When you’re older than 50 and have been job-hunting for a while, it’s easy to start thinking your age is getting in the way of an offer. Instead of fretting over something you can’t change, like your age, take an honest look at how you’ve been conducting your job search. Have you been as methodical and passionate about it as the younger workers with whom you’re competing?
Let’s be honest – it does take longer for older workers to find a job. According to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average length of unemployment (seasonally adjusted) is just over 28 weeks. That’s the average for unemployed people of all ages; for people 55 and older, the duration of unemployment is about 15 weeks longer. On the other hand, the unemployment rate for older workers is lower than the national average, based on AARP and BLS numbers: 3.9% versus 5.1%.
Earlier this year, Money reported things are looking up for older workers. They now make up 40% of the workforce, age discrimination cases are down, and many big companies have initiated programs to woo, cultivate and retain older workers.
The take-away from these numbers is that while jobs are out there for older workers, and companies are hiring seasoned employees, you still need to work hard, and be prepared to do so for a while, in order to land a job. While many employers have woken up to the value of professionals who bring decades of experience to the table, others still need convincing. They may cling to stereotypes of older workers as being less flexible, too entrenched in their habits, less adept with technology, or “short-timers” looking to fill the years between now and retirement.
Age discrimination does occur, but you can fight against it. Are you doing the best possible job of disproving those negative stereotypes and communicating your worth? You can do that by:
- Keeping up with the leading edge – Every industry has groundbreakers, and new tools, methods and technologies that are the leading edge. Make sure you know what’s at the forefront of your industry and can talk about it intelligently during an interview.
- Keep abreast of technology – Technology has permeated virtually every aspect of business in almost every industry imaginable. Workers who keep up with relevant technology are more appealing than those who aren’t tech savvy, regardless of their age.
- Look sharp – Image is important, especially in an interview. Your wardrobe and overall look should be age-appropriate yet contemporary. Walk into an interview wearing the same suit you wore 20 years ago, or with a hairstyle that’s straight out of the ‘80s, and the interviewer is going to have a hard time believing you’re up-to-date in other ways.
- Focus on your job search, not your anger – It’s perfectly understandable to feel angry and betrayed when you’re let go, especially if it’s a company where you’ve worked for years. But age-discrimination lawsuits can be hard to prove. Instead of giving in to your anger, focus on your job search. You should be putting in at least 35 hours a week identifying companies and industries where opportunities may occur, networking with people in those industries, and creating tailored pitches for each of those opportunities. If you do all that, you won’t have time to stew in your anger.
- Get professional help – Many 50-plus workers have 20 or more years of professional life ahead of them. Some will even enjoy a second career after retirement. As an older worker, you still have plenty of career time left to develop, and a career coach can help you look at the big picture. Remember, your job search isn’t just about getting another position to pay the bills, it’s about finding a job that will continue to advance your career.
Every job-seeker has challenges to overcome. Age is just one of them, and it doesn’t have to be any more of a hurdle than any other type of challenge. In fact, your age can work in your favor if you leverage your experience and passion to give yourself a competitive edge.