Age can be a fraught and complex issue during the job application process. This personal trait isn't quite like any of the others. Things like marital status, religion, and sexual preference can (and should) be left out of your application altogether, and in fact, these details don't have to be shared in the workplace at all, not now and not ever. Other traits like your gender and race are protected from bias by law. But these protections can be hard to enforce, and even if you leave them off your resume (which you should), as soon as you step in the door for your interview, you'll be sharing them with everyone who can see you.
Age falls into a separate category, a class of its own. Like most personal traits, you can omit mention of it in your resume, and you don't have to share it in your interview, but age tends to surface in context clues like graduation dates and experience levels. And even though age discrimination is frowned upon, it still happens all the time in the professional world and is almost impossible to counter, punish, and prevent. In fact, exclusion based on age is becoming increasingly common as the market floods with baby boomers who have been sidelined by the recent recession. The message is clear: if you're over 50 and you're on the job market, you're probably going to face some challenges that your younger counterparts won't.
How Old is Too Old?
Of course every situation will vary, but here's a general breakdown of the links managers expect to see between job seekers and their target positions in the absence of other information:
25-30: Entry level and junior level positions
30-35: Senior level non-management positions
35-40: Lower level management positions
40-45: Mid-level management positions
45-50: Director level positions
50 and above: Upper management and vice president level positions
At any point during a perfectly average professional trajectory, employees may also depart from the standard workplace to start their own businesses, partnerships, and consulting gigs. Sometimes these continue indefinitely and sometimes they end with a return to the corporate corral, but these departures are perfectly conventional.
So What If I Don't fit the Pattern?
If your life story and the list above don't mesh at all, your reviewers may want to know why. Use these tips to head off concerns before they arise.
1. Don't apologize. No issue regarding you age should be met with a pre-emptive apology. You haven't done anything wrong.
2. Any negatives that your age may suggest are countered by positives. So focus on the positives. Don't let the discussion drift into the realm of social media or popular music…keep it centered on leadership, experience, and professional depth.
3. Emphasize your flexibility. This will include your willingness to learn new things, to give up old methods in exchange for new ones, and to accept the status quo (instead of taking over).
4. Recognize that when it comes to higher level management positions, there just aren't as many of them available. This is a simple math issue, and for open positions at the top, the competition will be tougher in a flooded marketplace. For C-level jobs, you aren't competing with young kids—you're competing with workers your own age who are on the market for similar reasons.
5. Find a balance between "confident" and "threatening". These are two sides of the same coin.
6. Don't worry about becoming "tech savvy", whatever this may mean. But do learn how to attach a Word file to an email, and understand the basics of the Microsoft office suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook).
Don't Let Age Stand In Your Way
To keep your age from becoming an issue during the application process, use the resume and cover letter building tools on MyPerfectResume, and visit the site for more guidelines and resources.