How to Handle Age Discrimination in A Job Search

Last Updated May 9, 2011 3:38 PM EDT

Dear Ron, I'm a 51 year old salesman who was laid off from his job last year. I've got tons of experience and a strong track record of getting results, but I'm having trouble getting interviews, let alone job offers. Do you think I'm being discriminated against because of my age?
There certainly are companies that are more interested in finding younger people who are in their minds more energetic and hungrier for success. However, at 51, you have a wide range of valuable experience, so the challenge is to look for companies that value that experience. I would try to refine your job search to focus on companies that especially need senior sales leaders in their organizations, which means you can't look for just any sales position. But that doesn't limit you as much as you might think; I've been to young internet companies where all the employees are in their 20s but most of the salespeople are in their 50s. So you need to do more work to look for the right kinds of companies that value what you bring to the table.

You should also spend some time identifying and accentuating the qualities that would make you effective even in a company with a lot of younger workers. Maybe it's your leadership and your willingness to teach those younger colleagues. Ultimately, you want to look at ways to define yourself in, versus defining -- or being defined -- out.

It's important to remember, too, that the economy is making things tough for all job seekers, not just you. I'm working with someone now who's 52 years old -- a very experienced manager with a great track record -- and it's taken him a year to find a suitable opening. The good thing is that things seem to be opening up ever so slightly now, but as this happens, it's even more important to develop a unique angle on what you offer, and why a given company should hire you versus someone younger. Good luck.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Nigel D Christian
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  • Ron Brown

    Ronald B. Brown is a leading expert in the fields of leadership development and organizational change. He is the founder and president of Banks Brown, a management consulting firm that specializes in providing leading-edge skills to optimize the performance of leaders and organizations. He has served as a consultant to Fortune 100 corporations such as the Procter & Gamble Company, Avon Products, Inc., McDonald's Corporation, General Electric Plastics, Kaiser Permanente, Shell Oil Company, Eastman Kodak Company, General Mills Inc., and Motorola, Inc. Brown holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.A. and B.S. from Michigan State University.