Originally written by Steve Milano for the Chicago Tribune
Late Career Changes Less Difficult with Planning
Over 50 Workers Need to Stress Their Advantages
If you’ve lost your job after years of loyal service, see the writing on the wall at your struggling company or are looking to make a move to improve your situation, you’ll face an increasingly uphill battle for secure and satisfying employment once you’re in your 50s. Taking the time to create a comprehensive career and skill-set evaluation will make your task much easier and help you spend the latter-half of your in an enjoyable, stable environment.
Do a Financial Analysis
Before you begin looking for a new job, evaluate your financial position. Not only will you need to earn enough to pay your bills, but you might also need extra funds to decrease credit card debt and fund your retirement. A meeting with a financial adviser qualified to do comprehensive financial planning will help you determine your earning, savings, retirement and insurance needs. This will help you determine the minimum salary and benefits you can accept from any job you’re considering.
Evaluate Your Skills
That 25-year-old college degree might have been the cat’s meow when you graduated, but it won’t impress today’s employers unless it’s from a big-name school. Even then, you’ll need to show you’ve maintained your skills and improved the abilities you can bring to a company.
List the jobs you want, then visit job boards to look for patterns companies want in these candidates. Even if you’ve been in the same profession for many years, today’s employers might want specific skills such as knowledge of a particular software program or social media savvy. Don’t wait until you’re out of work to improve your skills. Take night-school classes at your local community college, attend weekend training workshops or seminars and earn a certification to improve your employability.
Get in the Right Mindset
A mid-career job search can be the toughest project you’ve ever taken on. “You need to accept that finding a job will be the hardest job you’ve ever had,” said Claire Turner, senior employment program director of The Senior Source, a Dallas-based nonprofit agency that provides career consulting for older workers. “You need to let go of what’s worked in the past, realizing that you need to update not just your job skills, but also your job search skills.” Turner recommends working on interviewing skills, improving your resume and building your network.
Older workers must also consider their competition for jobs and potential co-workers when interviewing. “It’s important that job seekers over the age of 50 present themselves as though they are a member of the current working generation and are in a position to relate well to other age groups,” said Tim Driver, founder of RetirementJobs.com, the largest career website for people over 50. “You need to present yourself as more easy to integrate into a team that might be comprised of different ages and be ready to take direction from someone quite a bit younger.”
Update and Improve your Network
Many of the best jobs are never advertised. Build your professional network and strengthen relationships with your current peers. Join a professional association and serve on a committee or write articles for its newsletter. Attend networking events and arrange for informational interviews.
Update your resume and create several versions based on the jobs that interest you. Send it to friends for feedback. Turner also recommends taking advantage of the free and low-cost job counseling services available to older job seekers.
“Don’t go it alone. There is low-cost and free help available to get you on the right track,” she said. When looking for assistance, watch out for job counseling services that charge thousands of dollars to “improve” your resume and mass mail it to a generic mailing list, she warns.
Whether or not you have any interest in Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus, you’ll need to be part of the social media conversation if you want to fit in with your younger co-workers, according to “You need to be conversant in the current technologies and at a minimum have a presence on LinkedIn,” said Driver.
“If you don’t exist there, you don’t exist at all in the minds of many managers.” Create and use social media accounts, but do so sparingly. Avoid goofy posts and delete wacky comments from friends, maintaining just enough of an online presence to demonstrate you know what social media is all about.
“Whether it’s a computer or tablet or a smartphone, you should have knowledge of all of those technologies,” said Driver. “It’s very important in an interview that you don’t come across as someone who’s still living in the 70s.”
Create Your Pitch
Your desire to stay with a company for more than a few years can be a main selling point, based on the high cost of employee turnover for businesses. “People over the age of 50 stay on the job three times longer than younger individuals,” said Driver.
This fact is making seniors increasingly attractive to employers, said Turner. “Studies show that older workers have lower absenteeism rates, they remain with companies longer because of their loyalty, and they have honed their critical thinking skills, so they’re able to process information and do well in customer service,” she said.
Both Driver and Turner point out that workers age 65 and older who qualify for Medicare can save employer significant benefits dollars and should bring this up during interviews.
If you’ve got some savings or access to a bit of investment money and feel you have the management skills to run your own company, consider a career as an entrepreneur. Start with a visit to the websites of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Business U.S.A and SCORE to learn how to get started.
