Age discrimination baby boomers face in job interviews

We always find it useful here at BoomerCafé to hear about fellow boomers and what they’re doing with their lives. Sometimes it’s about tough decisions, sometimes about tough times. And that’s certainly the case when it comes to searching for work. Michelle V. Rafter, a contributing columnist at the Orange County Register in Southern California, learned a lot from a baby boomer who went job hunting.

Ruth Gueta is no shrinking violet. Originally from South Africa, she moved to the United States to start a new life. She ran a catering company in Texas before falling in love with Orange County beaches, settling here 13 years ago and opening a second catering business. She’s run marathons and climbed Mount Whitney.

Ruth Gueta (photo by NICK AGRO of the Orange County Register)

Ruth Gueta
(photo by Nick Agro of the Orange County Register)

Asked about her decision last year to stop being a boss and look for a job for the first time in 30 years, Gueta eloquently details the 33 workshops she took on resumé writing, interviewing skills and job hunting. She’s equally loquacious explaining how, after close to five months of looking, she networked her way into a position as a hotel catering manager.

There’s just one thing she clams up about: her age.

Gueta, who lives in Irvine and works at a boutique hotel near there, will only say she’s over 50, but doesn’t want to be defined by a number. Besides, looking for a job, she was “scared as hell because of my age and transferring careers,” she says.

Gueta is like a lot of midlife and older job hunters concerned that their age will hurt their chances of landing work, especially if they’re looking while unemployed.

Their fears are not unjustified.

People in their 40s, 50s and 60s might have a lower overall unemployment rate than their younger counterparts. But when they lose a job, they have a harder time returning to the workforce.

In California, 66 percent of people ages 55 to 64 who are unemployed have been out of work for more than six months, according to an analysis of 2012 census data by the California Budget Project. That’s more than twice the number of unemployeds under 25 who’ve been out of work six months or more, the Register’s Margot Roosevelt wrote in a recent series on long-term joblessness.

Ageism is one reason it’s harder for older workers to find a job. Potential employers fear – justly or not – that older workers won’t be able to keep up, won’t know the latest technology or will put in a few years and then retire.

A January CareerBuilder/Harris poll indicated that 66 percent of people who’ve been out of work for a long time feel their age or experience work against them in a job search. For people 55 and older, an overwhelming 92 percent feel their age is a detriment to finding work, according to the survey.


For a job interview, you can color gray roots, get a new suit, update your LinkedIn profile and take classes to brush up on software and social media skills.

A job interview.

Gray hair … and a job interview.

Fighting ageism in job searches takes more than that.

Sometimes it’s picking up on little things. Anna Rembert, a Mission Viejo woman who gives her age as “early boomer,” says that in resumés, cover letters and job applications, it pays to mimic the lingo in companies’ job descriptions, all the better to avoid appearing old and out of it.

On job listings, “sourcing” is the new word for “buying,” and “onboarding” is the term companies use to describe the orientation process new employees go through, Rembert says. “People have to be aware of the new terminology.”

To appear younger in her job search, Rembert includes only her most recent work experience on her resumé. If she’s applying for a job where only a bachelor’s degree is required, she changes her resumé to omit the master’s degree she also holds, so it doesn’t appear that she’s overqualified.

If you haven’t been on a job interview in a while, prepare to answer different types of questions. These days, it’s common for companies to ask behavioral questions to elicit how someone would respond under pressure or in a typical work situation.

“I find that people don’t know how to answer those types of questions,” Rembert says of her job-seeking peers.

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1 Comment

  1. Michelle — I started to recognize age discrimination in 1991 after I joined a new company. Shortly afterwards another new hire who was 50 told me of his efforts to find work after being laid off. At the time, if you were 50 or over, you were often targeted during the layoff process which was occurring frequently, even at the company I had just joined. I think it is a sad commentary for our society and its lack of respect for our seniors. What does it say when you have to disguise your age or pretend to be younger than you are?

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