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Overcome Job Search Ageism

Overcome Job Search Ageism

When new owners bought the magazine that editor-in-chief Joe Provey had started a decade earlier, the severance package for employees included job counseling. Two years later, the advice he best remembers receiving is this: Shave your ear hair.

He was a fit, healthy 52-year-old, but to his job counselor, Provey's age was more important than the years of experience he might bring to a new job. And despite federal laws barring age discrimination, Provey's experience is hardly unique.

Having spent his entire career in the special-interest magazine field, he found jobs scarce -- especially at the editor's level. So he switched his focus and began working with book packagers and newsletter publishers on short-term projects. Still, the age issue often arose.

Market Your Experience and Network

"I do think there is a bias toward hiring younger people," Provey says. "My theory is it's natural discrimination, not insidious, but I've sent resumes to jobs I know I could do a terrific job at, and I don't even get a response." He has thought about leaving earlier jobs off his resume, but his college graduation year indicates his age. On the other hand, omitting graduation dates "sets off alarm bells," he says.

What worked for Provey? He networked by attending conventions and calling contacts he'd made during his years in publishing. Another strategy that worked was creating a Web site. "Highlighting a spread that I've written in a big magazine makes me more of a person than sending out a resume that just says I'm a 54-year-old guy," he says.

One New Yorker with experience in marketing and information technology agrees that "there is ageism in the world, particularly [in] corporations." However, he says job seekers can still find ways to market the experience that comes with age, which potential employers should see as an advantage, not a liability.

"You offer experience," he says. "Tell an employer that you know how to take responsibility, and go with it immediately without any hand-holding. You can hit the ground running."

When this New Yorker changed jobs, he networked too. But effective networking for him meant more than just joining groups and calling friends.

"I read trade magazines," he says. "I found the people who were doing what I wanted to do, and I talked to them." He reached those people by calling former colleagues who might know them and by attending conferences.

John Lupton spent 26 years in corporate America, first as an advertising executive and then as the founder of an Atlanta Olympics-related sports marketing firm. When the economy slowed down, sports sponsorships slipped and Lupton decided to make a lifestyle change. He returned to his native North and searched for a job. While Lupton was consulting pro bono for a local library, a board member mentioned that the town's historical society was looking for its first executive director. Lupton offered his services and got the job.

He found his age to be an asset. "With the demise of the dotcom business, companies now want people with gray hair," he says. "Management experience is a real benefit."

At 56, he was under less pressure to earn a big salary for a growing family. In addition, thanks to benefits accrued during his 10 years in the Georgia legislature, he did not need full medical benefits.

Lupton notes that some older workers can work as consultants rather than full-time employees. They pay their own taxes, which makes them particularly attractive to potential employers.

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