Aging. A word with few positive connotations, and particularly when it comes to careers. A concern that is shared by, if not a majority, certainly a plurality of my clients – almost irrespective of their actual chronological status. Believe it or not I’ve heard people in their late 20s express fears about their “advanced” age being a barrier to employment.
True, in certain tech-heavy fields and organizations 30 would be considered somewhat “over the hill.” But most older (I.e. 50+) job seekers are pretty unlikely to be looking for employment there. However, COMFORT WITH TECHNOLOGY is increasingly essential. So if you are someone who is somewhat technophobic (as I am), take a deep breath, grit your teeth, and push through the discomfort that has kept you in the dark about things like Twitter, Spotify and Snapchat. You may not wind up being very adept, but having some basic knowledge and a rudimentary tech vocabulary will keep you from being labeled as an “old fogey.*
Part of the fear of technology comes from the same place that paralyzes the beginning learners of a foreign language – the fear that you will look or sound stupid. Practice is the answer to that problem. What’s more, most young’uns LOVE showing off their tech skills (and their superiority to their elders in that regard). So enlist someone under 30 to tutor you.**
NETWORKING is the most powerful key to finding employment at any age. Unfortunately many people’s networks start shrinking as they age. Although it may impose a bit of a burden, make it a point to keep in touch with lots of people from your past. A “Happy Birthday” message on Facebook may be all that it takes to maintain a soft spot in the hearts of old acquaintances, particularly if it’s a bit personalized (“Happy birthday, Harry. You’re almost as old as our chemistry teacher was in junior high – remember him?”).
APPEARANCE is something that people tend to focus on less as they age. The positive aspect of that is that it generally stems from a greater comfort with oneself, and/or reduced emphasis on the opinion of others. But when looking for a job the opinion of others (i.e. the people in a position to hire you) is of vital importance. If you haven’t changed your look (hair style, basic wardrobe) in a number of years it would be wise to seek guidance on whether and how to update your image. Fashion magazines can be a source for this, as can a friend whose look you particularly like.
AGE CAN HAVE REAL VALUE TO EMPLOYERS. Long and varied career experience, as well as maturity and wisdom, are genuine assets. Older workers can better understand the Baby Boom generation, offering valuable product development and marketing ideas to an employer. And Baby Boom workers generally exhibit a stronger work ethic and more loyalty than those of later generations. Pay particular attention to showcasing these kinds of strength in all of the elements of your profile and, of course, your interviews. It’s your job to help create a counter-narrative to the prevalent idea that older people are out-of-touch, and too set in their ways to easily learn new skills and procedures.
ENERGY is something that all employers value, and again older workers face a negative stereotype. You can demonstrate energy in many ways – the words that you choose to use, the tone in which they’re delivered, your posture, your facial expressions, the topics that you choose to talk about.
For more ideas about the advantages older workers have, check this month’s AARP Bulletin and read “The Value of Older Workers.”
I have worked with many dozens of job seekers over 50, and my experience has been that those who follow the advice above and put genuine, consistent effort into the process wind up succeeding relatively quickly. I wish you the very best in your search!
*Similarly, keeping up-to-date on SKILLS in your targeted field is essential.
**if you’re a Mac person, the Genius Bar at any Apple store is a great place to learn.