How to Get a Job When You're Over 50
by Susan Adams, Forbes staff
For older workers who lose their jobs, the statistics are not very encouraging. Though the unemployment rate for people over 55 is just 5.1%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than two points lower than the overall rate of 7.3%, when older workers lose their jobs they are out of work for a long time, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute. In August, 47% of job seekers over 55 had been looking for 27 weeks or more. According to the Institute, on average, unemployed people over 55 have been jobless for nearly a year—50 weeks–compared to 34 weeks for those under 55.
Those discouraging facts don’t all have to apply if older workers go about their search the right way, says Renée Rosenberg, a career counselor who specializes in over-50 job seekers. Rosenberg, the author of Achieving the Good Life After 50, and a coach with the national career coaching organization, The Five O’Clock Club, says her clients are getting jobs. If anything, she thinks prospects are looking up for older workers.
A typical story: One of Rosenberg’s clients had worked in the stocking and receiving department of a publishing house for 25 years, until he was laid off at age 65. Rosenberg had him do an assessment of his skills, and he realized he was good at developing work schedules and organizing and managing people according to their strengths. After extensive networking, he landed a job in a community center running an adult education program.
Another client, who was 69 and had worked at the same company for decades, lost her job in a downsizing. Rosenberg encouraged this worker to get onto her job search right away. “What happens for many people when they’re downsized is they drop out for awhile,” Rosenberg says. “They feel this is their time to rest and take it easy.” Especially for people in their 50s and 60s, who may have worked in the same place for several decades, losing a job can induce what Rosenberg describes as “a mild depression.” It can take up to four months to get past that phase and realize that, in fact, they still have the energy to work. The faster they process those feelings, the better, she says.
Another issue that comes up for older job-seekers who have lost a longtime post, she says: the sense that they are out of the loop. “They have the feeling that they’ve been stuck, and that time has passed them by.”
Rosenberg recommends a Five O’Clock Club exercise called the “Seven Stories” approach, where you list seven achievements you’re proud of. That will help you build your self-esteem and focus on your skills and values. The exercise made Rosenberg’s 69-year-old client realize she did want to go back to work part-time, and that she would much prefer a short commute.
Her next step was letting her network know that she was looking. Rosenberg recommends going “deep and long” in your networking efforts. Even get in touch with people you last knew a long time ago.
Rosenberg’s client did just that, and soon she heard about a company near her home that was looking for a part-time worker in her area of expertise. Rosenberg helped her craft a cover letter that was up-front about her situation and described her eagerness to return to work. “Her letter said she had retired and then realized she was ready and able to go to work,” Rosenberg says. “She let them know immediately that she was not young, but that she was also capable.” She got the job.
Often older workers need to adjust their expectations and consider jobs outside their area of expertise. Sometimes this means swallowing a pay cut, but it can also mean taking a job that is more low key and located closer to home. One of Rosenberg’s clients, at 68, lost his finance job in a downsizing. He realized he wanted to walk to work in his New York suburb. While poking around his neighborhood he saw a help wanted sign in a storefront. He inquired, and landed a job as a dispatcher for a limousine and car service. The job isn’t glamorous but it meets his financial needs and keeps him close to home.
One client, 62, had worked in facilities for a large New York real estate company. She started networking and discovered that a large company was relocating to her New York suburb. She approached the company before it had posted any jobs and talked up her facilities expertise. The firm hired her before it publicly posted any jobs.
The kiss of death, says Rosenberg, is hunkering down behind your computer, reading job boards and sending your resume into a black hole. Adds Rosenberg, “It’s a matter of being open to change, being willing to change and looking at which of your skills are transferable.”
This is an update of a story that ran previously.
Susan Adams, Forbes Staff