“We’re looking for someone hungrier.”

“The right candidate is high energy.”

If you’re over 50 and job-hunting, chances are you’ve heard phrases like these. Or maybe you’ve been told you’re overqualified or too senior. These are code words for “too old” and they pepper the language of hiring managers nationwide. Jacquelyn James, director of research at the Sloan Center for Aging & Work at Boston College says when people are asked on surveys to rate others on the basis of age and corresponding characteristics, older people are associated with negative traits that include a lack of interest in growing and developing, inflexibility in thinking and an unwillingness to learn and adapt to new technology. “The data about those kinds of traits are very mixed and much of it is perception,” she says.  And some weren’t negative. “Older people are seen as having a good work ethic, as working harder and being more comfortable with authority.”

Add to such negative stereotypes the mistaken perception that people working into their 60s and early 70s are taking jobs from younger workers. Although arecent Pew study soundly debunked that, as does Kevin Cahill, a research economist at the Sloan Center, the belief is pervasive. Cahill says although people are retiring later, the idea that older workers need to move out of the way for younger workers is a misperception. “The argument breaks down pretty rapidly if you look beyond individual firms and over time,” he says.

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But prejudice of any type, of course, isn’t based on fact, and much of the age bias we see in hiring is unconscious, says Jacquelyn James. That’s due, at least in part, to the fact that ageism is the least studied or examined form of discrimination. A recent paper on ageism from psychologist Susan Fiske and Michael North at Princeton University, called ageism “the most socially condoned” form of prejudice. And it has intensified. By the time people reach their mid-60s, two out of three have retired, either voluntarily or because they weren’t able to keep or find a job, according to research from Gary Burtless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. By age 75, nine out of ten are out of the workforce.

Among the long-term unemployed, the situation is most severe for those over 55, who face the longest period of unemployment. Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, says although the number fluctuates, at least two million people over age 55 have been out of work more than six months and at least half of those for more than a year.

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Because ageism is often unconscious it’s tough to disarm. With any bias, the key to mitigation is awareness, says James. Fact is, people generally don’t think of themselves as biased. In order to fight the stereotypes—say, that older workers don’t embrace new technology—James advises job candidates be explicit with interviewers that they are eager to learn, and have history of learning and embracing new technology.

With the right strategies, job seekers can combat age-related stereotypes rather than buying into them, says James, and take steps to adapt to the changing culture of the workplace.

Speak the Same Language

“People over 50 grew up talking about their accomplishments, about what they did and how well they did it,” says Gail Palubiak, owner of Interview Academy in Denver, a job search and interview consulting firm that specializes in over-50 job seekers. “But companies today speak the language of contribution. And this is critical—because you are likely interviewing with someone who isn’t the same generation. So talk about how you served a company, not how great you are.”