Job search for over 50s: 500 applications, dozens of interviews and zero offers

Chris Autry has built, opened and operated corporate call centers for approximately 30 years. His longest period of unemployment was six months in 1989. Until recently, at least.

Autry, 64, lost his job last year in a corporate downsizing and hasn’t been able to find another in the nine months he’s been looking. He thinks age may play a role.

See: Live coverage of the January jobs report

He applied for about 500 jobs and got a 12% response rate that led to dozens of interviews and follow-ups. Several interviews have been conducted with CEOs or decision makers of the company, but he has not yet found a job.

“Today everything is virtual. I have found that if the first interview or screening is done over the phone, I always get to the next level. If it’s via video, I can’t get to the next level,” Autry said. “Maybe it could be an unconscious bias if they see me as an older candidate.”

He said he never felt like age was obvious or something he could feel. Rather, she was thinner.

During an interview, he said, he dressed appropriately, in his opinion, wearing a suit and tie. The vice president of human resources asked him if he always dressed so formally.

“I felt like maybe I come off as old school, stuffy, from a bygone era,” Autry said.

She never said anything about it and never filed an age discrimination complaint, he said, because she was always so subtle.

“Even in my mind, I can’t prove that this was age discrimination. Maybe there was a better candidate,” she said. “I try not to let things like this defeat me.”

AARP found that 64 percent of adults age 50 and older in the workforce believe older workers experience discrimination, and nine in 10 believe age discrimination against older workers is common in the workplace. Work. More than one in 10 said they had given up on a promotion or the chance to advance their career because of their age.

Light: It’s not just about boomers and millennials. The workforce ranges from Generation Z to the Silent Generation.

Another job seeker, Randy G., who declined to give his last name, said he was laid off at age 57 as a graphic designer and has been unable to find full-time work since. He is now 62 years old and is still looking for permanent work, although he has had a series of temporary and short-term assignments.

“I didn’t expect it would take me more than a few weeks to find a job,” he said. “But the situation dragged on and on. I didn’t see it coming.”

After about a year of looking for work, he said it occurred to him that age might be at play.

“No one specific thing ever happened. Never before has a person said “bad X”. I felt he was just in the water,” she said.

AARP found that age discrimination against people 50 and older cost the economy $850 billion in 2018, through lost jobs or missed promotions and opportunities .

To make it easier to prove age discrimination, a bipartisan group in Congress reintroduced a bill in December called the Protect Older Workers Against Discrimination Act. The measure was first introduced in 2009 and several versions have failed to pass.

The House’s new proposal seeks to address a 2009 Supreme Court decision in Gross v. FBL Financial Services Inc. that weakened age discrimination protections under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. That ruling set a higher bar for age discrimination than for other types of discrimination, such as discrimination based on sex, race or physical ability.

That Supreme Court decision required plaintiffs to show that age was the primary reason for an adverse employment action, a much higher standard than the previous rule, which required plaintiffs to show that age was a factor motivating.

“More than a decade ago, the Supreme Court undermined protections for older workers by establishing an unreasonable burden of proof for claims of age discrimination,” Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, said in a press release.

The bill would “finally restore the legal rights of older workers by ensuring that burdens of proof in age discrimination claims are treated the same as other discrimination claims,” Scott said.

Light: Which pension? Older people are working longer hours for higher pay than ever before.

Despite potential age discrimination, the number of older workers is growing and there are currently five generations in the workforce.

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one in five Americans age 65 and older were gainfully employed in 2023, nearly double the percentage of seniors who worked 35 years ago.

And this year the United States is reaching “Peak 65,” a phenomenon in which approximately 12,000 people a day will turn 65.

Looking ahead, projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that the role of older workers will continue to grow over the next decade. People aged 65 and older are expected to make up 8.6% of the workforce in 2032, up from 6.6% in 2022.

Light: Coming to your job: more older workers

“Older workers want what all workers want: flexibility and balance, fulfillment and satisfaction. Ultimately, everyone wants the same thing,” said Carly Roszkowski, vice president of financial resilience programming at AARP.

Roszkowski said AARP has resources to help people in the workforce talk to a manager or human resources department about any potential age discrimination. For job seekers, AARP offers age-proof resume tips, such as removing graduation dates and limiting experience to the most relevant and recent 10 to 15 years.

The advocacy group is also working to help companies understand that multigenerational workforces are better in terms of productivity, innovation and profits, Roszkowski said. AARP also urges companies to include age in their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

And if job seekers encounter age discrimination, Roszkowski said, documentation is key.

“It’s the hardest discrimination to prove,” he said. “It’s the biggest barrier to getting back into or staying in the workplace.”

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