Amy, a colleague of mine who looks no older than 30, came to me to tell me of one of her recent meetings with a jobseeker and to give me some advice. In her rapid voice, she told me that she had just met with a mature male worker who treated her as though she were a child. She was outraged and rightfully so.
Hmmm, I thought, here it comes.
Amy is well revered by the staff at our career center and the customers with whom she meets. She knows a great deal about the job search and training, so being disregarded by this man rubbed her the wrong way. We sat and talked about her meeting with him and wondered aloud if this is how he presents himself at interviews to people younger than he. And if he does, what his chances of success in this job market are. Slim to none, we concurred.
Eventually she calmed down.
Her advice to me was to bring up this attitude toward younger interviewers at my Mature Worker workshop. (She told me three times.) I totally agreed with her and immediately made a change to the presentation slide: “Treat younger interviewers like you would like to be treated.” No, better.
We career advisors always come to the defense of mature workers who experience age discrimination; but we don’t talk as much about reverse age discrimination, such as what my Amy experienced. We are reluctant to tell people who are unemployed how the interviewer might feel about their rude behavior. But this is wrong of us.
Think about if you were on the opposite side of the table interviewing people for a position, where personality fit is as important as technical abilities. How would you react if a mature worker looked at you with disdain and without saying it, called you inexperienced and beneath his level? Further, what would you think if you were going to be his immediate supervisor?
Hiring him would not be a marriage made in heaven. You, as the hiring manager, would have to prove yourself to the, albeit highly qualified, candidate on a regular basis. He would question your every decision and tell you how “he” would do things. Any effort you would make to correct his actions or even reprimand him would be met with resistance. You would feel powerless. You’d be crazy to hire him.
Amy and I believe that the large majority of mature workers have a great deal of value to offer employers. They’re knowledgeable in their work and possess life experience that younger workers do not. They want to work and are flexible with their schedule. They’re dependable, able to mentor others, and are great role models. These are but a few qualities of the mature worker.
But there are a few mature workers who think they’re all that or who have a chip on their shoulder. They are convinced that they’ll experience age discrimination at every interview. In other words, they have lost the job before the interview begins.
Susan Jepson, director of the National Senior Network, wrote an article addressing reverse age discrimination practiced by mature workers. She believes that sometimes it’s not intentional, “Without intending to, or without knowing it, mature workers can come across as arrogant, condescending; that behavior can invite rejection. Examine your beliefs and assumptions and work hard to be open and communicative with your interviewer, without prejudice of any kind.”
Susan Jepson is a mature worker, so she speaks objectively.
If you happen to be one who intentionally discriminates against younger interviewers, remember that the person sitting across from you deserves as much respect as you do. Also keep in mind that your livelihood might depend on how much they value you as a potential employee. More specifically, remember:
She earned her job. Whether she has less experience on the job than you is irrelevant. Someone in the company determined that she was the most capable to manage a group of people. And yes, they could have been wrong.
Her job is to hire the best person. You are the best person, but if you show contempt or even hint to your superiority, she won’t see your talent through the less-than-desirable attitude you demonstrate.
She will appreciate your points of view. Once assured you’re not after her job, she may see you as a mentor and role model. Younger colleagues like the approval of mature workers. Take it from someone who supervised someone 20 years my senior; her approval meant a lot to me.
She might have some growing to do. And if you want to succeed, you’ll realize that people of all ages have some growing to do, including you. You can help her through this process by building her self-esteem and confidence. It’s a wonderful thing to see someone grow under your tutelage.
Whether you like it or not, she will be your boss. What are your options right now? Enough said.
You may arrive at interviews where age discrimination is blatant due to no fault of yours. This is the time when you are the bigger man/woman and leave with your pride intact, your head held high. The word humility comes to mind, as he who is humble can adapt to more demanding situations than he who is arrogant.
In the end, my colleague Amy told her customer that his behavior was unacceptable and would do him more harm than good; and he apologized, admitting his error. We are never too old to learn valuable lessons.