Your guide to job searching after 50

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There’s no question that job searching gets harder after 50. Although age discrimination is illegal, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Many employers have preconceived notions about older workers. Among the most common: Their salaries are high, their energy is low and they’re not up-to-date on the latest technologies.

Recruiters and companies are definitely less interested in hiring people — regardless of how strong their career has been — when they reach the age of 50,” says Tucker Mays, co-author of the book “Fired at 50: How to Overcome the Greatest Executive Job Search Challenge.” “Many are considered, by this age, to be inflexible in their management style — that they’re not going to be able to adjust to, say, smaller companies if they’re coming from a larger company. Or if they’ve been with a company for a long period of time and are now leaving, that they’re just going to be doing things the way that one company had trained them for all those years.”

If you’re over 50, the key to a successful job search is not only to disprove the negative stereotypes that exist, but to show employers the benefits your extra years of experience can bring them.

Countering the age bias
There are a number of ways job seekers over 50 can counter employers’ subconscious, age-related stereotypes, says Bob Sloane, Mays’ “Fired at 50″ co-author.

Foremost, he says, it’s essential to make a good first impression. “It’s so important for [job seekers over 50] to keep in shape, both in order to make that really great first impression and to demonstrate that they have the energy, which is often unfairly expected that they won’t. They have to exude that energy.”

If you don’t already, Mays and Sloane suggest exercising regularly. “Walking, jogging and weekend athletic activities have been proven to increase metabolism, cognitive ability and physical appearance,” they write in “Fired at 50.”

Also important is emphasizing a flexible management style, technological proficiency, ability to learn new skills and the willingness to work for a younger boss. “Very often today it’s going to be likely that somebody over 50 will be interviewing with a prospective boss who is considerably younger,” Sloane notes.

Before going into an interview, come up with concrete examples of how you’ve mastered new technologies, how you’ve worked with and for younger generations and how your management style has developed through the years.

Proving your worth
After decades in the workforce, older workers possess life skills, talent and abilities that younger workers don’t have. Emphasizing these strengths can set experienced job seekers apart.

“We cite four great strengths that you develop over time that give 50-plus job seekers a superior advantage over younger individuals,” Mays says. “They are problem-solving skills, people-management ability, good judgment and leadership. Experienced workers are usually able to solve problems faster by identifying them quicker and finding the right ways to solve them, for example. They can use their success stories in these four key areas to help prove their age is an asset.”

Conducting a successful job search
Many 50-plus job seekers are finding themselves in a job search for the first time in years — even decades. If you fall into this category, and are unsure how to go about your job search, consider the following:

Expand your network
Job seekers over 50 often have well-developed professional networks. Used correctly, your network can drastically reduce the time you spend looking for a job. Sloane and Mays say that your network is best used not to find connections to jobs, but to find connections to other people.

“[Finding a job] is really a matter of time management and how job seekers spend their time, and our advice is to spend the most time on productive job-search methods while de-emphasizing less productive channels,” Sloane says. “What that really means is they need to spend 80 percent of their time networking to individuals they did not already know prior to their search. It is all a matter of getting referrals — you want to get through the people you already know to get their help to meet people you’ve never met before.”

Sloane suggests building up your networking efforts until you’re meeting or connecting with 100 new contacts per month and to continue at that level until you find a job. “I know that sounds like a very lofty level, but with the use of some social-networking tools, like LinkedIn in particular, it is easier nowadays to accelerate your networking,” he says.

Focus on small companies
The best place to look for jobs if you’re over 50? Small companies, Mays says.

“The reasons [to focus on smaller companies] are, first, that there are 20 times as many small companies — those with sales of under $100 million — in America as there are above $100 million, which means there are many more opportunities in that space. Secondly, those companies seem to be far less concerned about age, and in many cases they really prefer and like individuals with great experience who can help them with their business.”

Hang in there
In today’s economy, the job search is taking longer for people of all ages, so it’s important not to give up hope. As Sloane and Mays point out in their book, “There are over 13,000,000 companies in America. You only need one, and one always needs you.” Hang in there.

For more on job search after 50, see:

Proving your age is an asset in your job search

“Overqualified”: Should you leave things off your résumé to avoid the label?

6 career moves for older workers

4 Comments
  1. Good article. I am 64 (last week) and just got a position at a major technology company as Senior Systems/Performance Engineer where some of my interviewers and colleagues are almost young enough to be my grandchildren. Note that I will be a great grandfather come June or July… :-) I was able to express enthusiasm for the position – a very challenging one – and show that my depth of experience in designing and building very large, complex, highly reliable, and performance sensitive systems was something that could help them reach their next milestone – a 10x increase in concurrent users (from 5M to 50M) over the next year. So, I was hired. They strapped the rocket-powered roller skates to my feet, and pushed me down the ramp… :-)

    I think one of the important things is that this is an incredibly diverse group of people, from all cultures and races. Perhaps because of that, age is just another face in the group? In my area alone we have people from the US, China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Mexico, Russia, Poland, and more. The hardest thing is to become accustomed to all the different accents. Just wandering the halls one will hear conversations going on in at least 3 languages at the same time. It truly is a world economy, and culture!

  2. For an article about the bias of ageism, this article to highly BIASED! It is all about ageism towards older engineers, but makes no mention of ageism towards younger engineers. As a young engineer in the (typically) older group of Analog/Power Engineers out there, I frequently encountered ageism because of my lack of the “graybeard”. I actually stopped shaving because I would simply be treated with more respect as a result. This was further proven to me by phone interviews that seemed to go very well, then would be told how surprised interviewers were at my age when meeting in-person, and it seemed to have a very different vibe from that point.

    If you’re going to write an article covering the biases in our industry that affect many of us on a daily basis, then COVER it! After all, you would not imagine writing an article about sexual harassment without mentioning the impact on men as well as women, right?!? :)

  3. When I look around at the American workers today, ducking down aisles to avoid customers, holding their phones under a counter to text while serving customers, shouting to each other across checkout lanes about their private lives while customers stand right in front of them dumbfounded, I wonder what it REALLY takes for a non-professional working class Joe to get hired these days. I imagine that looking sharp, staying fit, and emphasizing long years of experience works great for professionals with Masters degrees, but what about the rest of us?

    I’ve been tested several times throughout my life and have an IQ somewhere between 145 and 160. I was also raised in an extremely abusive household in a town full of inbred rejects, and because of that I had nothing approaching a normal life until I was in my late twenties. I’m 37 now. I have a horrible high school transcript, no college, and a history of excelling at crappy menial jobs. In all ways other than my mind, I’m just an average guy. But because of my intelligence, I see a lot more going on in interviews and the workplace than the average guy.

    I’m 6’2″, I’m a white male, and I’m good-looking. That being said, I sit through interviews where oafs wearing tank tops and chewing gum are judging my ability to do work that was beneath me when I was ten years old, in places where the current employees look like rejects from the Dirty Dozen. And I don’t get hired. I recently applied for an Assistant Manager position at a fast food restaurant. A job that requires direct customer service. I went to the interview clean shaven, new haircut, dressed neat in shirt, pants, and tie. The interviewer was the District Manager, a woman in her forties who looked professional and seemed intelligent. I didn’t get the job. The job went to a football player-sized girl in her twenties with badly dyed red hair who has a tattoo of a snake on her left forearm and letters tattooed across all her knuckles. WHAT DO I DO WITH THAT?

    Since you don’t know me, you might guess that the fault is mine. That’s the easy answer, but completely wrong. I’m a well-adjusted, self-aware guy who has no problem conversing, skinning and grinning, or getting laid. But I can’t get a job. And if you’re like me – if you don’t have a college degree or ten years of experience in a profession and you’re just trying to get and hold onto whatever job you can just to make ends meet – then I feel for you. Your pain is mine. It’s tough out there and I can’t figure out what the hell you need to do to make it. Good luck to us all.

  4. Hi, very useful post. I’ve just bumped into it and found it concrete and useful, very straight to the point. With your tips and some tricks I’ve heard during the webinars organized by http://www.blog.ivyexec.com I’m sure I’ll easily go through job search. Thanks once again!

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