Straight Talk: Does Age Really Matter When Looking for a Job?

“Opportunities don’t happen, you create them.” — Chris Grosser


After recruiting for 24 years now, the one consistent concern that we often hear from job seekers that  breaks my heart is  that such a vast majority of candidates have deep-seated fears that once they hit some magical number, they are too old to land their next job. After  having confidential talks with literally thousands of hiring managers, where we encourage them to drop the politically correct corporate spiel and tell us what they REALLY want,  to save us both time and energy having us search for the wrong candidate profiles, this is what they tell us;

For outside sales roles, new business development aka ‘hunter’ roles, where activity is king, age DOES matter. The perception, and rightly so, is that they need a high energy, powerfully driven ‘energizer bunny’ to deliver the activity needed to create volume, which typically equals success. These are typically entry level outside sales roles, and they typically do not want anyone over mid 30’s.

The ONLY other instance when we hear that age is a detriment is when a company is looking for a leadership role, and they want to make sure that the person is going to be on -board for a MINIMUM of 5 years. If the concern is that the person is planning on retiring prior to that, or potentially mentally or physically losing steam, then that is an issue. However we typically do not see that concern openly expressed in confidential meetings until the candidate is in their mid to late 60’s. And in many instances, we have been able to overcome that objection by having the candidate assure the hiring manager that he/she still has lots of potency left, and he/she has no interest in retiring for a minimum of 10 years. So those are the two times that we do hear that age is a concern.

Other than those types of scenarios, and I will say it extra loud this time so the folks in the back can hear me, age and the experience that comes with it, is a BENEFIT!!

With that said, changing roles after your mid 50’s can understandably cause some to doubt their probability of success.  However, landing your dream job is honestly within your grasp if you tailor your job search appropriately.  To navigate the job search market, it is important to understand how the market perceives your age demographic in order to determine your best path forward.

Even though the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects workers above 40 years of age and above from facing employment discrimination, there are still occurrences of ageism in organizations—especially within hiring practices.

Research shows that the average unemployment period among younger workers is less than 22 weeks. However, for their older counterparts—a person of 55 years of age and above—it can take more than 30 weeks to find a job.

Here are some factors that can extend your search:

  • Baby Boomers have been in the workforce for quite some time now and are earning a larger overall compensation package – including base salary, stock, etc. Higher earnings (in excess of $250k for the base) typically causes candidates to take longer to find new jobs as opposed to age.
  • When a professional stays in the same job for a long time, which is common among individuals overs 50, knowledge about the industry can become outdated. And when they look for new employment opportunities, their skills can be rendered irrelevant.
  • Experienced job seekers can also be considered overqualified for roles they apply for during their job search.
  • The idea that older professionals are less flexible and strict in the way they conduct business is one of the major reasons why people over 50 face difficulty while finding new jobs.

How Can You Fight Ageism in Your Job Search?

Here are some tips to follow to fight ageism while looking for employment opportunities.

Streamline Your Resume

Your resume is the first thing the recruiter interacts with, so invest the time to make sure you make a good impression! Focus on job accomplishments as opposed to job descriptions. It’s also best to cap off your employment history at 15 years to 20 years max. Focus more on showcasing your recently acquired skills and knowledge and on-going professional development.

Be Ready to Answer Veiled Questions about Your Age

Even though legally interviewers are not supposed to ask a candidate about their age, they often still do in the most subtle of ways. One of the most common interview questions goes something like this, “Would you be fine working under a manager who is younger than you?” When going in for an interview, it’s always best to be prepared to answer similar questions while steering the conversation back to skills required for the role and how you can contribute to the company.

Keep in mind that the reality is that age may in fact be a concern in terms of how long you could realistically be expected to stay in the role, and being able to openly discuss and overcome any concerns is a golden opportunity.  Emphasize your desire to establish yourself within the new role and take advantage of the chance to address any concerns, emphasizing  that your desire is to work for X more years.

Be Patient and Prepared to Speak Candidly About Salary

It is important to know where your salary is aligned in the local market to help prepare you for the conversation.  There are several salary survey tools that can assist with this review such as Glassdoor  which can evaluate compensation based on geographic location and discipline. You can also review salary information at

When queried about salary requirements, the best way to respond is to say that there are many factors that will go into your decision, including the role itself, company culture, career path, benefit package, travel requirements, etc. While salary is certainly important, it is by no means the most important component in your decision. Studies consistently show that the longer you can put off putting a dollar figure on your acceptance, the more you will get. Just write ‘open’ on written or on-line applications, and when asked during a live discussion, just respond with the above verbiage.  And keep in mind that advising you to put off placing  a dollar amount  connected to your acceptance early in the interview process is not just to deflect the question, but wise advice. You should indeed consider all factors prior to making a move and while compensation is absolutely an important factor, it is by no means the only factor to consider.

Flexibility is the Key to Success

One of the main characteristics a recruiter seeks in a candidate is flexibility. During an interview, you should make it a point to show that you’re willing to adapt to the company’s work environment, are ready to learn and to take on your new role. How well an individual can adapt to change can be a competitive advantage over other candidates.

***Beware of this One Flaw that Consistently Hurts Older Candidates***

The one issue that we consistently see with older job seekers is a reluctance to embrace technology. Become familiar with Skype and Go To Meetings so that you can comfortably interview on camera in the privacy of your own home. Many companies employ this technology as part of their interview process. You don’t have to be a computer wizard if you are not specifically interviewing for IT roles, but having a working knowledge of Excel and PowerPoint are smart skills to have.

And more than anything, being open to learning new things is what will get you the offer. There is nothing wrong in saying that you are not familiar with something, but we all too often  see older candidates cut themselves from the interview process when they become defensive, and figuratively cross their arms and refuse to do something because they are embarrassed at their lack of technical abilities.

Get in touch with ISC

International Search Consultants (ISC) is one of the leading executive recruiting companies in the United States. ISC’s team of highly skilled executive recruiters have been helping companies fill critical roles with exceptional candidates since 1999.

Ann Zaslow-Rethaber is President of International Search Consultants and can be reached via e-mail at or via direct dial at 888-866-7276

Lisa Finch is a Senior Executive Recruiter with ISC, focusing on Financial Services as well as the Energy industry. Lisa can be reached via e-mail at or via direct dial at 888-771-1488.