Steve Shoemaker comes to us with a double dilemma: I am a 50 year old man who for the last 3 years has been caring full time for my father with dementia. How do I overcome the twin hurdles of age and a long stretch of “unemployment” during my job search?
First off, I think most people would agree that your decision to care for your father is admirable and worthy of recognition. So we send you our kudos.
Second, we addressed the employment gap situation yesterday, so that might help you some. But, as with any situation, your predicament wasn’t necessarily conducive to taking a class or volunteering since you were caring for your father. But the overall goal of staying plugged in to current events in an industry remains the same. If you fell behind on your reading, then now’s the time to catch up. Have enough knowledge of what’s going on in today’s industry, whatever that may be, so that you can use the same vocabulary as the interviewer. Offering your opinions or views on current affairs says, “I might not have been on the payroll for three years, but I’ve been paying attention.”
Explaining the gap itself isn’t that difficult: You had personal responsibilities that outweighed your professional life at the time. You didn’t one day quit because work was too hard and you wanted to sit at home doing a word jumble. I’m sure your primary concern is that the employer will think this might happen again and you’re a flight risk or that you’ll always be distracted with your personal matters. In a cover letter or the interview (or both), use your own words to say, “When my father fell ill three years ago, I decided to devote my attention to his needs. Rather than allow my performance to suffer, I left the work force. Now that I’m once again in a position to focus on my work, I am ready to re-enter the [XX] industry.”
As for the age issue, keep in mind that those magazine covers aren’t lying: 50 is the new…something. What I mean is that 50 isn’t old, and unless you’re trying out for American Idol, age can work in your favor. You’re not a fresh-faced worker ready to enter the work force for the first time. You have experience, and employers get that when they hire you. After all, what is the biggest hurdle for young job seekers? They need a job to earn experience, but they need experience to get the job. You have it. In fact, many companies are hanging on to their would-be retirees because they don’t want to lose all of that knowledge. In the interview, play up your experience. You’ve had other jobs, you’ve probably dealt with a variety of circumstances that a newcomer hasn’t, so mention it.
Heck, I’m guessing providing full-time care to your father taught you a world of lessons that no degree ever did. If it’s relevant, maybe you can draw upon that experience, too.
Don’t forget that whether you’re 18 or 60, employers want to hire someone who plans to stick around. Reiterate that you’re not taking this job to kill time and that you won’t be out the door in six months. The bottom line for all of this is that you probably have fears about what they’re thinking–so address them before they do. Don’t be defensive. Don’t make a huge issue of it. Say your piece and let them respond. Every job seeker is dealing with a special set of circumstances–Do they think I’m too young? Is my experience irrelevant? Are they concerned about the fact that I have two young children?–and the best you can do is be honest.
We’ve said in various other Ask The Work Buzz! posts that if an employer strongly objects to life events such as these, will you ever feel comfortable working there? Probably not.
Good luck, Steve!
Work Buzz readers, as always, we’d like to know if you’ve been in a similar situation and if you have any advice for Steve.