The 56 year old former publishing executive sat across from the table from me at Starbucks greatly troubled because he was laid off from a prestigious New York City magazine publishing company two months prior, and he still was unemployed despite an aggressive search for new work. John had worked for his former company over a long career of 25 years, and he was shocked to find himself in this place in the first place. But now after weeks of frantically submitting his resume on online job sites — something he never thought he would have to do again in his life — nothing seemed to be happening, and he was afraid.
John is not alone in his fear of confronting joblessness over the age of 55. Many Baby Boomers and the Veteran generation are working well into their older years, some out of financial necessity, and others because they want to contribute meaningfully to the world or to their development in their later years. But the odds seem stacked against them at this age. First, we just have to acknowledge the elephant in the room: many HR departments and hiring managers do engage in age discrimination, despite what the law requires and their policies may state. If we find ourselves looking for a job at this age, it may help us to first of all acknowledge that we face this hurdle and then to purposefully and strategically take clever actions that can keep us engaged and employed for the rest of our lives.
Despite this significant hurdle, I have found that there are five things those ages 55-70 should do:
1. Re-educate and re-tool. Some job searchers like my client John may have not been engaged in the job search process in 15 or 20 years, and times have changed. The search process itself is much different today, mostly because of the online and mobile possibilities. First, it is absolutely critical that you create a LinkedIn profile with an attractive professional (not casual) picture, accurate and detailed descriptions of your interests, skills and experiences in your summary and jobs listing, and examples of your work like videos or non-proprietary presentations. In fact, I suggest to my clients over 50 that they should begin their search by setting up the LinkedIn profile then create a resume afterwards. Why? The LinkedIn profile is the resume of the 21st century, and it is critical that you have one above all else. It must tell your story and market you in a compelling way for your next career that you want to have, not the one you just had. After you have done this, I suggest that you access the common job search sites and set up profiles as well as job alerts: Indeed.Com, LinkedIn.Com, Career Builders, and Ladders. Some specific industries also have job search sites. Mobile apps such as the LinkedIn app and JobR also are other ways to apply for jobs using a mobile device. Of course, some of us may need to return to school if we wish to shift careers – and it’s never too late.
While it’s easy to assume that full-time employment is not possible over 55, that’s actually not true. Some companies prefer to hire older workers rather than Millennials because their loyalty is perceived as higher. Particularly start-ups, non-profits and smaller organizations welcome workers with expertise and age because they are operating with a spare staff and a small budget. Recruiting and staffing agencies such as YourEncore, Work at Home Vintage Employees, and Patina Solutions all specialize in hiring more mature employees and consultants within specialty fields.
2. Consider whether employment or self-employment is right for you. First, there is the hard truth that the growth in the US employment numbers often do not reflect a growth in professional jobs for those over 40. So if you feel that you are swimming upstream, you probably are, and many others are right there with you. It’s not you. For that reason, and for reasons of personal satisfaction, many of my second career clients or older clients have chosen to pursue entrepreneurial freelance careers, and they are finding remarkable success as well as fresh excitement for their work. If you have developed an expertise in your career that you feel is still marketable, consider starting your own consulting business. While I was not over 45, I chose this path myself six years ago when the economy and my entrepreneurial instinct made it difficult for me to land a full-time job. Today, I’m having the most successful years of my life financially and having a fun time doing it. My coachee John, mentioned above, found his way into a satisfying residential real estate career after 30 years in publishing. Another coachee discovered a new career as a caterer and chef after 20 years as an editor. She is finally waking up to a career that expresses her true passion for cooking and hospitality. You too may find that freelance and entrepreneurial work is some of the best and most meaningful work of your life if you give it a chance and you have an expertise that others desire.
3. Don’t age yourself. A 68 year old consultant recently contacted me to ask if I could introduce her to some of my network so she could find some needed work. I introduced her to one of my clients, and they expressed an interest in having a Skype interview with her. She responded to them that Skype is not professional and should not be used in an interview, and she refused to do it. I was shocked and embarrassed for me and for her, and my client moved on to other candidates. You have to know how to use a computer, Skype, email, and social media if you are going to be marketable. Take a class at a community center or at your local Apple store to increase your competency, or just ask your 20 year old grandchildren to tutor you. But staying relevant isn’t just about technology — it’s also about the small subtle ways that you may seem old fashioned or set in your ways. Here are a few common mistakes:
- Spacing twice rather than once after a period in your resume or cover letter. Once is the correct amount of space today.
- Putting your year of graduation from each of your educational institutions on your resume. It isn’t necessary.
- Using an email address on your resume or in your email correspondence from AOL, Hotmail or even Yahoo. The standard most “with it” personal email address today is a gmail address. AOL is so 1999.
- Not having a LinkedIn profile, or one that has not been updated.
- Wearing a suit and tie or a formal suit for women to an interview at a casual workplace.
4. Hire a career coach and search for community or university programs that can help. Career coaches are perfect for those who are rethinking their career direction, or who just need some assistance with resume and cover letter construction. Feel free to contact me at Todd@toddbouldin.com if I can be of help. Programs like The University of Connecticut’s Leadership Program helps professionals over the age of 50 transition into Hartford’s non-profit sector.
5. Network, network, network. Fifty percent of job hires receive a job offer from someone they know, or through a referral. That means at least 50 percent of your time, if not, more should be devoted to coffee, tea, breakfast and lunch meetings with your network. I believe, as the NYT recently commented, this percentage is closer to sixty percent for those over 50. Email and call your network to let them know about your career goals and give them specific direction on how they can help (not “If you know of anything … “). Ask for their insights. Always ask, “Who else should I talk to?” Attend a BNI America networking meeting in your community. Call an hiring manager before you send a resume. Our success always has depended on relationships, and it’s even more true once we are over 55.
It’s not over til it’s over, and your career and a meaningful life are never over until you decide that it is. Opportunities and possibilities await those who do not hold the securities of the past but move forward into an uncertain but promising future.
This blog post is a follow-on to an earlier post: 18-30 and Can’t Find a Job?