The recent recession battered all segments of the U.S. economy, erasing 8 million private sector jobs in the process. More than one-third of the people officially counted as unemployed have been jobless for more than a year. And for every job opening, there are at least five out-of-work Americans.
Middle-aged professionals have been hit particularly hard. Simply put, there are inherent difficulties that older workers face when having to compete against younger job applicants in the new economic environment. In addition, these job-seekers may be saddled with consumer debt or student loan debt and feel like there are few options.
Job-Hunting Requires a Strategy
Whether you are a first-time job applicant, an unemployed mid-career worker, someone looking to change jobs or careers, or merely afraid of being laid off and in search of options, there are standard procedures that anyone looking for employment needs to follow:
- Produce a winning résumé.
- Write an effective cover letter.
- Researching the appropriate job market(s).
- Negotiate a successful interview.
However, if you are 40 or older and looking to re-join the workplace or move up in your career, there are several extra strategies that need to be part of your job-hunting process. That’s because age discrimination, though illegal, still exists in many subtle forms.
You need to be aware of the stereotypes that pervade the marketplace concerning older workers and learn how to overcome the barriers that hiring managers may put in your way because of your age.
Here are some of the common misconceptions about older workers:
- Know less than younger workers.
- Stuck in old ways of doing business.
- Not technologically savvy.
- Less drive and energy.
- Don’t want to work for someone younger.
- Just counting down to retirement.
- Cost more.
Each misconception can be countered, as long as you are prepared and have solid arguments on your side. Let’s respond to them one by one:
You Know More than Younger Workers
You have both depth and breadth of experience in your field. You understand the nature of your industry and your job within it. Your sense of history in your profession is a valuable asset. You have solved a wide range of problems over the years and know how to handle a variety of situations. Also, you have a long-standing professional network that could be valuable to your new company.
You’re Passionate About Learning New Things
You’re open to new ideas. You understand that the world never stands still, and you have used your period of unemployment to catch up on the trends in your industry and the best practices in your field. Moreover, you are more mature emotionally and socially mature, with a greater store of common sense and perspective.
You Stay Current with Emerging Technologies
You know how technology applies to your business or profession. You have taken appropriate courses and sought ways to supplement your professional certifications.
You Have Lots of Energy and Self-Discipline
Because you have greater financial responsibilities than many younger workers, you are particularly motivated to succeed and surpass expectations. You still have lots of energy, and what’s more, you possess the self-discipline necessary to apply it to your tasks. Your strong work ethic coupled with fewer distractions in your life — no young children at home, for example — allows you to focus more of your energy on your work.
You Have Experience Working with People of All Ages
You don’t mind being subordinate to a younger manager. In fact, you welcome the opportunity to act as a mentor to your less experienced colleagues.
You Are Focused on Your Employer’s Needs
While a comfortable retirement is a long-term goal, you are focused on the immediate needs of your prospective employer and the responsibilities of your new job. You possess a strong sense of loyalty to whomever you work for, and you’re not interested in hopping from one work situation to another at this stage of your life and career.
You Are Willing to Negotiate Your Salary
While you won’t work for less than you are worth, you are always open to negotiating. You understand that in the current economic climate, you may have to lower expectations concerning your earning potential. However, your experience and expertise bring value to your employer.
Remember, age discrimination is illegal. Prospective employers cannot make hiring decisions based on age. Workers who are 40 or older are protected under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The ADEA’s protections apply to both employees and job applicants. Under the ADEA, “it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his or her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.”
Strategies for Experienced Workers
In addition to countering misconceptions about older workers, job-seekers who are middle aged may need to beef up all areas of the job-search process:
Modify Your Résumé
Focus on your future and the job you are seeking. Redact any job older than 10 years, and include only those jobs that demonstrate the skills, experience and knowledge relevant to the new position. Focus on accomplishments and results. If you decide to list your salary requirements, specify a range that is fair in today’s market.
Be a Job Detective
Use available reference materials, trade journals, business directories, newspapers and the Internet to research potential openings. Finding a job is a job in itself. Approach it seriously and persistently several hours every day, and don’t hesitate to use any opportunity — even social gatherings — to gather material or get your information out there.
Use Your Network
Use your friends and professional colleagues to learn about jobs that may not have been advertised. More than 80 percent of job openings are never made public. Use your associations within your industry to tap into this hidden job market. Join a professional association, and use its resources to support your job search.
Consider a Coach
Prepare for Your Interview
Prepare yourself thoroughly. Make sure that you have cultivated an up-to-date professional image in regard to your clothing and appearance. In the interview, focus on your experience, achievements, dependability and the value you can bring to your new employer. Describe situations where you worked for, and with, younger colleagues. Present a positive, can-do attitude.
There is no denying that job-seekers who are 40 or older have unique challenges, but they also have unique strengths. Let your maturity, experience and wisdom work in your favor. With adequate preparation and confidence, you can get back into the workforce and regain your place as a useful contributor to your new employer and a capable provider for yourself and your family.