Milton Berle once joked "youth is the first 50 years of your life, and the first 19 of everybody else's!" Whenever youth officially ends is anybody's guess. But, if you're over 50 and searching for a job, you may feel like the rules have changed.
This is the age of downsizing and corporate cost cutting. If you've found yourself out the door in favor of younger and lower-paid employees, you may be asking yourself, "Have I reached my expiration date? Is this the beginning of the end?" While you may not be able to convince the over-50 job seekers who have taken positions well below their competency and former compensation levels, at least one expert in the human relations field doesn't believe age is that big a factor... if you're prepared.
"Age biases do still exist. All kinds of biases exist in the workplace," says an executive at career services company Lee Hecht Harrison. "But the question of age is becoming less of a factor in building a strong workforce."
Patti O'Neal, vice president and general manager of Lee Hecht Harrison's Indianapolis office, says companies are waking up to the fact that younger workers are more apt to jump from company to company in an effort to build a career while the older worker is more likely to stay the course.
"Stocking your workforce with younger employees may not be the best bet in terms of retention strategy," she says. Does that mean you can waltz right up to that 30-something human resources director and expect him or her to worship your experience? Not likely. It will all come down to what a company is looking for at a given time. If they value the immediate cost savings a younger employee can offer, you're still out of luck. But if you can convince them that your skills are more cost effective, suddenly age becomes less of a factor.
To achieve that, first take a good hard inventory of your skills and qualifications. Once you understand what you have that is marketable and makes you different from other job candidates, O'Neal offers these tips:
Conduct market research: Identify organizations that will view your experience and skills as relevant to their business equation.
Keep your professional skills current: One of the myths about older workers is that they are not as technologically savvy as the younger generations. If you are proficient with a computer, put that in your resume. List what software packages you can use. Consider taking a computer class to learn new programs or brush up on your skills. Continuing education is vital, no matter how old you are.
Network, network, network: Positions at upper levels are not as likely to be advertised, so networking is particularly important for the older professional in the job market. Seek out professional organizations, former colleagues and employees at companies you are interested in. Volunteering in your community or joining a board of a local organization can provide the opportunity to meet your peers and showcase your skills and abilities.
Focus on your accomplishments, not your age: You can turn around perceived hurdles regarding your age by demonstrating your vitality, experience and work ethic. Focus on your strengths. Position yourself as someone who can get the job done and who can bring a great deal to the table with your unique qualifications. "Don't apologize for your age. Don't ever joke about it or even mention it," cautions psychologist Nancy Irwin. "Don't assume that age is even an issue. If you do, you create that energy and possibly put off the interviewer. Be proud. Allow all your experience, skills and wisdom to shine. That's what they are hiring." "A company either has to buy talent or build talent," O'Neal adds. "You have to be articulate about your skills and demonstrate you are a learner."
For more job search tips for the seasoned worker, visit PrimeCB.com, a job search site focused on connecting experienced and retired workers with potential employers.
Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Other writers contributed to this article.
Last Updated: 03/03/2008 - 3:11 PM
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