THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Age discrimination: How to grin and ignore it

I get a lot of e-mail from people who are 50 years old and older and never expected to be unemployed at this stage in their careers. Many of these people are annoyed that they are not appreciated for how much they know. Others are bitter, angry, or indignant. Oftentimes, these complaints come down to one thing: age discrimination.

Hiring managers know they shouldn't discriminate based on age, but they do it anyway. Even when the victim has proof, a lawsuit usually is not as appealing as just getting a job. Ridding the world of injustice is a luxury best left for those who do not have trouble paying their grocery bills– now or during retirement.

I have not experienced age discrimination, but with sex discrimination I have found that bitterness and anger only hurt me. I am certain I have missed opportunities because I am a woman. But in my early twenties, when I was bitter and angry about sex discrimination, I was bitter and angry wherever I went. And my unpleasant personality hurt me way more than any lost opportunities.

Most hiring managers do not discriminate against women, or older people, but all hiring managers discriminate against people who are angry and bitter. And they should because angry, bitter people are difficult to work with. So if you want to get a job, you need to stop being angry that people discriminate against you.

It's hard to hide anger and bitterness– they poke out of any little opening they can find. The fastest way to get rid of them: Convince yourself that most people are basically good, and when you encounter a jerk, assume he or she is an aberration and move on.

I have spoken with recruiters about age discrimination, and recruiters say that age is not an issue if the candidate does not make it an issue. Enthusiastic, curious, and ambitious candidates are gems no matter what the age.

But some candidates don't want to work for someone younger than they are. Some candidates can't hear constructive criticism because they assume its ageism. These people are doomed in the job market because they come off looking bitter. Before you cite ageism, ask yourself who is making the big deal about your age.

My mom is a great example of someone who has overcome the age barrier. She is almost 60 but re-entered the job market at 50. She has received many promotions, and she loves her job. I am convinced that her success is due, in part, to the fact that she is never angry about being old, and she is never bitter about reporting to someone twenty years younger than she is. Instead, she focuses on things that are new to her: what she can learn, what she can accomplish. In that way, she conveys the bright-eyed excitement essential in an enthusiastic employee.

So if you want to beat discrimination, try to ignore it. I am not suggesting that ageism is okay. It's not. But it exists, and you need to figure out how to get a job in the real world.

For all of you who are disgusted by rampant discrimination, I have found that the best way to change workplace culture is to infiltrate. You can't change workplace culture by whining from the outside, but you can change it once you are part of it. I have always used my positions in management to hire a diverse staff. You can promote diversity, too. Once you get a job.


Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more. She penned this column in 2002, but she's busy with new things–- too busy to write new things.


1 comment

When you reach 60, age discrimination is definately an issue. Hire "me" for a wage that I have successfully earned over the past 40 years, or hire a twenty+ for wage they need to survive.

Hiring managers do it all the time