by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
As part of the celebration of Quintessential Careers’s 15th anniversary, we’re presenting lists of 15 tips on some of the most essential topics in college, job search, and career.
Age discrimination in employment has long been a challenge for mature workers, but a number of factors have converged to exacerbate the challenge. When the economy melted down in 2008, mature workers were often the first to be laid off; age-discrimination complaints to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission spiked. Folks are also living longer, postponing retirement, and re-entering the workforce after retirement. The challenges are real — but our 15 expert tips can help mitigate them:
- Join an online community of others like you. In a venue like Eons, “the premier online community for Baby Boomers and beyond,” you can socialize with other mature workers and share strategies and tips in the site’s 43 career-related groups, for example, Careers for Boomers and 50 Plus, as well as Fired, Downsized or Laid Off. Also consider career and job sites aimed at your demographic, such as:
- Workforce50.com, which “arms the older workforce with employment resources and career information”
- The Retirement Jobs portion of RetiredBrains.com
- AARP Foundation’s WorkSearch program, a five-step tool kit designed to “help you to keep things simple, organized and focused.”
[Editor’s Note: See entire list of tools and job sites in our Job and Career Resources for Mature and Older Job-Seekers — Including the Baby Boomers, Third-Agers.]
- Get comfortable with social media. Using venues like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn show you are up to date, able to learn new tools, and at least somewhat technically savvy. These social-media sites also enable you to network and demonstrate your expertise.
- Believe that your age is an advantage, not a liability. You won’t be alone in that belief, according to an AP-LifeGoesStrong.com poll, in which 61 percent of the baby boomers surveyed said their age is not an issue at work, while 25 percent called it an asset, reported the AP’s Laurie Kellman.
- If you’ve been downsized, look for new opportunities as soon as you can. The longer you’re out of work, the harder it will be to land a new position. If you start the search right away, “you will be able to maintain momentum and keep yourself motivated,” wrote Dave McFadden of Postmedia News. “For support, seek out the positive company of friends, family, co-workers, professionals or any other folks who provide you with inspiration,” he said. Don’t dismiss lateral-move or lower-level jobs out of hand. Because of the current stigma against the unemployed, especially the older unemployed, you may find it worthwhile to take a survival job or temp position while you continue searching for full-time employment.
- Take advantage of the Aging Worker Initiative. The initiative awarded grants to organizations in Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin targeting older individuals who have been laid off and are seeking re-employment; who need to stay in the workforce beyond the traditional retirement age, but need training to increase their skills; and who face other barriers to employment such as disabilities or low levels of English proficiency.
- Learn to tell a story that highlights your maturity and wisdom. Don’t emphasize numbers of years of experience, but rather, hindsight, learning from mistakes, self-awareness, and the value you can add as a result of your rich background. In a blog post aimed at recruiters of older workers, Adam Lewis noted that mature careerists “can hit the ground running, require minimal workplace supervision, and boast a career’s worth of relevant experience and genuine contacts. Older candidates are more reliable, and are proven to stay with their eventual employer for more years than younger candidates.”
- Sharpen your skills. To disprove the notion that you, as a mature worker, are not trainable, get some training. Online learning opens up new worlds of possibilities. It’s not just about showing trainability; you can update existing skills and learn new ones, which is especially important if you’re considering a career change.
- Demonstrate how you are keeping up to speed in your field. Continue to attend conferences and meetings of professional organizations. Read trade publications and blogs to stay current on your field. But don’t just absorb knowledge; disseminate it, too. Consider starting a blog, and respond to questions in your discipline on LinkedIn Answers, Quora, and discussion forums related to your field.
- Get recommended. For job-seekers of any age, one of the most powerful tools to emerge in recent years is the LinkedIn recommendation. Recruiters value and look for these endorsements. The recommendations can also dispel any qualms an employer might have about hiring a mature worker.
- Show your energy, enthusiasm, and positive attitude. Even if you’ve been laid off and feel your age was the reason … even if you are unemployed and believe no one will hire someone of your age, you must shake off those negative vibes. “[Older] candidates need to position themselves as positive, enthusiastic, and capable — without a trace of arrogance,” Lewis writes. “The candidate is excited by the opportunity, and has a tremendous set of skills and attributes to offer the organization.” McFadden adds: “Don’t immediately attribute a layoff to your age or employer bias. These may indeed be factors, but getting trapped in victimhood or giving in to panic will drain away the positive energy you need for fuel as you look for a new job.”
- Demonstrate that you are flexible and adaptable. “You don’t want to play into the stereotype that you’re not adaptable, no matter what industry you’re in,” said Laurie McCann, a senior attorney with AARP Foundation Litigation, in a Newsweek interview. Prepare some success stories that illustrate instances in your career when you’ve shown flexibility and adaptability.
- Stay physically and mentally fit. Good diet, exercise, and healthy habits will contribute to an energetic and positive outlook. When you feel good, you will look good to prospective employers. Do as much as you can to stay mentally sharp, too, such as by reading and working crossword puzzles. Eons offers games to enhance brain fitness.
- If you’re retired and already have a pension and health benefits from your old employer, consider working for salary only. If being productive means more to you than additional benefits, consider companies with programs in which workers in their 50s who would otherwise take advantage of early retirement provisions in their pensions are offered the chance to work reduced hours and supplement their reduced incomes by tapping those pensions. IBM in Canada, for example, has a retiree-on-call program for those willing to come out of retirement and work up to 1,000 hours a year. Anoher option is to market yourself as a consultant or contractor at your previous employer.
- Get an internship. Yes, you read that right, internships, long the province of college students, are increasingly an option for mature workers, Alexandra Alper reported in a Reuters article. It’s a way to keep skills up to date and minimize resume gaps while waiting for a better opportunity.
- Create your own job. In other words, become an entrepreneur and work for yourself. Even before the recession spurred by the 2008 meltdown, baby boomers were starting businesses in large numbers, said Jeff Williams in an uncredited Reuters article. Williams is CEO of Bizstarters, a company that provides coaching and training to older entrepreneurs. In the ultimate twist — consider starting a business that targets other older workers as customers or employees. The SCORE Association (Service Corps of Retired Executives) is an appropriate source for assistance to prospective older entrepreneurs since it is a nonprofit association in which working and retired executives and business owners donate their time and expertise as volunteer business counselors and provide confidential counseling and mentoring free of charge.
Final Thoughts on Fighting Age Discrimination
The current crop of mature workers — baby boomers — aren’t like older workers in the past. They are better educated, healthier, and driven to keep contributing. If you’re one of them, you have every reason to believe you can rise above age discrimination and remain as productive as you want to be. You don’t have stay in the same career either; these later years in your work life can be the perfect time to change careers, try something new, or follow a long-buried passion.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms. Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.