Job Hunt

The Real Deal with Ageism

How to thrive when you’re surrounded by younger co-workers.

3 min read

If you’re a worker and over the age of 37, you’re now in the minority. Despite there being four generations in the workplace these days—from Greatest Generation hangers-on to those who are fresh out of university—millennials, or individuals roughly 21 to 36 years old, now comprise the largest generation in the workforce. 

And that demographic is only going to keep growing as technology continues to loom, leaving companies scouring the talent pool for workers with the latest and greatest skills—which often are the youngest members of society with a panache for success. Recruiters may say something along the lines of, “you’re overqualified,” but that can be code-speak for too old. These forces, then, are leaving some individuals with years of experience unsure of how to best position themselves. 

“Having wisdom in your role is an advantage that you should pull off with confidence rather than try to downplay,” says Kristi Hedges, an executive coach and founder of The Hedges Company in Arlington, Virginia. “If you feel good about your age, others will too.”

Let’s start with a small but important distinction: The difference between being young and being current. Trying to appear younger is hard to do, Hedges says, and even harder to pull off successfully. What’s better is staying current on the newest industry trends and tools. “Age, or its counterpart, experience, shouldn’t be used as an excuse to stop learning and growing,” Hedges says. 

"One of the biggest mistakes workers over the age of 35 make is being reluctant to ask for feedback."

Career pros say one of the best ways to showcase your wisdom and experience is by turning around the typical “how can I help” pitch. Instead of asking how you can be of service, you outline what you can offer them. “The biggest thing for executives in a job market is the need to provide answers,” says Kristen McAlister, president of Cerius Interim Executive Solutions, an Irvine, California-based firm. 

One of the biggest mistakes workers over the age of 35 can make is being reluctant to ask for feedback—especially from younger colleagues. Instead of waiting for comments to make their way back to you, actively seek them out. Different views can help broaden your perspective and could offer insight that you didn’t consider. “Colleagues at your age or level may see you as open, but younger colleagues might view you as unapproachable,” Hedges says.

Career experts also recommend steering clear of vocalizing any negative generalizations of a large swath of people, such as “millennials are entitled” or “baby boomers are such Luddites.” If you use this kind of language, you’re contributing to ageism in the workplace—not breaking it down. 

And when it comes to looking the part, impressions matter. Especially with online footprints. If you haven’t changed your LinkedIn picture in a decade, and you’ve lost significantly more hair, it’s time to update your profile. That way, the people who meet you know what to expect. One writer told a story of not remembering the beginning of her conversation with a well-known author because the author’s picture had shown him with curly blond hair. “He was completely white,” she says. Just remember: You don’t need to offer up any ammo to make yourself come off more senior than you are. 

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