Are you older than 40 and unemployed? Have too many rejection letters left you wondering whether it’s impossible to find a great new role as an older workers?
“Older workers are often stereotyped and portrayed as being technophobes, set in their ways, unteachable, and grumpy,” says Lars Herrem, group executive director at Nigel Wright Group. “Younger employees, on the other hand, can be seen as a more malleable alternative that can provide bright, new ideas and possess competencies more relevant to the modern era. It’s this misguided distinction that older workers often struggle against when competing for jobs.”
Finding a job can be a daunting experience at any age but when you’re unemployed and over the age of 40, however, the odds may seem particularly stacked against you. Don’t for a minute, though, count yourself out. While older workers can’t turn back time, they can take actions to increase their employability.
Back in February 2010, “older” workers (defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as people age 55 and up) suffered a 7.1 percent jobless rate. A whopping 49.1 percent of older job seekers at that time had been unemployed for 27 weeks or more, compared with only 28.5 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds and 41.3 percent of counterparts in the 25-54 age range.
Fast-forward to February 2019. The overall unemployment rate stands at 3.8 percent, while the BLS reports the figure for older workers as 2.7 percent – a major improvement.
Not that the picture is totally rosy. As this Forbes article notes, “Unemployed workers from 55 years old to 64 years old on average looked for a job for 33.2 weeks in 2018 and workers 65 years old and older on average were unemployed for 31 weeks last year. In comparison, the average length of unemployment for all workers was 22.7 weeks in 2018.”
And while June 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), a report issued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in recognition of this milestone stated:
“Today's older workers still confront unfounded and outdated assumptions about age and ability, and age discrimination persists. Despite decades of research finding that age does not predict ability or performance, employers often fall back on precisely the ageist stereotypes the ADEA was enacted to prohibit. After 50 years of a federal law whose purpose is to promote the employment of older workers based on ability, age discrimination remains too common and too accepted. Indeed, 6 out of 10 older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace and 90 percent of those say it is common.”
The Problems Older Workers Face
While the BLS uses 55 as its starting point in defining “older,” problems often arise much earlier.
“The definition varies from company to company, industry to industry, but a worker can be considered ‘older’ from 40 upwards, due to a decline in labor market participation within this age range. Many organizations and industries, however, will view workers as ‘older’ when they reach their sixties and start heading towards retirement age,” Herrem says.
Job seekers on the younger end of this spectrum often find companies prefer candidates in their 20s and 30s with cutting-edge skills, technological adaptability, and new perspectives. Employers may worry that applicants in their 40s and 50s have too many outside responsibilities, such as children and aging parents, that could distract them from work. Other employers worry that an older worker won’t learn as quickly, that they will prefer tradition to innovation, or that they will demand a higher salary that is commensurate with their age.
The reasons why older workers can’t get hired in their 60s and 70s are even more numerous. Besides the factors already mentioned, employers fear health issues could take a toll on attendance and productivity. Likewise, members of this age group get labeled a retention risk and therefore not worth the time and money to train because they could decide to retire at any time.
7 Tips for Getting Hired as an Older Worker
So how can workers over 40 become more hirable? Consider these suggestions:
- Build a social media presence
Modern hiring managers do Internet searches on all applicants, so be sure to give them something great to find. Start with an awesome LinkedIn profile that includes a flattering picture and plenty of testimonials singing your praises. Expand your personal brand to other platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter to supplement your online presence. When using social media, engage in online conversations and post articles demonstrating familiarity with current issues in your industry. Avoid sharing anything controversial or provocative that could offend a potential employers.
- Master 21st-century job search techniques
Forget the older debate about which color to choose for your resume paper. The majority of information exchanging nowadays happens electronically, and that includes job applications. Learn all you can about Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and the importance of including the right keywords in your resume to pass the initial screening.
Look into creating fresh application materials, including a modern, ATS-friendly resume, to boost your chances of success. Using a professional resume builder can improve the readability of your resume and cover letter thanks to ATS-friendly resume formats that work well on any device.
- Become a life-long learner
Stuck in the past? Not you. Take classes to update your skills. Listen to relevant TED Talks so that you can be part of the conversation. Attend industry conferences to network and keep up with current trends. Employers will note your desire to stay current and your willingness to adapt to changes in your industry, which is a major plus for older workers.
- Play up your strengths
All candidates should use their cover letter and resume to paint a picture of why they’re the perfect fit for the position at hand. Showcase what you bring to the table: Professionalism, maturity, and an arsenal of life lessons do have worth!
“Probably the most important things for older workers to have is (1) confidence in themselves and their abilities and (2) a strategy for promoting themselves and their experience that does not try to compete with young people, but instead effectively demonstrates all the expertise that this person will bring to the company,” says success strategist Carlota Zimmerman.
- Examine who needs you
Businesses oftentimes lack the money to hire for all the positions they’d like to fill. Your wealth of experience may make you just what a start-up needs to reach the next level.
“Find a small company that's looking to move up, research their numbers (your local library should have all the white papers for any recognized industry), and write up a list of talking points as to how you with all your messy and wonderful experience can help that company achieve its mission and financial goals,” Zimmerman suggests.
In other words, pull a page out of hotelier, author, and speaker Chip Conley’s playbook. Conley, who wrote about his experience for the Harvard Business Review, joined Airbnb at age 52 and effectively reinvented his career. He began as a mentor to the company’s founders, who wanted to apply some of the lessons he’d learned during his decades of hotel experience to their business. While the mentorship was valuable to Airbnb, the experience also afforded Conley something he didn’t expect – the chance to learn a whole new skill set and reset his career path.
- Interview effectively
Yes, you may have shoes older than some of the hiring managers you’ll encounter but don’t dwell on it. Avoid coming off as condescending. Adopt a positive attitude and team-oriented mentality – nobody likes a lecture.
And speaking of those shoes . . . invest in some modern clothing. Skip anything that makes you uncomfortable, dates you, or looks like you’re trying too hard to appear young. Aim for fashionable but age appropriate clothing that fits with the company’s culture. If you aren’t sure what the office dress code if, feel free to call the recruiter for advice.
- Use your network
Finally, be sure to take advantage of one of the greatest assets at your disposal – your network. Through the years, workers over 40 tend to build up a useful and extensive list of business and personal connections. Drop a line to former colleagues. Go out for coffee with others who volunteer at the weekly food pantry. Let fellow members of your condo association board know you’re seeking employment. People of all ages enjoy helping out friends!
Resources for Workers over 40
Looking for more information on why older workers can’t get hired and how you can buck the trend? Check out these sites for more information and resources: