A client in his early 60s recently contacted me to ask about his rights as an older job seeker. He had been applying for jobs in retail stores, and when he submitted an in person application to a large sportswear retailer, he was flatly told that he did “not look like their target demographic” – an obvious reference to his age. Looking around the store, he noted that he was older than the other sales staff, but commented to the store manager that since he is a customer and knows the product well, perhaps he could sell to older customers. The manager nodded and took the resume. He never called my client back.
The bottom line is that it is harder for older job seekers to secure employment. A New York Times article from January this year raised this issue, quoting Ofer Sharone, assistant professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, author of “Flawed System/Flawed Self: Job Searching and Unemployment Experiences” and founder of the non-profit Institute for Career Transitions, saying that “with each decade the length it takes to get re-employed is longer”, suggesting that whereas it may take a younger person 7 months to find a job, job seekers over 55 can take nearly a year to do so.
In Ontario, the Human Rights Code tackles ageism through a specific set of rights and responsibilities for employers, employees and job seekers. Specifically as it related to employment, the “Policy on Discrimination Against Older Persons Because of Age” instructs that:
Job seekers and employees over the age of 18:
– have the right to be offered the same chances in employment as everyone else
– cannot be denied a job, training or a promotion due to their age
– cannot be forced to retire, because of age (In Ontario, mandatory retirement is illegal, with very few specific exceptions).
From their side, employers:
– cannot refuse to hire, train or promote people because of age
– are not allowed to unfairly target older workers, when reducing staff or reorganizing
– must make sure to create a workplace that is inclusive and respectful, and discrimination free.
To make a human rights complaint (called an application), people can contact the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (Toll Free) at 1-866-598-0322. For legal advice, applicants can contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (Toll Free) at 1-866-625-5179.
Strategies for handling age discrimination
The New York Times article suggested that many of the reasons that employers are reluctant to hire older workers are rooted in mistaken assumptions about them:
1. Employers might assume that older workers are not willing to make a long-term commitment to the job, whereas the evidence points at the opposite, according to Mr Sharone: “The older worker tends to be more loyal and stick around longer than the younger worker. The younger worker is moving around to acquire new skills.”
Strategy: Workers could anticipate this concern and address it in the cover letter and interview, to reassure employers of their intentions.
2. Employers sometimes expect that older workers are less productive and energetic. “Older workers are as productive as any other age group,” Mr. Sharone reported; “The variations are between workers, not age groups.”
Strategy: Workers could make a special effort to demonstrate enthusiasm, energy and vitality in their interactions with the employer
3. Employers worry that older job applicants might expect higher salaries or are overqualified. “Most people are happy and willing to go back to a position they had a few years ago, if it gets them back doing work they’re qualified to do and want to do,” Mr. Sharone said.
Strategy: Older workers can anticipate this concern and be clear about their salary and other expectations; they might even seek work in a new field, where they may have less experience, so this is not a concern.
4. Employers might assume that older workers lack technological skills. Concerns about the ability to master new technologies, and a lack of openness to change might occur in the employers’ mind, as well as a concern about how up-to-date an older candidate’s skills might be.
Strategy: As with all workers, older job seekers should ensure that their technological and software skills are updated and sharp. They should ensure that they have a strong social media presence, especially on LinkedIn. Job seekers can include a public URL link to their LinkedIn profile on their resume, cover letter and email.
Other strategies for minimizing ageism might include:
- Join job search programs such as those offered at JVS Toronto’s Employment Source Centres – to update your resumes, learn new interview skills, enhance LinkedIn skills and explore the possibility of upgrading skills.
- Expand your network – the New York Times article quotes Chris Farrell, the author of a book about older workers: “Academic research convincingly shows that more than half of all jobs come through a network. My suspicion is that the percentage is even higher for 60-plus workers. Meet with as many people from your network as possible. Gather their insights and their suggestions,” he suggested; “Always ask them the most critical question: ‘Who else should I talk to?’ ”.
- Consider looking for work at smaller organizations, where experience and skill are needed and valued more; the article suggests employers such as “non-profits, start-ups, small trade associations and niche educational programs”.
- Do you have a specialized skill set? Explore the possibility of becoming self-employed — offer your services as a consultant.
- Seek out Third Quarter, a recruitment site which describes itself as “Canada’s recruiter for people 45 and over” and posts an impressive collection of jobs. Third Quarter also work with CARP to offer a range of workshops and networking opportunities for older workers.