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The Globe and Mail

Ageism exists, so fight it head on in your job search

The Question:

After 30-plus years with one media company as a writer and editor, I now find myself in the unemployment line and I am having a great deal of difficulty finding a job. I have also 'moved along with the times' and have welcomed new media and the skills that go along with the medium, so I am well versed in all areas of communications, so lack of new media knowledge cannot be my stumbling block.

I've also taken a look at other sectors and tried for positions where – to my mind – my skills and experience seem easily transferable and I am still getting nowhere.

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I have been talking with many friends across the country who are in the same position and have the same journalism and media background as myself and we are all coming up against the same issues, mostly that we are over-qualified. The one thing we all have in common is that we are all middle-aged, and many of us are beginning to believe that it's not sexism, or anything like that that has become the issue, but ageism.

Do you have any suggestions on how to combat this, and whether it's being consciously done or not?

The Answer:

Ageism does exist, as many types of discriminations do when hiring. What you need to do, however, is strategically plan how you are going to present yourself in an interview.

Right now there is a declining work force. Thousands and thousands of people are retiring, taking with them years of institutional knowledge. This knowledge is not easily replaced by hiring someone with minimal job experience. Companies need the extensive experience that an older worker brings. These seasoned workers can also come with a high level of commitment, standards and dedication to the job.

Play up your skills, and not just what you can do, but how you have applied them over your career to make a job, department or company successful. Bring these strengths to the front of the conversation and project the confident and seasoned worker that you are. Give yourself the advantage that younger workers do not have by recounting stories of how you have inspired co-workers to do better or helped a co-worker realize the potential they did not believe they had.

What has occurred to me in your question, however, is that you have been with the same company for the past 30 years. I am sure you have held many progressive roles within the company and your experience with media and communications may be vast. However, that may be seen as lacking experience working with different organizations and cultures. This could be a red flag for employers.

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Deal with this head on, by telling employers that you valued the organization you came from and you built a very solid career, full of wide-reaching successes. Talk about how you advanced throughout your career, investing in yourself with additional education and training, all of which you applied back to the company that supported your efforts.

Finally, you also need to take a look at the market, and who else is looking for work with the same qualifications as you are. You mention that you have spoken with your colleagues about your challenges. Right now, these people are your competition and should be seen as such. Determine what makes you different than them. If you all have the same skills and accomplishments, you need to segment yourself. It is fine to help each other out, but be mindful that they may be looking for the same job as you and could "scoop" your hard-earned job lead.

I have seen people of all ages land great, meaningful jobs. It takes a good strategy, coupled with a solid belief that you will get what you want, even if you need to overcome barriers or stereotypes in the workplace.

Eileen Dooley is a certified coach and lead consultant for Cam McRae Consulting in Calgary.

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