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Strategies to Combat Ageism in your Relaunch

Don’t let the age issue rattle you. Be a snowball in the desert.

By Carroll Welch

Carroll Welch is the Founder and Principal of Carroll Welch Consulting, LLC. A career, executive and leadership coach, Carroll supports professionals in all industries on issues involving career and leadership development, transition and reentry. Carroll has extensive experience and expertise supporting relaunchers in planning job searches and anticipating obstacles as they seek to return to the paid workforce after a career break. Carroll is a frequent contributor to the iRelaunch blog and "3, 2, 1, iRelaunch" podcast series.

On New Year’s Day, I was enjoying the distant view of white-capped mountains as I ran along a desert trail in Red Rock Canyon, just outside Las Vegas. It was a clear morning, with bright warm sun and Joshua trees all around me. It didn’t feel much like the winters I’ve come to know back east, with their freezing temps, snow and ice. I climbed a slightly elevated trail of dirt and sand and then it appeared: a small patch of brilliant white snow, sitting trailside, all alone. I stopped in my tracks to take in this lovely but unexpected image. Picking up a handful, I shaped the snow into a ball, tossed it at my husband and off we went. I felt exhilarated by the sight of this little winter surprise in the middle of a desert landscape.

Why am I telling you a snowball story in this blog post about age and relaunching?! Because if you’re feeling defeated or low in confidence about the possibility that your age might be getting in the way of your ability to land a job, I have a tip for you: Try to be a little more like that snowball in the desert. Let me explain.

Ageism is very much a reality. It’s notoriously hard to prove and often targeted at women. If you are 45+ and have been trying to relaunch for several months or longer with no luck, it’s tempting to assume that age is at least partly to blame. Before you cloak your mind in that possibility and head down a rabbit hole of age-related defeatism, first conduct a thorough, honest check-in on the quality of your job search. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are you running a thoughtful, focused and targeted search?
  2. Are you using strategic networking effectively?
  3. Are you working to fill in your knowledge gaps, whether in technology or industry trends or developments? Is there a substantive work-related topic that you can say that you’ve mastered inside and out?
  4. Do your pitch, resume and LinkedIn profile market you as optimally as possible?
  5. Do you present yourself as well as you can, with a physical appearance that communicates energy and an attitude that’s positive?

If the answer to any of the questions above is no, then don’t assume that your numerical age is necessarily your entire ‘problem.’ Maybe your relaunch process and/or tools first need some tweaking. Resources abound both within and outside iRelaunch to help you address any and all of these topics. If you were able to answer ‘yes’ to all of the questions above, congratulations! You’re probably managing a solid relaunch process. Hopefully by keeping up the volume of your search over a period of time, you’ll land just the perfect opportunity to get your relaunch headed in the right direction.

If you’re feeling like you’re doing all –or most—of the five items above well, but a dark cloud still sits above your head around the subject of your age, try this: Think about the common stereotypes and biases that employers typically have about age. Don’t just think about them up in a vague or abstract way. Identify and write them out. If you are unsure what the most common employer age-related biases are, then Google the topic. Some common ones are that mature job candidates:

  • are technologically or substantively obsolete;
  • are unable to work well with younger colleagues and supervisors;
  • lack energy and stamina and have an expiration date;
  • are too rooted in the past; and
  • won’t learn new ways of doing things.

Now, looking at the list that you have created, what is one stereotype-defying trait that you possess? In other words, what’s one way that you are like an unexpected surprise, a snowball in the desert? Are you particularly adept at technology? Do you relate well to millennials and have no problem learning from younger counterparts? Do you have a well-developed, contemporary fashion sense? Are you very fit and energetic? Are you extremely knowledgeable about popular culture? If you do not have a stereotype-defying trait now, what’s one that you can potentially develop?

Whatever this trait is, embrace it. Make it part of your trademark. Let it be your ‘secret weapon,’ or the strength that no one expects from you -- but that makes you feel more confident. Think about it before a networking meeting or job interview. Use it like an Amy Cuddy ‘power pose.’ This worked for Nancy, a 53-year-old attorney-relauncher who recently landed an associate position at a real estate boutique firm. Nancy is a tech whiz and despite her 10-year career break, has always loved and stayed on top of technology (with some help from her husband, an IT consultant). Nancy showcased her tech skills on her resume and LinkedIn profile and impressed her current employer during interviews by demonstrating her knowledge about a brand new software that they were using to manage client matters. “I think their expectation after seeing me was that my tech knowledge would be basic, but when I shared that – not only is it advanced –but that I get excited about technology in the workplace, they looked at me differently.”

Stephanie also embraces her own age-defying trait. She’s a relauncher in a returnship position at a financial services organization. Whenever I saw her, Stephanie, in her late fifties, looked fantastic. She wore fashionable skirts, sweaters, boots and other accessories that made her look contemporary, fresh and always professional. She confided with me that investing time in not having an outdated appearance makes her feel more confident. She loves when younger colleagues compliment her clothes or ask where she bought a particular item. Sometimes knowing she is probably the ‘oldest person in the room’ at meetings makes her feel down or anxious, but Stephanie says that she tries to present herself in a way that communicates: “I am here – fully present in 2020! I do not have one foot planted in the nineties!”

By being a little more like a snowball in the desert, you may find that you will pleasantly surprise others, increase your confidence, and unload a bit of the burden of age-related worry and self doubt.

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