Age discrimination in the workplace involves treating an applicant or an employee less favorably because of his or her age. Fortunately, according to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), human resources, and employment attorneys, clients that feel they have been discriminated against have protection. However, age discrimination happens all too often and in many cases, is difficult to prove there is guilt on the side of the employer. As a result, it is important to assist our clients in protecting themselves against discrimination so they have equal opportunity in having access to gainful employment.
For therapists working with clients who are going through career-transition, the world of work can cause obvious emotional stressors as a result of not receiving a paycheck, not having health insurance, and lacking other retirement benefits. In fact, these stressors can be compounded if that individual does not have adequate financial resources in which to fall back on if they are out of work for a long period of time. In addition, to add insult to injury, if those clients have previously have been employed for a decade or more, they may be unaware of the current job-market and what it takes to get employed again.
The good news is that there are simple ways to assist your clients in protecting themselves from age discrimination and making sound career choices for the future.
1) Revamp Your Resume
Make sure that your clients are adhering to the latest trends in how resumes are constructed. Advise them to only go back 10 years in their work history and eliminate all dates of graduation from Universities they attended. Now this is true for every job applicant regardless of age; however, it’s paramount to individuals who fear age discrimination in their search.
2) Use Updated Email Addresses
Now this may seem silly, but using an email address from Hotmail, AOL, or even Comcast is a dead giveaway. Have your client switch to Gmail. If they still want to keep that old email, just have them forward their Gmail address to their old account.
3) Get on LinkedIn
Yes, they must go digital! Almost every future-employer is going to Google them. Age discrimination happens for a variety of reasons, but one of the main factors is the belief that “old” people are not tech savvy. Well, obviously that is not true and just being on LinkedIn won’t solve all of those concerns; however, it will show employers clients are willing to engage with technology. Also, a profile picture could be a giveaway of age - just make sure it is updated and professional.
4) Network, Network, and Network Some More
Encourage your clients to re-engage with past colleagues, go to career fairs (even your alma mater!), do informational interviews, join professional associations, and job-search groups. Most good jobs (85% of them) are found through colleagues or colleagues of colleagues. All too often, it is who you know and participating in an active job search is a better utilization of their time versus solely applying online. Advise them to seek people out one-on-one, especially if they have a preference for introversion.
According to AARP research, age discrimination is first being reported or “felt” around age 50. Yes, that’s right - 50! And, not that this is a big shocker, but given societal stigma, women tend to feel or report it more frequently over men. Sadly, although it’s hard to gather metrics around these happenings, this scenario is most likely true. Not that we can control external variables about how employers choose potential candidates, we can control how our clients view themselves and we can assist them in making competent future career decisions. Here are a few practical ways to engage with clients that often lead clients to a better sense of clarity around their strengths, desires, and congruence with a future employer.
First off, have them take a strength-based assessment like the StrengthsFinder. There are many out there, but this one is low-cost, quick, and will provide clients with their top 5 strengths. We do know that working from a place of strength will warrant far better results versus trying to fix our deficits. Have the client tell you stories about how they agree or disagree with each of the top 5. This will allow them to connect with their intrinsic motivators and help them market themselves with strengths + instances of past success when they get that interview.
Talk with your clients about their values. You can use something like the Values Cardsort from Knowdell. When was the last time they did an inventory on their values? Chances are that it has been long time or….never! Taking an inventory of these will help them engage with what they want and need in career and life. We are different people at every age and stage of our life so connecting with these systems allows the client to see if there is a congruence between the company, the corporate culture, and if they would be a suitable fit.
Talk to your client about company fit. In many cases, you can tell a lot about a company in how they onboard their employees. How was the application process? How was the introductory email, the call from the hiring manager - the recruiter, how was the phone screen, and how did the in-person interview(s) feel? If the company is unorganized on the front end or if they are rude, it is most likely not any better after they get hired. I know it can be tempting to get a job quick especially if your client needs money; however, if they are looking for optimal fit and happiness, turning down a potentially toxic work environment is the right call. Taking a job and quitting quickly never reads well on a resume.
Age discrimination is likely to almost always occur as long as future employers harbor false beliefs about the abilities of this segment of the workforce. As a result, helping your clients protect themselves, giving them resources about their rights, and helping them to connect to their strengths and values will ensure that they are interviewing the future-potential company just as much as they are being evaluated. According to another AARP study, contrary to many stereotypes, workers aged 50 and above are the most engaged members of the workforce. They also have lower instances of turnover and greater levels of experience. For therapists, guiding clients around issues pertaining to negative self-beliefs and establishing clarity around value systems is in many ways, more important than the nuts and bolts of job search.
Brad Graham, M.Ed., LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works with individuals of all ages and stages in the midst of career-transition. In his Boulder, CO practice, Collaborative Careers™, he combines the use of counseling interventions with career-related assessments to help bring clarity, direction, and action within his clients. He takes a process-oriented, holistic approach and honors his clients for taking ownership over their lives and their relationship to the world of work. Brad can be found on the weekends running the trail systems, cycling the roads, or fly-fishing in Colorado's beautiful rivers. More can be found on his website collaborativecareers.com about his work.