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Successful Aging: Fighting back against age discrimination and its false assumptions

Q. I am an older woman who was terminated from my job after 25 years. The company was sold and I was replaced by a millennial tech wizard. The new owner did not like me and treated me as though I knew nothing – even told me to shut up. On to another job, which had a computer system that was new to me. After the owner found out I was 72 years old, he suggested my hearing was going and asked why it took so long to identify who was on the phone. I left that job. Let me know I can work again. S.A.

Dear S.A.,

Yes, of course, you can work again.

Let’s first look at the two positions you left. In both cases, it sounds like computer systems were involved. The first thing you might check is to what extent you are computer literate in programs that are used in companies or organizations.

Obstacles exist, and age discrimination is one of them. Assumptions often are made about older people that just are not true. The source of prejudice often occurs when an individual has a negative experience with an older adult such as being unwilling to learn a new technology. If that negative experience is generalized to all older adults, we have the basis of a prejudiced or ageist attitude. Here are a few assumptions as indicated in AARP’s slide presentation “Ageism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice.”

Note there always are exceptions.

1. Older adults are uncomfortable with technology and unable to learn new ones. False. On average, computer programmers in their 50s had higher reputation scores in online forums than younger users. (Source: Is Programming Knowledge Related to Age? North Carolina State University, 2013)

2. Older workers are coasting toward retirement and are not interested in learning new skills. False again. More than 8 in 10 workers ages 45 to 64 say that the opportunity to learn something new is an essential element of their ideal job. (Source: Staying Ahead of the Curve 2013: The AARP Work and Career Study)

3. Older workers are slow and can’t keep up with their younger counterparts. False again. Productivity actually increases with age, even in an environment requiring substantial physical activity (Source: Productivity and Age: Evidence from Work Teams at the Assembly Line. Max Planck Institute, 2016)

Here are a few tips to consider in your job search:

· Assess your technical skills: A study by AARP found that more than one in five older job seekers surveyed said their “need to update technology skills” might hinder them from getting a new job.

· Evaluate your interpersonal and organizational skills: Get an outside perspective. Have lunch with a trusted colleague or friend and ask what that person sees as your strengths as well as possible shortcomings.

· Network-network-network: Connect with friends, relatives, former co-workers, social media connections and anyone else you can think of. Participate in local networking organizations and let people know you are looking for a position. Note most positions are filled internally or through referrals.

· Determine the importance of salary: Do you need to work to make ends meet or is work an option? Consider your work-life balance.

· Know how to apply for positions online: Statistics indicate about 50 percent of mid-sized companies and almost all large corporations use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to screen candidates for job opportunities. This often is not the case for smaller companies.

· Check your personal appearance: Upon first meeting, it takes just seven seconds for someone to form an opinion about you. There is always the question particularly for women – “Do I need to do something to look younger?” The guiding principle is to look professional, whatever that means to you.

· Brush up your resume and interview skills: The Internet is a good source of practical advice.

· Volunteer for a cause important to you: Although looking for work often is a full-time effort, consider volunteering and working with a new set of people. It can be personally fulfilling and help you stay connected.

Resources to consider:

The AARP web site: Check for employment, jobs, career opportunities, interviewing and back to work 50+. Also look at the AARP Pledge signers who are age-friendly employers.

Here are a few more: The book by Kerry Kannon, “Great Jobs for Everyone 50+;” and Internet resources like; and

Thank you, S.A., for your important question. Keep going and you will find that position.

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