Yes Virginia, there are jobs out there after 50. And yes, glass ceilings abound - however illegal. But older workers are a gathering army not to be denied. Currently, those over 55 years old make up 16.2 percent of the nation’s workforce. The youngsters - ages 45-54 - make up 23 percent. Projections for the Garden State rate over 55’s as the fastest growing labor group with a 35 percent increase by 2014.
So if the statistics look so hopeful, where are those over 50 jobs? As economic downturns ravage savings and life expectancies extend decades into the future, this question becomes increasingly vital. Veteran career counselor Don Sutaria has proven to scores of older clients that they can still find satisfying, highly remunerative jobs. It just requires a different strategy than when you were 22.
* Assess Yourself. Experience has granted you a lot of advantages. For one, your judgment is infinitely better. (Remember those blunders you kept making at age 21?) Also, older people know business, they know office protocol, and they are more aware when dealing with people. They come in on time, every day, dress appropriately, and clean up after themselves when they leave.
Older workers also have a better work ethic on their side. Youngsters may have the energy and their enthusiasm is more flamboyant, but look to the senior worker to stay late and sweat it through in the crunch. If you write down all these advantages, read them aloud daily, you will begin to project them in your manner. Employers will take note of how experience has gifted you. Bundle this into your skills list - that list of all the abilities that may serve in a job setting, even if they were not acquired in an office. Together, these lists will make a surprisingly impressive package.
* Where to Hunt?. Most new workers head for large corporations. These corporations are huge, filled with many entry level positions, and they view every job as a slot to be filled by a body - preferably the cheapest body. That works for the young folk, so let the have the mega-corporations. 85 percent of all employment nationwide is supplied by small businesses. While big firms are ever seeking to divest themselves of workers, small companies are always trying to expand and pick up more.
Most importantly, small, cash-tight companies seek value. They need the biggest bang from each person hired. If you can demonstrate not only experience, but a willingness to wear many hats, you’ll be a good candidate to join their lean machine.
Breaking the old mold is a tough but necessary mindset for the the over 50 jobseeker. You may have served 25 years as a paralegal or a marine engineer, but that doesn’t mean you are only a paralegal or marine engineer. And you’ll be garroting your opportunities if you hunt solely in the same old grounds. Three research engineers, all over 50, were turned out to pasture when their submarine base closed. Undaunted, they locked arms, strolled across town and announced to Cannondale Bicycles that they could make them the lightest, sturdiest bicycle in the world. They weren’t bluffing. They made the bicycle and Cannondale went on to become one of the major players in the biking world.
Sarah grew up working in her dad’s clothing boutique. After college she had spent 12 years as a travel agent before quitting to raise her two children. Now at 53, with the kids in college, she looked towards a career. Sculpting a lifetime of logistics skills into her resume, she landed a job as office manager in a very disorganized, but successful software company. She pulled the place together and moved up to become personal assistant to the CEO. She also taught the entire staff how to dress and, on their recommendations, developed a small image consulting business on the side.
Reading these true stories, the decisions and the results all seem obvious. But unfortunately most job hunters don’t see it. In each case, the success came from repackaging their existent skills and applying them to a new market, rather than limiting themselves to a specific trade.
Sutaria notes that jobseekers often can better their odds by looking toward certain ethnic companies. Africans and some Oriental groups place a great value on age and the wisdom accrued. While many American companies may view you as over the hill, a South African firm may see you as sitting on the peak.
* Preparing Your Ammunition. The historical resume demonstrates a depth of experience for the younger candidate. The older worker needs to emphasize skills. Sutaria recommends only including positions held within the last 10 - 15 years. Also, consider not mentioning the number of years you’ve held a position, nor listing jobs chronologically. Instead make it a brochure-style page, depicting your abilities package.
Buying one session with a good image consultant is a wise idea for all ages. It is important to look good, and not date yourself by your dress. Loosing those few extra pounds will enhance the image. Even dyeing your hair back to its natural color may provide an edge. Also, while you’re updating, check over your technical skills. Being able to work comfortably in the latest computer programs punches up the resume even if you’re not in that area. If your field seems to have dried up, a career coach may be a good investment.
One of the great advantages to being older is that your network includes more powerful people. Increase your mingling at church coffee hour, sports and other clubs. Expand your networks by volunteering at a soup kitchen, library, hospital or charitable foundation. Don’t be afraid to let friends know that you are in the market.
* On the Interview. The primary fear interviewers have about hiring the older worker is that this person has come here to die. Your primary goal must be to convince the interviewer that this job is the next step in your career, not your final resting place until the pension kicks in.
Save all those fond reminiscences about the good old days for the living room. Telling an interviewer that you went to Woodstock or remember when OSHA came in marks you instantly as an aged codger. Instead, mention some current musical group you like, and refer to it as “the original OSHA,” not “the OSHA I remember.” Even if the interviewer talks about “youngsters” and how they lack a good work ethic, don’t follow along. Keep away from any age categorization and never denigrate other workers to boost your own image. Give everyone respect.
To enhance your active image, casually mention your sports clubs and physical activities. “My wife and I love to catch the real beauty of the Appalachian Trail in the autumn.” When discussing the job, emphasize how your experience diminishes the learning curve and will give them the most bang for their buck.
Sutaria’s final word to the older jobseeker is patience. Don’t hide behind your age. Everyone from college graduates on up is having a tough time in this current economy. Corporations are downsizing, governments are freezing employment. The only thing that seems to be on the upswing is the numbers of new business startups. Hey now. There just might be an idea. If no one will hire you - maybe you should hire yourself. B4
Don Sutaria was cited in the career counseling classic “What Color is Your Parachute” for his creative job hunting techniques. By all rights, this native of Bombay should have been an engineer. His father was an electrical engineer. Sutaria himself in l962 earned a bachelors’ in mechanical engineering from the University of Bombay, then another engineering degree from PUMA Integral Testing Facility. Coming to the United States, he gained an MSIE degree in Industrial and Management Engineering from Kansas State University. Then, somewhere in the late 1970’s Sutaria jumped ship.
“I was at New York University at the time and I remember everyone constantly asking me for career advice,” says Sutaria. Then he took an NYU abilities assessment test; which recommended, he no longer give this advice away for free. Shortly afterwards Sutaria opened CareerQuest Central which still flourishes with headquarters in Union, New Jersey and offices in New York City. Look for Sutaria’s upcoming book this fall, “Career and Life Counseling from the Heart.”