During a recent Aspen Leadership Group staff meeting, several questions arose about ageism in the nonprofit sector:

  • Were we seeing it?
  • How did it manifest itself in client discussions?
  • Was there anything we might do to help coach candidates to overcome it?

After several thousand conversations with candidates and meetings with several hundred hiring managers each year, our senior consultants all noted that candidates over 50 years old are experiencing a headwind when trying to secure their next role in the nonprofit sector. Today’s Coach’s Corner will address this issue with insights from both perspectives – hiring manager and candidate – and 8 recommendations to candidates about how they can better position themselves to land their next position.

Starting from a hiring managers perspective, let’s review some examples of concerns regularly expressed when we present seasoned candidates:

  1. This candidate has already been a senior level manager; why would he/she now want to be a major gifts officer?
  2. I don’t want to hire someone who wants to cruise into retirement.
  3. I am not sure this person has the energy for such a demanding role.
  4. I don’t think we can afford him/her.
  5. Although not stated directly, some younger managers are intimidated by older candidates.
  6. Older candidates talk too much about their experience and not enough about their fit for the job they are seeking.

As we have all learned, life is not fair, and one needs to deal with the reality presented. However, there are too many incidents of strong candidates who bring a wealth of experience and the ability to raise the bar of performance but who do not get hired. Is it possible to improve the hiring odds for these qualified candidates?

Does this all fall to the hiring organization, or are older candidates actually doing the best job they can to be viewed in the most positive way possible? Our experience suggests many are not and are consequently hurting their chances of being hired. With assistance from my fellow ALG colleagues, we offer the following:

8 Steps to Increase Your Odds of Being Hired

  1. Tell your story differently. We see far too many résumés that chronicle 30 years of work experience that fail to connect those experiences to the role they are seeking. Reshape your résumé into a shorter version designed directly for the job you are applying for.
  2. Over-prepare. Do your research and demonstrate you really know the organization and want the job. Regardless of age, candidates who do this standout.
  3. Demonstrate you have the energy and drive to do the work at a high level. How have you remained active in the profession? What have you done in professional development in the last year? What books have you read? What special skills and talent set you apart? How are you keeping active in both mind and body?
  4. Comfort with technology. You do not need to become a programmer, but you will need to demonstrate that technology does not intimidate you.
  5. Stay away from noting this is your last position and looking to “bookend your career.” Focus on the fact that you have had long tenures (if you can) at the places you have worked and anticipate you would be similarly tenured if hired. Reposition yourself as less risky for changing jobs or seeking a promotion every six months than your younger counterparts.
  6. If you are presenting yourself on social media, such as LinkedIn, get a professional photo. The hiring manager will be looking. Also, if you can afford it, get some new clothes and have it tailored for your interview. Dressing sharply inherently communicates confidence and professionalism; do not give interviewers a reason to doubt that.
  7. If you have held a more senior-level position than the one you are applying for, be prepared to answer this question: why you would be willing to move down the hierarchy and take a pay cut? The best answer is personal but focusing on strength and previous success in that areas can be helpful.
  8. Lastly, be careful not to over-share what is going on in your personal life. Whether you are taking care of an older parent or wanting to move closer to grandchildren, none of this initially matters to your hiring manager. Remember, initially hiring managers want a candidate who will be focused on the organization’s priorities, not yours.

Should you be optimistic? Absolutely — the demand for talented and experienced non-profit professionals is real. More than a third of the workforce (almost 35%) will be aged 50-plus by 2022, and Americans ages 65 and older are expected to be the fastest growing segment in the workforce through 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Your wisdom, experience, and skills are needed in the profession. That said, you can improve your chances by addressing the following:

  • Prepare your résumés and cover letter more thoughtfully and strategically
  • Be ready to address concerns younger managers may have about your candidacy
  • Promote how you can add value and not just years of experience, and
  • Demonstrate how you are a continuous learner and energized by the mission and work of the organization.

Comment on the original post on LinkedIn with other tips and suggestions for handling ageism.


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