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Career-Life Times, Issue #51--How to Avoid Age Discrimination
August 23, 2008
In the U.S., employers can’t legally base hiring decisions on a candidate’s age. That doesn’t mean age discrimination doesn’t happen.
While they offer highly prized knowledge and experience, those qualities are often not enough to counteract the fears companies secretly associate with older workers. When you understand what those fears are, you can take steps to overcome them.
1. Health concerns. Eliminating candidates based on fears of poor health is illegal, but companies do it every day. So your goal is to give the appearance of great health during your job interview. Don’t say anything about health issues. As long as you meet the minimum physical requirements for the job, you are not obligated to volunteer information about your health.
Be especially careful to avoid an interviewer’s tricks to get around asking you illegal questions about your health. He may groan as he sits down and mention an aching back or recent knee surgery to see how you react. Resist the temptation to share your own similar experiences!
What if he ignores the law and comes right out and asks, “How’s your health?” Just smile and say, “Fine, thank you. How’s yours?”
2. Resistance to change. Another major concern is that older workers are set in their ways, inflexible, and resistant to adopting new methods, processes, or technologies. Be sure to stress the opposite during your interview, perhaps by mentioning how you’ve mastered the newest cutting-edge technologies in your field.
Again, beware of the interviewer’s tricks. She may appear to fumble with her Blackberry and grumble, “These new gadgets are so complicated. I don’t know what I’d do if Joe in IT wasn’t around to program this for me.” Or she may casually mutter, “Who can keep up with all the changes in our crazy industry?” while glancing at your resume. Do NOT do what might come naturally--sharing similar frustrations!
3. Appearance counts. Since most interviewers will not ask age-related questions, they’ll make assumptions based on your appearance. So take steps to look younger.
Make sure your clothes are current and your hairstyle is up-to-date (and get rid of the gray). Avoid using old-fashioned expressions. Show enthusiasm and energy as well as confidence.
Being prepared and taking action to overcome the secret age-related fears of employers and present a healthy, youthful appearance will help you avoid discrimination and get that new job!
Here’s a brief excerpt from my “Job Interview Success System” ebook:
“STEP 7: PLAN WHAT TO BRING TO YOUR INTERVIEW
“At a minimum, bring a few extra copies of your application and/or resume. If you have letters of recommendation, bring copies of those, as well. If you don't have any letters of recommendation but have time to obtain some from your past employers or character references, do so--even if you have to speed things up by writing them yourself and getting your references to sign them. Having letters of recommendation ready to hand out at the interview will give you another leg up on your competition, and make you stand out among many applicants.”
I used to be a civil service employee working for the military, while married to a military spouse. I changed jobs and/or moved every 3-4 years. My bosses and coworkers did the same. Because it was very difficult for me to provide current contact information for my references, I always obtained letters of recommendation before leaving each job. I also asked departing bosses for such letters.
Even if you’ve already been hired by your next employer, getting a letter of recommendation from each boss you leave behind is a good idea.
So I was eager to read what Nick Corcodilos, author of the “Ask The Headhunter” book, blog and e-newsletter (which I highly recommend) said in answer to a reader’s question: “I asked my boss for a letter of recommendation. She in turn asked me to write it myself, and said she'll sign it. Should I write my own reference letter for my boss to sign?”
Nick said: “Your boss is a boob, and you can tell her I said so. If she won't take the time to write an honest letter of recommendation for you, she's insulting you. You should not write your own recommendation that someone else signs. I would go back and ask her to write it herself because it isn't ethical for you to write it and because you cannot articulate about yourself what your boss could.”
It’s rare that I disagree with Nick’s advice. But this time I do.
In a perfect world, our bosses would be happy to write a letter of recommendation for us, they’d have the time to do so, and they’d be terrific and convincing writers.
But most of us don’t live in such a world. Our bosses are stressed out and overworked. Often they’re not exactly thrilled that we’re leaving their team, creating a vacancy and adding a new recruitment process to their bulging workload. Even if they understand and agree with our decision to move on, we’re creating a hardship for them. In these situations, asking our boss to do us the favor of writing a letter of recommendation is asking a heck of a lot.
