Bias…me? Recognizing and overcoming stereotypes about older job seekers

Workers over 55 years old are the fastest growing segment of the job market, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and employment of people 55+ has increased to an all-time high of more than 40 percent. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau suggest that by 2016, one-third of the total US workforce will be age 50 or older.

Yet US Dept. of Labor statistics show it is also harder for older workers to succeed at a job search. Job seekers who are 55+ stay unemployed twice as long as job seekers half their age.

As an employer, it's nearly inevitable that 55+ job seekers will be among the candidates for your openings. And there may be somebody in the way of hiring an older candidate who is the best person for the job: you.

Negative stereotypes of older workers remain entrenched in many a workplace. Even when older workers are recognized for positive traits, they - like the late, great Rodney Dangerfield - "get no respect," according to studies in 2008 conducted by AARP:

"The reports find that older workers tend to have a more positive attitude about the workplace than younger generations, are eager to enroll in training courses and expand their knowledge and, in many cases, are more than willing to devote their later years to full-time jobs in fields that matter to them, said Deborah Russell, Director of Workforce Issues at AARP."Yet there continues to be this perception, especially among younger managers, that older workers aren't willing to learn new things and are not interested in training. These negative perceptions extend to older workers' supposedly being unwilling to work with a younger boss and being inflexible."

"Despite all research evidence pointing in the opposite direction, there is a common belief that older workers don't perform as well as their younger counterparts," Peter Cappelli, the director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School, told the New York Times. "That causes employers to pass over them in hiring and promotions and to target them for layoffs."

There are a number of things that older job seekers can do to help employers overcome their negative stereotypes of older workers. Updating appearance, participating in workshops about modern technology such as social media and learning how to network with younger workers make it easier for employers to see an older job seeker's real worth. It's a collection of activities that has come to be known in human resource circles as "personal branding."

A dramatic demonstration of how an older job seeker can put together a personal brand will take place at the Doubletree Hilton in Skokie on Jan. 30. "Getting Older, Getting Hired" will be presented by JVS Chicago in partnership with Dress for Success Worldwide, The Image Studios and the Chicago Chapter of AARP. It will address the changing landscape of the U.S. population and frame the unique challenges and opportunities for women job seekers; offer specific and tangible strategic tools to women who are currently experiencing long-term unemployment and under-employment and - with the help of experts in the field - will examine how the attitudes of job seekers and prospective employers can form barriers to the workplace or the keys to entry.

"There are many myths and misconceptions regarding continuing professionals and the value this group has to offer," said Linda Wolfe, Director of Career Moves at JVS Chicago, which provides career counseling, coaching and training for job seekers. "Overlooking this age group in talent acquisition initiatives limits companies' employment options by roughly 33 percent, and that is a huge loss."

The evening's expert presenters will include Wolfe; Arlene Wanetick, Career Counselor, JVS Chicago; Terri Worman, Associate State Director, AARP Illinois; Kali Raoul, Founder of The Image Studios and Amanda Flott Kinsey, Director of Operations/Central, Dress for Success Worldwide.

Are lingering stereotypes affecting your hires? Attending "Getting Older, Getting Hired" might be a good place to better understand unconscious bias that we all have. The winning difference is being able to recognize the stereotype in the bias, set it aside, and go on to hire the best candidate for the job.

For more information on "Getting Older, Getting Hired," visit

Reflections from your editor, Cindy Sher, on people living their Jewish lives each day. ... Read More

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