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Fighting Ageism: Author Wendy Sachs Shares Her Struggle to Find Work After 40

Whitney Johnson

Thinker, Writer, Speaker, Advisor, Doer

In the tech world, 40 is, in some ways, the new 60. We may be living longer and many of us now want to work longer as well, but fortune favors the young. Ageism is a citadel of discrimination on which we still need to launch a steady assault. Maintaining quality employment throughout the lifespan of a career can become increasingly difficult as the years accrue. Eventually, ageism affects us all.

But HR professionals and recruiters are in a unique position to examine the conscious and unconscious biases in hiring, promoting and keeping older employees. Wendy Sachs, content strategist and author of "Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot and Relaunch Their Careers, " joined me on the Disrupt Yourself podcast to share her job hunt experiences and why you should tap into the over 40 talent pool.

Older Candidates Have a Lot to Offer

In 2014, Sachs lost her job. She was over 40, and the job market was different than what she had encountered just a few years earlier. Still, she was targeting enterprises that she felt offered the most opportunity for her moving forward.

"I was going around to what I call the 'bright and shiny media startups' in New York City thinking, 'Ah, this is where I need to be. This is where it's happening. It's social media—this is the future and I need to get into it.' I had a career clock in my head ticking, thinking, 'I'm over 40. The window is closing to get in on this,'" Sachs told me in our interview.

She also described the generational disconnect she discovered—she was not only older than the people who were interviewing her, but also at least a decade older than everyone else working there.

"I had what I thought was really incredible experience. I had done so many interesting things and yet they couldn't figure out what to do with all of that. They were impressed, but they weren't hiring me," she said.

Why You Should Hire Employees Over 40

Sachs is capable, qualified and brings a lot of expertise to the table. She is well-versed in today's technology, but that alone wasn't enough to bridge the gap.

That's because there are other issues older workers face besides keeping up with new tools. A colleague of mine recently mentioned that her son-in-law, a successful tech startup entrepreneur, says he is suspicious of anyone who interviews in a suit and tie, a subtle but impactful manifestation of ageism. After all, we're not likely to hire someone we don't trust. But for HR professional and recruiters, this is a missed opportunity.

One of the tenets of personal disruption is to play where others aren't playing, or in this instance, to hire where others aren't. A new penny may be shiny, but that doesn't make it any more valuable than an older penny. On the contrary, with age comes wisdom. If you can find an older candidate who has lost their sheen because of age, but brings work experience, years of accumulated soft skills and the hunger of a twenty-something, snatch them up.

When looking at the resumes of older employees, be open minded. Realize that though some roles or techniques may sound outdated, it's likely that their experiences can be reframed, contextualized and reapplied to the modern day workplace. New technologies or processes can be learned, but the foundational qualities that certain candidates possess could be specific to their generation, and hard to find elsewhere.

Photo: Creative Commons

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