So I don’t feel it was surprising (and it certainly was not “insulting”) for that reader’s boss to ask him to write the letter for her signature.
Even if your boss agrees to write it, there’s the QUALITY of that letter to consider. Something like this might do more harm than good:
“Bonnie was well liked and performed her duties in a satisfactory manner. She should be a good employee.” Ouch! That’s a real example. Needless to say, I didn’t use it.
Let’s face it--sometimes our relationships with our bosses aren’t all that great. They may be clueless about the details of our accomplishments. Often they’re not very good writers. And they’re certainly not as motivated to write an outstanding letter about you as YOU are.
In such cases, I see nothing “unethical” about writing your own letter of recommendation as long as your boss signs it.
Of course, the best-case scenario is when your boss writes the letter and does a fantastic job. I consider myself to be decent writer and would have no problem writing my own letter of recommendation for my boss to sign, but I would never have the nerve to write something like this about myself:
“Bonnie has been, without a doubt, the most valuable person in this Division since her arrival. In my 34 years of public service, I rate her as the best administrator I have ever had the pleasure of working with.”
That’s also a real example, and it was backed up with details about what I did to deserve such praise. Needless to say, I did use that one.
The bottom line is that it depends on your boss, and on your relationship with your boss. If you feel he or she would be willing and able to write a great letter for you, by all means ask your boss to do so. But if you don’t think it would be a good idea, be open to writing the letter yourself, and ask for their recommendation like this:
“I was wondering if you’d be willing to give me a letter of recommendation before I go… I could draft something up for you to sign if you’re too busy to write it.”
This approach will allow your boss to endorse you without doing extra work and shows your respect for his/her time. It’ll be easier for your boss to say “Yes” to such a request than to commit to writing a letter for you.
The next step, assuming your boss said yes, is to write a convincing letter. I’ll cover that in my next article.
Once you have your signed recommendation letter from your boss, send him/her a thank-you note.
Note: All of this advice assumes you’re leaving in good standing and are worthy of a recommendation. If you were fired or quit in a negative light, forget about the letter.
A good letter of recommendation provides an overall description of the individual’s abilities in enough detail that it saves a future employer the time and trouble of doing a reference check.
If you are composing your own letter of recommendation for your boss’s signature, keep in mind that you have two audiences: your boss and the recipient. Try to write it from your boss’s perspective.
The more personalized and specific the letter of recommendation is, the more effective it will be.
Here’s the step-by-step process for writing the letter.
1. If appropriate and available, use company letterhead.
2. Salutation: Because the recipients are often unknown, the salutation should be TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN.
3. First paragraph: The opening sentence is very important and sets the tone for the letter. State the purpose of the letter, namely that you're writing a recommendation concerning the individual, but do it in a way that communicates your feelings about the person. In other words, if you are pleased to be writing it, say so.
4. Second paragraph: Explain who you are, how you know the individual, and how long you’ve known and/or worked with him or her. Be clear about the working relationship: explain whether he or she was your subordinate, co-worker, student, etc. Characterize the individual in general terms with your overall opinion.
5. Third-fourth paragraphs: Include detailed information about the person’s abilities and most exceptional qualities. Mention specific accomplishments and give concrete examples of how the person helped you and your company.
6. Last paragraph: Reiterate your opinion of the person and express your specific recommendation. One of the most valuable things you can say is that you would hire the individual again.
7. Include your title on your signature.
8. Proofread the letter carefully before having it signed.
To Whom It May Concern:
I am very happy to provide my highest recommendation for Ms. Jane Doe, whom I have had the pleasure of working with for the past three years.
As Director of the Pacific Region, I relied heavily on Jane’s expertise while she served as my Public Relations Officer. She excelled in every aspect of her position and was a tremendous asset to the entire organization.