You’ll find step-by-step instructions for writing a business plan, complete with financial projections. Professional membership associations can also help you get started. For example, starting a pet-sitting business can put you on the path to a six-figure income with a very low investment if you use the resources offered by the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters.
Turn your love of cooking into a catering company. If you have a business skill such as accounting, advertising, public relations, communications or human resources, consider starting a consulting business. If you’re a fitness or sports buff, look into professional trainer, tennis instructor or golf teacher certification.
Use your green thumb to start a landscaping business. If you’re not ready to start your own business full-time, you might pad your savings by working at these professions part-time, either evenings or weekends.
Side Bar article
Hitting the Wall at 50
One 50+ Job Seeker Learns the Ropes the Hard Way
Kurt Brown (not his real name) had risen to the top of his field, making a six-figure salary as a well-known industry player. He decided to make an intrastate move closer to his and his wife’s family hometown, taking another lucrative position in sales and marketing. He thought all was well with the world, until management at his new made a move to cut its highest-paid staff members. The middle-aged Brown was blindsided.
“I was woefully unprepared to be out of a job,” confessed Brown, who had not needed to conduct a job search for more than a decade. He had no idea the roller coaster ride that would last for the next several years. Taking part-time jobs and settling for work that paid half was he was previously making, he struggled to market himself to the right people.
“Looking for a job is a full-time job,” said Brown. “But when you’re working eight hours a day and you get home and get on the computer and see if anybody responded and see that there’s another job you can apply for and you put together all the stuff and then you make sure it’s spell checked and you fill in every column and required field on the job application and then you hit send and you hope to hear something…it’s a long tedious process.”
Brown eventually took a mid-level job at Walmart, managing two departments, impressing his supervisors enough that he was given five more departments to manage – with no extra pay.
A lack of technology skills hurt Brown during his search, he admitted. He had previously had been able to get by using whatever software program his employer had used. With today’s explosion of tablets, smart phones and social media, Brown, like many older workers, had difficulty matching up against twenty- and even thirty-somethings.
“It’s difficult to stay on top of all of that technology when you are working during the day and then trying to find a job in the evening. It’s hard to find the time to say, ‘I’m going to go online and take this tutorial course or Google everything I can find about the next innovation with smart phones so I can at least talk about it in an interview if it came up.’
“Also, when you’re out of work or underemployed and you’re putting kids through high school and college and you have mortgage and car payments, you don’t have a lot of money to take continuing education courses. I couldn’t go over to the local university and spend $700 for a semester-long technology class,” he said.
Brown lost one job because he wasn’t able to answer questions about specific technologies during an interview. He tried to fake it, telling the interviewer he had basic computer skills and could learn what the position needed, but the interviewer wasn’t buying it. “I am at least now at a beginner level on all of those technologies,” said Brown. “More importantly, I know how our customers use technology, such as mobile devices, which helps me better deliver our message.”
Brown recommends that workers age 50 and older sell potential employers on the fact that while millions of people can Tweet, that doesn’t matter if they don’t know what to Tweet. “A company can get a thousand people who know more about social media usage and software programs than I do, but how useful is that technology knowledge in serving customers if you don’t have any sales or interpersonal skills?” he asked.
After eight years of struggling through part-time and mid-level positions, Brown finally landed an executive position in sales and marketing that allowed him to help a large nonprofit, using his decades of executive-level skills.
“I have to be honest with you, I thought for sure I was done. I hit the point where I had pretty much given up. I thought Walmart was going to be it for me because suddenly I was in my 50s and companies were going to take one look at my gray hair and that’s it.
I would see jobs that paid half of what I used to make, think I could do them with my eyes closed and then didn’t even get calls back. I’d sent out 100 resumes and get one or two responses and goet one interview out of that. I will never again be in that position where I’m totally blindsided and have no idea how to go about a job search,” he said.
Brown is more positive for older workers now, pointing out that more employers are beginning to understand the financial and institutional value of employee retention, which is higher among older workers, and more broad-based work experience.
“There are jobs out there and there are employers out there who have done their research and understand that older workers have some semblance of loyalty, they’ll appreciate the fact that they were given the chance and they will stick with the company,” he said. “Knowledge of technology is helpful, but there are employers out there that are looking for workers who can do a variety of things beyond that.”
As a happy ending to this story, Brown found work as a department head for a trade association, a short commute from his home, and is thriving in a job he loves, working for a company that values his talents and sees him as a long-term staff member.