Finding a job after 50

1. The over 50s can safely be said to be pretty dubious about the HR culture, which most of them thoroughly dislike, and the reactions they get to their age. What's the best way to cope with their feelings?

Job hunting is painful to your ego at any age but it does get harder as you get older. Job hunting skills have to be learned and updated frequently. If it's been many years since you were last looking for a job, it's time for a brush up. You may not know what employers look for on resumes or the right answers to interview question. That can mean getting rejected again and again. To succeed, you need to believe in yourself so it's important to get it right the first time.

2. The common perception is that age discrimination is a way of life for employers. Right or wrong?

Let me begin by saying that most employers don't think they discriminate against older employees. However, younger managers and HR screeners may have very inaccurate ideas about what older workers can do. Remember, when you were thirty, you thought fifty was old. It's the same for them. Sometimes they've actually had a bad experience with a burned out boomer but I think the negative stereotypes tend to disappear when they're face to face with competent, energetic boomers in the interview situation. That means keeping your resume or CV out of the slush pile and getting to the interview stage.

3. Do you consider 50+ people technologically disadvantaged, or just out of the loop with the current culture?

Well, I think many boomers have excellent computer skills. However, it's true that younger people tend to spend a lot more leisure time on their home computers. Maybe 'out of the loop' is a good way to describe the problem since employers rarely provide computer training. They expect their employees to arrive with good skills so older workers must find other opportunities outside work to develop technical skills. Community colleges provide free and inexpensive courses. Hobbies can also help but I think the main thing to remember is that people over 50 should tackle the problem head-on. It's no good trying to fake it. Good computer skills (and I don't mean email and web surfing) are essential for almost any job.

4. How much adaption is required for a Baby Boomer to the present job market?

Right now, of course, the economy is not doing well. However, the job market should be improving as baby boomers retire. Since this is such a large segment of the workforce, it will be very difficult to replace so many skilled workers. However, there have been big changes in jobs in the past ten years and boomers can't get by with yesterday's skills. Of course, each industry is different but if you're planning to enter the job market, the best thing you can do is take a course, seminar or workshop. The more training you can get now, the easier your job search. By the way, employers are usually impressed by applicants who have been keeping up-to-date. It proves they're not burned out or counting the days till retirement.

5. What should the over 50s avoid, in job hunting?

Let's start by dividing the job search into two basic parts: the application including cover letter and resume and then later (hopefully) the interview. There are some dos and don'ts for each part but they both come down to projecting a competent, energetic image, a picture of someone who will do a great job. There's a lot of disagreement about whether you should hide your age. I lean toward leaving off education dates because they tend to draw attention to your age. After all, most screeners just look briefly at CVs and resumes checking for obvious points. You don't want your age to be the first thing they notice. In an interview, you have a chance to sell yourself so you can be more open. Interviewers can see that you don't fit the stereotypes and they come to know you as you are. Once you're called for the interview, focus on energy and enthusiasm. Be careful how you walk and sit. Don't slump, slouch or gasp for breath. Most of us have some arthritis but we needn't move like our grandmothers.

6. How do you deal with a workforce full of kids?

You make friends with those kids. Get to know them as equals and colleagues, and take an interest in the things that interest them. If you go around moaning about how the younger generation is going to the dogs, you're going to be a loser and a loner. Your colleagues will ignore you and you won't know what's going on. Don't treat younger workers like your children. They're adults who can help make your work life successful or miserable.

7. What sort of goals should the over 50s be looking at?

The great thing about being over 50 is that you know yourself. You know what you like and dislike, what you believe and what you want out of life. That means that your goals may be different from those of other people. Of course, financial security should be a goal, but you're old enough to know it's not worth keeping up with the Joneses. There are more important things to you and now is the time when you may be able to live the life you always wanted.

8. How do you feel about somebody just ignoring the age thing entirely, and getting on with life?

I certainly agree about getting on with your life but you also want to be honest with yourself. Having the kind of life you want gets a little harder as you grow older. It's more important to take that walk and lose that pound. As you look around, you see people your age who look like they're ready for a rocking chair. Others are healthy, active, engaged in their work and enjoying life. When you sit back and just let things happen, you run the risk of running down and losing momentum. Young bodies may be able to live on burgers and fries but yours needs healthy habits if you're going to have energy for work and play.

9. How do you convince an interviewer that he's paying the same money for 30 years experience as for 3 years?

In my book, I describe a really bad interview- one in which I was actually the interviewer. The applicant was an older man who insisted on boring me with every job he'd held over the last thirty years. He remembered working with punch cards and other technologies that made him sound like a dinosaur. He wanted to impress me with all his experience but what I wanted to know was whether he could do the job I had open. He didn't get the job, in part because he wasn't excited about the future; he just wanted to dwell on the past. He could have analyzed the job opening before he arrived and identified ways in which his experience would help him do the job better than his younger competitors. He could have made it clear that he was a good team member and respected younger colleagues and supervisors. Unfortunately, he didn't do any of those things.

10. What are the advantages of being over 50 in the job market?

The man I described above really had a big advantage over younger applicants although he failed to use it. He had plenty of useful experience and he could have tweaked each resume and each interview, emphasizing experience that was just right for each job. Interviewers are often faced with younger applicants who can talk the talk but can't back up their self-promotion with solid experience. Older workers have also had time to learn about human nature and they're often good judges of character. People over 50 tend to have better work habits than younger workers. For example, they actually use less sick leave, not more. Young people need time to learn from their mistakes and may not understand the importance of reliability. Employers dealing with absenteeism and tardiness know that boomers and seniors will give them a good day's work for their pay.

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