Under Jane’s guidance, the organization newspaper was expanded and redesigned to offer readers more news and information while at the same time reducing production costs by more than 20 percent. Readers rated the newspaper “Excellent,” and the fact that it has been selected “Best in the Pacific” for the past three years can be directly attributed to Jane’s hard work, dedication and talent.
Jane’s forte is that of planning, organizing and executing seemingly insurmountable tasks. She oversaw an incredible number of preparations for the “50th Anniversary of the End of the Battle of Okinawa” event, part of the worldwide commemorations of the 50th anniversary of end of World War II. She coordinated coverage of the event’s activities by international media and helped to write the opening remarks given by Ambassador Mondale. Her most valuable contribution to that event’s spectacular success, however, was convincing me that what I had originally wanted to do would have been a public relations disaster. Telling your boss he’s wrong, especially when other managers are complimenting his idea, takes guts. Jane’s action showed she placed a higher priority on the good of the organization and the community than on her own job security—a rare and commendable attitude.
Jane would be an invaluable member of any organization. I have enjoyed working with her and would certainly welcome the opportunity to do so again. Hire her. She can handle anything.
The September 2008 issue of Inc. Magazine lists the 500 fastest-growing private companies. There’s also a little column that shows what some of those companies’ CEOs ask during a job interview to get the right person. Prepare to be astounded by these questions:
“What would be your theme song?”
“Can you pull the weight of three people?”
"Are you a Green Bay Packers fan?”
“What is on your bookshelf?”
“Do you have a problem filling in as janitor for a day?”
“Do you have a driver’s license?”
“Who needs you?”
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I don’t know about you, but the thought of top CEOs thinking questions like those will show them the best person for the job scares the hell out of me. What’s this world coming to?!?
More Articles. You can find more articles on my website by clicking on Article Index. Here are a few new ones you might enjoy (just click on the title to see the article):
Fr*ee Book: "Happy Hour is 9 to 5; Learn How to Love Your Job, Create a Great Business and Kick Butt at Work". This book by Alexander Kjerulf is about happiness at work; about loving your job--or finding one you can love. When you love your job, you are more productive, creative and motivated. You're also happier in life. This book gives you everything you need to make work fun, inspiring and energizing. You can pay $29 for a printed version, $19 for a downloadable version… or you can read it fr*ee online: Happy Hour.
Dumb Interview Moves blog post. Anne Fisher, a columnist for “Fortune” magazine, has a fun—and helpful—post on her “Ask Annie” blog titled “13 Dumb Job Interview Moves.” But even better than her post are the comments readers have provided! Here’s an example: “I once interviewed a candidate who listed on his resume ‘Transportation Director at Target.’ When I asked him to elaborate, it came out that he was the guy who pushed the carts back into the store. Still makes me giggle!” Check them out here: 13 Dumb Job Interview Moves.
Get Cash for Your Gadgets. This has nothing to do with your career, but it may help you earn a little money while also helping the environment. There’s a new site that offers a practical, rewarding way for people to finally get rid of all those old cell phones, digital cameras, and gaming systems that they no longer use. The site philosophy is, “If your gadgets still work, why not keep them in circulation AND get paid for them?” I haven’t tried their service yet, but it looks pretty straightforward. And anything that keeps e-waste out of our landfills is a good thing in my book. Check it out here: Gazelle.com.
Job Interview Success System. This is my guaranteed step-by-step system for helping you ace your next job interview. See the details here: Job Interview Success System.
at the end of the tunnel;
stride down there and
light the bloody thing yourself."
TEACHER: Maria, go to the map and find North America.
TEACHER: John, why are you doing your math multiplication on the floor?
TEACHER: Winnie, name one important thing we have today that we didn't
have ten years ago.
Want to Rant? I'm fresh out of rants and ramblings this month. I'll probably find something to rant about for the next issue, but just in case I don't... would YOU like to be a guest ranter? What bugs you most about your job, your boss, your country, your cat? Just let me know.
So, what did you think of this issue? Any suggestions? Topic ideas? Questions? I really appreciate your feedback. Please send me a note at Bonnie@Best-Interview-Strategies.com
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