For example, you might show that you're excited about the opportunity by studying their business model and mission and coming to the interview prepared with ideas that pertain to your role. You can also emphasize your experience and reflect on the ways it relates to the current role.

  • Express your willingness to both lead and follow. It's important that as a mature candidate, you communicate a desire to collaborate. Employers value collaboration skills highly in today's workforce and you can prioritize them in the interview.

  • Indicate your ability to be self-sufficient. Employers value self-aware candidates who can find answers to simple questions, identify their strengths and weaknesses and identify ways to improve. You can also communicate your ability and eagerness to learn and get up to speed quickly.

  • Communicate your ability to work with different people. Diversity in age is equally as important in the workforce as diversity in race, culture, ideas and gender. It's important to express how you value working with people who are different from you and how you might resolve inevitable conflict professionally when it arises.

  • Show genuine interest in your interviewer. Asking thoughtful, smart questions about your interviewer, their role and the organization can help build a connection with your interviewer. Doing so can build rapport and encourage a positive experience for both parties during the interview.

  • Be comfortable. Convey calm confidence during your interview. If you're unsure, business casual is usually a safe option.

  • Redirect the conversation in the case of inappropriate comments or questions. If your interviewer makes comments about or asks questions related to age, politely ask clarifying questions or simply steer the conversation back toward the job. If they ask such a question, you may consider whether the employer or interviewer is struggling with ageism.


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