Plus, Age Discrimination in the Workplace Means Boomers Must be ‘Extra’ Perfect Both Online and In-Person
It’s no secret that older workers are typically less desirable in the workforce, and can be ruled out as “overqualified.” This is so common that a recent WSJ piece highlights challenges experienced by a thirty-nine-year-old job seeker, and provides advice to evade the “overqualified trap.” One powerful case example comes from IBM:
“ProPublica estimates that in the past five years alone, IBM has eliminated more than 20,000 American employees ages 40 and over, about 60 percent of its estimated total U.S. job cuts during those years. In making these cuts, IBM has flouted or outflanked U.S. laws and regulations intended to protect later-career workers from age discrimination, according to a ProPublica review of internal company documents, legal filings and public records, as well as information provided via interviews and questionnaires filled out by more than 1,000 former IBM employees.”
Job seekers of all ages are almost required to provide a “perfect” online image, such as an appropriate and appealing head shot photo, in proper dress, along with an excellent LinkedIn profile. Given employer-screening practices of examining Facebook accounts, job seekers are also encouraged to remove any images that might be off-putting. While a diverse background may be sought, the online version needs to hit the airbrushed requirements.
Thanks to automated resume screening, cover letters and resumes often perform better when exact matches of the words or terms in the job description are used, rather than equivalent words that convey the same meaning. A Boomer businessman with considerable experience comments on his successful 2019 job search:
“What worked was I edited my resume for each job to identically match the search terms in the description. Because I used the identical language, the feedback I got when they interviewed me for the job was ‘with you there are no compromises, you have everything we want.”
Candidates Get Ready for Their Close-Ups
Before getting to the in-person interview stage, the job candidate typically needs to apply online, and often to have a phone or video interview. This six-minute video from YouTube channel Work It Daily illustrates how complex it is to prepare for a video interview and shows that interviewing by video doesn’t help candidates feel at-ease:
A New Level of Awkward: One-Way Video Interview
Video interviewing makes a lot of sense for both employers and interviewees, especially when accepting candidates from around the globe. But employers have taken the concept of video one awkward step further with the introduction of one-way video interviews. Applicants are asked to record themselves answering pre-recorded interview questions and submit the resulting video to HR.
From a practical standpoint, one-way video interviews don’t measure how well a person will fulfill the job requirements. These videos are mostly indicative of if the interviewee is a good actor— Laura DeCarlo on blog Job Hunt recommends:
“If you receive the questions in advance, you have received a fabulous opportunity to be well-prepared. It’s like being handed the keys to the kingdom. Script out your answers in advance, remembering to tell clear and concise stories that are examples of your accomplishments…. I could say this one hundred times — you must know your script well enough to be natural.”
Additionally, Katie Holmes of OutwitTrade provides these interview tips that I found helpful:
“Be patient, and be comfortable with silence.”
“Rather than looking at yourself on camera, look at your interviewer and try to make eye contact with them instead (i.e. look directly at your webcam)”
“Find common ground early if you can to minimize the feeling of separation which is common in phone and video interviews”
“The advantage of phone and video interviews is you can have plenty of notes with you to refer to at any time, so make use of this (you can keep them out of sight of the interviewer)”
Additionally, the asynchronous video interview recording may be further analyzed by AI looking for “tells” of eye movements and hand motions that will ultimately be used to screen people out, making the challenge even greater.
Casual Dress Codes Create In-Person Interview Challenges
Although a candidate might be relieved to finally receive an invitation to interview in-person, dressing for an interview presents an interesting challenge these days. Many business environments support dressy casual, and appearing overly-formal can harm a candidate’s chances of seeming like a good cultural fit.
As I wrote recently, Millennial and adult GenZ workers place great significance on dress. With their inherent diversity, it would seem that Millennials and Gen Z would be open to team members who dress differently, speak differently and display a less-than-airbrushed image. But:
“A group of Gen Z and younger Millennials ages 23 to 29 recently approached the CEO of a highly successful $150 million financial services firm based in Santa Monica, California with concerns about a new team member in his 40s. Let’s call him Tom. Tom’s style was perceived to be at odds with the company culture and ‘smart casual’ style, and was far outside their comfort zone. Ultimately, Tom was not able to integrate with the team, and did not stay with the firm beyond a few months.”
It’s no longer sufficient to put on your best suit and hope for the best. Again, candidates will need to carefully consider the image they want to present.
Digital Image Optimization Must Be Job Seeker’s Highest Priority
Let’s recap what it takes to win an open position. A successful candidate will have:
- Polished acting abilities and verbal articulation
- Video skills
- Dress and appearance that is aligned with the environment
- They will also use literally the exact job description language in their resume and sound bites
Together, these elements deliver a digital image of a “fit.” Going further, it seems that these digital image expressions are used as the most important cues and clues to the candidate’s fit with the organization’s culture, with other workers and with the hiring manager’s expectations. Crafting the digital image to appear a fit is likely even more important for workers who are older than the hiring manager and thus don’t seem to hit the environmental image norms.
In an economy with 3.7% unemployment, it seems surprising that the hiring environment presents so many barriers. But it’s true—and those seeking new positions need to craft their digital images, perhaps even more than their actual job skills.