When you’re approaching 60, you might be thinking about taking a wind-down job and scaling back your hours as retirement draws closer. Or you may have no intention of slowing down. In fact, you might even be gunning for a bigger job at your company.
Fortunately, there’s no such thing as being too old for a promotion. The bad news? “If you’re 60 years old and eager to scale up, you have to accept the reality that there will be biases and negative assumptions based on your age,” says Tim Cole, owner at career coaching firm The Compass Alliance.
Roughly two thirds of workers age 45 to 74 say they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace, an AARP survey found. Most believe the negative perceptions set in when workers hit their 50s. So how do you get ahead when you’re a decade past that turning point?
Beat back the stereotypes
Identifying the negative stereotypes that you’re up against as an older job applicant can help you create a plan for countering them.
“A lot of millennials that are in leadership roles don’t understand older workers,” says Stamford, Conn. executive coach Anne Marie Segal. “A younger manager might assume that you’re not good at technology, that you don’t want to learn new skills, that you’re not as hungry as younger workers.”
In the 2018 Transamerica Retirement Survey, 61% of millennials revealed negative perceptions of workers over 50, as did 52% of Gen X-ers (vs. 47% of boomers). The biggest criticism? Just over a quarter of millennials say older workers are less open to learning and new ideas. Only 12% of boomers feel that way about their generation.
In a recent AARP survey of workers age 45 and up, 46% of employees reported working for a younger boss.
To fight these negative perceptions, be quick to embrace new technology. Don’t be seen as a “tech dinosaur.” Seek out and learn new technologies that can improve productivity and profitability at your company.
To show that you are, in fact, open to new ideas—and not just coasting on your tenure at the company—take on stretch assignments that give you more responsibility. You can volunteer for tasks that will give you a trial run at the new position you’re seeking and expand your skill set. (“I heard we’re developing a new ad campaign. How can I get involved?”)
Spell out your value
As an older worker, you bring more experience than a younger peer. “That’s extremely valuable,” says Cole. However, you still have to highlight your unique contributions to the company.
“You have to always market your brand,” says Cole. One way to do that is by quantifying your achievements. (“Last year, I created a process that increased production by 30%.”) If possible, adds Segal, “talk about how you’re improving the company’s bottom line.”
Use age to your advantage
A number of studies show that older workers bring more value than younger employees. A 2015 AARP study reported that 50-plus workers are the most engaged age group across all generations. That is, they are the most emotionally and intellectually invested in their company and motivated to do their best work. And engaged employees are good for business. Make that part of your pitch.
Older workers also tend to stick around longer. “You can use job loyalty as a selling point,” Cole says. Indeed, a recent Gallup poll found that 21% of millennials say they’ve changed jobs within the past year, more than three times the number of older workers who have switched that recently.
“Employers are always worried about turnover,” says Kathy Robinson, founder of Boston career coaching firm TurningPoint. Tell your boss that you plan to stick around for years. If you’ve been at the company for a long time, that helps make your case.
Act like the leader you want to be
Another way to leverage your experience is to get on the speaking docket at industry conferences. Don’t just attend them.
Offer to mentor a younger employee on your team. This will make your boss’ life easier and help you foster good relationships with the millennial cohort. It also helps you establish yourself as a leader, giving you an edge over younger co-workers who are eyeing the job you want.
The Transamerica survey also found that when asked to cite a positive feature of 50-plus workers, 47% of millennials say they bring more knowledge, wisdom, and life experience. Share it.
Be realistic about pay
There’s an elephant in the room: your salary. At this stage in your career, you’re getting paid well (assuming you’ve steadily climbed the ladder over the previous four decades).
But promoting you instead of a younger co-worker may make your boss pause, especially if the budget is tight.
Your best move, then, is to find out—either from your boss or HR—what the budget is for the position, and ask for that number. If you push for more, your boss could take you out of the running altogether.
Be your best advocate
Your boss isn’t a mind reader, says Robinson. He or she may assume you’re winding down your career, not gunning for a bigger job. Read: You’ll want to directly express to your manager that you want a promotion.
“Whether you’re 25 or 60, you need to be the one who speaks up and says that you want the position,” says Robinson, “otherwise you risk getting passed over.”