How 55+ Year-Olds Can Compete in Today’s Job Market

by Beverly Harvey

Given that the recession has caused many executives to continue working longer than they had originally planned and countless early retirees to return to the workforce, I’m frequently asked questions about how to thwart age discrimination. Following are a few recommendations on your voice and attitude, appearance, health, technology and your resume to help you overcome the barrier.

Voice & Attitude

Be cognizant of your voice during a telephone interview. Is it monotone, dull and lifeless or do you sound like you are full or energy and enthusiasm. Practice infusing your voice with more liveliness, energy and passion.

Be cognizant of your attitude. If you are feeling sarcastic, angry or resentful about a recent lay off, others will pick up on your negative attitude and avoid you. You might want to consider meeting with a counselor, therapist, religious leader or someone who can help you process your emotions. Be sure to get yourself into a positive state of mind before an interview (telephone or live).

Watch your step. Do you mope along and drag your feet or do you have some bounce and lightness in your step. Your walk says a lot about your attitude, demeanor, energy level, determination, enthusiasm and optimism.


Prepare for interviewing by investing in a high-quality suit as well as a new stylish shirt/blouse, quality shoes, leather belt and briefcase. Make sure your suit fits well because wearing a suit that is either too small or too big defeats the purpose. Men should purchase a conservatively stylish tie. Women should invest in a quality handbag that compliments their briefcase. Purchase items that give you a sense of self-confidence, value and power. It will do wonders for your interview presentation.

Grooming is critical. Check your hairstyle and color. Gray or white hair adds years to your appearance. Women and men alike may want to consider a non-permanent color applied by a professional stylist. Male pattern baldness also adds years to a man’s appearance. Balding men might want to consider keeping their hair very short to minimize the contrast or completely shaving their head. Mature men need to trim their eyebrows, ear and nose hair. Fingernails are an important part of grooming. Both men and women should have well manicured nails.


Watch your weight. Studies show that weight-based discrimination exists and that overweight people, particularly women, are perceived to be less intelligent, less productive, and less of a leader. Companies are also aware that overweight people are more of a health risk and cost the company more. According to a 2008 report by The Conference Board, a nonprofit business membership and research organization, “Obese employees cost U.S. private companies an estimated $45 billion annually in medical expenditures and work loss.” Joining a weight loss group might help you lose weight and expand your network.

Check you fitness level. A physical fitness plan can help you look and feel younger. Consider joining a health club or hiring a personal fitness trainer to get you in shape.

Get enough sleep so that you don’t have black circles or bags under your eyes. There are preparations and remedies to help you with this issue but generally the best medicine is sleep.


Establish an online presence. Create a LinkedIn profile complete with a picture, your contacts, recommendations and membership in a few groups. Set up a Facebook account and invite a few professional friends. Set up a Twitter account and follow a few authors, business leaders, or your favorite sports champion.

Make reference to your use of mobile commuting and portable digital devices such as a BlackBerry, PDA, iPod, iphone, palm prē, MP3 players, Kindle as well as Internet phone services such as IM, Skype. If you’re not using any of these tools, consider hanging out at your local electronics store and asking the sales representative for demonstrations. You might want to take one of your kids or grandkids with you so they can ask questions that might not occur to you. Maybe their enthusiasm will wear off on you. Maybe you can get them to show you a few things.


Check your resume to see if a recruiter can determine your age from your resume. Consider some of the following ways to eliminate that calculation.

Remove dates from your education unless you received your degree in the last 5-10 years.

Focus only on positions you’ve held in last 15 years. Summarize your earlier career experience into one paragraph and do not include the dates. Caution: If you continue with the same format for the company name and your title and only delete the dates, the recruiter will know exactly why you left off the dates. Therefore, I recommend that you summarize all of the company names and your titles into a sentence/paragraph. Caution: Do not simply delete older positions from your resume. During an interview your past experience will most likely come up and the interviewer may view this omission as a form of deception.

Do not include “20+ years of experience” or “over 25 years of experience” in your summary if you’re pursuing a director-level or vice president-level position. Replace the phrase with the word “extensive.” If you’re pursuing a C-level position it may be okay to mention 20+ years of experience, however I do not recommend using 25 or 30 years of experience. It just sounds archaic. Focus on your value proposition and you’ll hit their hot buttons.

Do not include 10 years of experience in operations plus 12 years of experience in supply chain plus 15 years in experience in finance, etc. This can be detracting and disastrous because the recruiter doesn’t know if these are overlapping or not. If he adds up the years it may appear that you have more than your actual years of experience.

Do not use the word “seasoned” or “veteran” as it has an old connotation.

Include only recent publication dates, awards dates, etc.

Use a contemporary format. If you’re still using the format you used when you graduated from college, you are dating yourself.

Use a contemporary presentation. Today’s resume is a branded marketing piece versus the old historical chronology.

Include links to your online presence (LinkedIn, VisualCV, web portfolio, blog, video resume, etc.).

Include brief information regarding recent athletic or competitive sports accomplishments. Caution: Some employers might think that your athletic pursuits will get in the way of your job.

The bottom line … if a company is overly concerned about age … it’s probably not a place you’d want to work.

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