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“50 is the new 30”. “Old guys rule”. “Age is only a number.” “Yeah, I got that scrape skateboarding with my grandson”. These are just some of the comments that reflect a shift in perception about aging in our society, in part because life-expectancy keeps increasing, as do the expectations those in middle age (and older) have of what they can and want to do. People over 50 are more active than ever and take pride in that fact.
Age just does not seem to be as big of an issue as it once was. Not, that is, unless you’re engaged in job searching. If you’re looking for work or a change in employers and you are over 50 years old, you may already have encountered the unspoken, invisible, yet very real barrier to entry created by your age. While it’s true that making employment decisions based on age is unlawful, make no mistake that many employers do so, either consciously or subconsciously, although they’ll never admit it.
So, where does that leave you? How do you address an issue which you can’t be sure actually is an issue or, even if you suspect it is, one which you won’t be able to prove? Here are some tips for job searching when you’re over 50:
Be your better self. Don’t try to be someone else. Your age is your age and efforts to conceal that will ultimately prove unsuccessful. While you don’t need to volunteer your age (see the resume and fitness comments below), be prepared to own it by describing yourself in terms of maturity, experience, and abilities rather than age.
“New and Improved” – update your resume. Make it ageless. If you list all of your jobs and your education chronologically, you’ll tell the reader exactly how old you are. Restrict the detailed history to the past 10-20 years of employment. Address anything prior by simply summarizing the skills and experience you acquired without dates. If there were significant achievements, include those. When you remove age indicators, you remove the one factor that is most likely to distract your reader’s attention from who you are and what you have to offer.
Network. No, really network, both real and virtual.
- Connect, reconnect, and reunite, even with people you haven’t spoken to in years.
- Get involved with your alumni organization, your professional association(s), your church or temple groups, even your local running club or basketball league.
- Volunteer. Not only is this a great way to meet people, it can actually gain you access to job opportunities by providing you an environment in which you can demonstrate your competence, leadership, and personality.
Link up with LinkedIn. Fully complete your profile. Avail yourself of all the bells and whistles. Remember, nothing says old quite like appearing to be out of step with social media.
If you can’t be with the job you love, love the job you’re with. Be realistic. Don’t expect you’ll be able to recapture the glory of your past jobs. Take stock of where you are, your strengths and weaknesses, and what you have to offer in the context of the labor market in which you’re job searching.
Get fit to fit in. Although most of us will never become our younger, thinner selves again, we can still take steps to ensure that we look healthy and capable of engaging in long days or stressful work. Think your gray hair makes you look old? Dye it (don’t get carried away, though). Exercise. Update your wardrobe by wearing the current age-appropriate fashion. Do not try to dress like someone in their twenties or thirties.
It’s called “continuing education” for a reason. It’s an often overlooked component of job searching, but it’s important nonetheless. Make the effort to increase your skill set. Be sure to stay abreast of the latest developments in your profession or industry. Being able to demonstrate that you are current will go a long way towards dispelling concerns about whether you’re behind the times (something that will doom any job searching effort).
How do I get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, man, practice. When was the last time you engaged in a significant round of interviews? Are your skills rusty? If so, do a few “dry runs” and interview for jobs that you’re not necessarily interested in. If those are hard to come by, then set up some informational interviews which will enable you to hone your listening and questioning skills with no risk of “blowing it”.
And let’s not forget how beneficial an informational interview can be in the long run. It allows you to pick the brain of someone in a relaxed, conversational manner, something that provides you with potentially useful information and the possibility of adding a valuable contact to your network.