Finances & Advice Job-hunting boomers navigate age bias

Job-hunting boomers navigate age bias

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Employers won’t readily admit it, but there is an unstated fact on a resume that is taken into consideration when searching for a new employee. Age.

The Age Discrimination Act in Employment of 1967 discourages companies from making age an issue when hiring, promoting or even terminating employees. The act specifically addresses the workforce over 40 years old, but even still, the baby boomer generation has found age to be a roadblock.

Darrell Dallaire, 50, went into the U.S. Army for three years after graduating high school and returned to find himself a job at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard as a marine electrician. After six years in that position, Dallaire was laid off, which led to a series of layoffs for the Biddeford resident.

After leaving the shipyard, Dallaire received an associate’s degree as an industrial electrician and went to work for a company that was bought out in 2006. He spent 18 months working for a former client and then another 18 months working for a start-up before his professional resources and work leads dried up.

He took a job at a call center, but realized the position wasn’t for him.

“I immediately looked for jobs,” said Dallaire. “I must have sent out 50 resumes and I might have got 10 calls back. Of that I think I had three interviews.

“Things look promising until you go do a meet and greet,” he said. “I almost thought about dying my hair.”

Did the employers say it was age? No. But Dallaire knew from contacts within one company he interviewed for that a 30-year-old with a master’s degree was hired instead of him.

Barbara Babkirk argues job seekers 50 and older should stop focusing on their age.

“They can’t change their age,” said Babkirk, founder of Portland-based Heart At Work Associates. “Instead, I say [to my clients], focus on the things they can control.”

Babkirk is a career counselor who has spent more than 20 years studying the job market and coaching job seekers. Prior to founding Heart At Work Associates, she worked in higher education career counseling at Bowdoin College and University of New Hampshire.

There are plenty of baby boomers being hired, according to Babkirk. The key, however, is to work on presentation and communication of skills.

“It’s all about how you present yourself in the best way possible to get the job you want,” she said. “The age discrimination issue is overdone.”

Babkirk specializes in working with job seekers over 50 years old in fine-tuning their resume, educating them about resources such as LinkedIn and working with clients to nail the interview once the opportunity is given.

“Some people kind of wing it,” said Babkirk. “You need to use a job description before an interview and study it to recognize where your skills and experience align.”

Amy Fecteau, human resources manager at Portland-based Granite Bay Care Inc., agrees with Babkirk’s method of being prepared.

“Baby boomers need to be selling expertise,” Fecteau said. “Instead of approaching a cover letter or interview with a statement such as, ‘I have 25 years of respect and experience in this field of expertise,’ try rephrasing the years into actual examples of experience.”

Fecteau, who has a master’s degree in counseling and human relations, provided an example: “I have in-depth, practical experience leading change in this field of expertise including X, Y and Z that led the company to an increase of 2 percent profits for FY2012.”

“The more detailed experience you can bring to the table, the better your odds of landing a position,” she added. “Older candidates have the experience and knowledge to transition seamlessly into a position.”

For Dallaire, he took a note from people telling him his education was “stale.” In spring 2012, Dallaire entered classes at Southern Maine Community College alongside high school graduates to earn a degree in computer technologies.

Returning to college with one child in college and another wrapping up high school wasn’t easy, but it’s a move that Dallaire hopes will lead to an internship and eventually, his next position.

“At my age, I feel accomplished,” said Dallaire. “I’ve done well in the civilian and government sector. My timing has always just seemed off with jobs.”

He hopes this move to earn a more recent associate’s degree will help him secure a job through his retirement.

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