Looking For Work In Your 50’s And 60’s

Aging is of course a natural process we all go through. Whether we live a brief or long time on this planet, we start aging right from the moment we’re conceived. When we’re very young, we don’t think all that much about aging, but we do record the passage of time by the grade we’re in at school, the birthdays we celebrate with our family and friends, being old enough to date.

Into our teens we may actually look forward to getting older so we can drive a car, finish high school, perhaps come of legal drinking age. Soon we’re marking time by our College / University graduation dates, entering the world of employment full-time, maybe starting a family, setting up our first home away from mom and dad.

Now time is measured by the quality of our lives. We assess how we’re doing with our careers and our relationships. We contemplate how to make it better, and for the first time many actually start thinking of Registered Retirement Savings Plans, getting our wills together. We’re no longer whispering about doing things while we’re young enough, because we’re hearing it everywhere we go. If we feel the grass is greener, we change employers, maybe even return to school or take some courses to put ourselves in stead to take on new challenges in completely different lines of work.

We eventually settle in somewhat, start evaluating where we’ve been and what might lie ahead. We still might not know exactly how our lives will play out, but there’s more time behind us than in front of us for the first time. Maybe that sobering thought spurs us on or puts us in cruise control; it depends .

Suddenly advancing age is becoming an issue. Jobs have come and gone over our lives; we’ve had six or seven perhaps significant in nature. If we’re fortunate, we ride off into retirement with some pats on the back and kind words from our co-workers, and the next chapter of our lives begins. Or on the other hand, we find ourselves unemployed, still wanting to be productive and work – both for the necessary income and to be productive. Suddenly our age is a problem.

Now yesterday, in a class of unemployed job seekers, I asked those in attendance to tell me about themselves; answering as they would in an interview setting. One gentleman in his 60’s, as part of his answer said that he was in good shape for his age.

Let’s look at that for a moment. If we go with the interview scenario, his résumé must have been good enough to be considered for employment or he wouldn’t have reached the interview in the first place. The interview is an opportunity to meet, market yourself in person and confirm all the information you’ve provided. By saying he is in good shape for his age, he unnecessarily draws attention to his age. Yes the interviewer isn’t blind and can readily see he’s a mature person, but when it can be a barrier to employment, the less said the better. Best to leave it at, “I’m in excellent shape and up to the demands of the job.”

A subtle but significant change in the answer can either detract or add to your potential value to the employer considering bringing you on board.

Older applicants bring a wealth of experience – both in the world of work and generally in life itself. Life experience should never be underestimated and has real benefit in the workforce. An older person generally has maturity; enough wisdom to know how to react and deal with situations as they arise because they’ve dealt with similar situations before. What a 30ish or 40ish person might find overwhelming and cause drama in the workplace over, a 50ish or even 60ish person has both seen and done. They have the coping skills and adaptive skills to ride through change and come out on top.

Yes older workers tend to have increasing health-related issues that younger workers haven’t experienced yet, but it would be a mistake to intentionally weed out all older applicants based on age alone. A lot of extremely good people who would add productivity to an organization would be missed.

If you are an older person yourself, what is you’ve done – or do now – that you’ve found works to offset or counter this age discrimination or bias? Did you change your approach in some way as you went about looking for work that got better results?

One small piece of advice I’d like to give you is to make sure your voice has energy. I can’t tell you how often I’ve helped people in their 50’s and 60’s who lack not just volume as they speak, but genuine energy or passion. You’re interviewing for a job after all and not sitting back on a front porch having a casual conversation. This interview will need some attention to posture, presentation and the energy you put out has to convey that you’ve still got a lot in the tank left to give.

Now, I’d like to turn things over to you in your 50’s and 60’s who know this phase of life best. You’re the experts out there. What’s been your experience in terms of what’s worked for you – whether it’s to get a job or keep the one you’ve got now?

60, Visible Minority, MBA, Unemployed

Yesterday I sat down with a man for an hour and half and we talked about his employment goals and employment barriers. Now he wasn’t completely unknown to me as we’d just spent the previous week together as he took part in a class I was co-facilitating pertaining to knowing yourself and finding a job / career that would match.

So who is this man? Well as the title suggests, he’s a 60 year-old, originally from India where he obtained his Masters degree. He’s been in Canada now for 20 years and is a Canadian citizen. He’s worked professionally in Sales and Marketing, once starting on the front line in a company and rising all the way up to be the company CEO. He’s in good health, speaks multiple languages, has a good sense of humour, excellent communication skills – and oh yes he’s unemployed and on social assistance.

Last year he and his wife moved from the west side of Canada to Oshawa, Ontario to move in with their adult son. This way the son gets some rental income, helps out his parents, and they in turn have a stable home and the extended family support they want. The difficulty is of course that they begin anew employment-wise.

When we talked of barriers I threw the prejudice against age and race issues right out there instead of dancing around them to maximize the value of our time together. Yes, both are possibilities he conceded and he has felt dismissed too abruptly for jobs he is well qualified on paper to do. In a move that is sure to offend some but be completely understandable by others, I asked if he’d ever considered submitting some resumes using a pseudonym or nickname. Both his first and last name you see might suggest he is a person from a visible minority with origins offshore.

Yes, sadly, there are still some employers who are prejudiced against people who don’t look like them or their other employees, and worry about everything from a lack of Canadian experience to traditionally spicy foods in the microwave. It’s true. They don’t want to risk alienating their customers or some other such silliness and so they blindly dismiss any application from a person not like themselves.

Then again, it might be his age with all that grey hair (same as my hair colour). At 60, the sands of time are falling much too quickly and employers might look him up and down and see someone slowing down, rising health issues, afternoon naps, inflexibility, out-of-date training and experience. Very real possibilities.

“But can they really do that?” he asked me. “I mean can they not hire me just because I am old or because of my name?” Well honestly discrimination is against the law on the basis of age, gender, sex, religion, ethnicity etc. However, people being people, some poor employers do discriminate they just don’t always openly share their prejudices with applicants.

“If I used a nickname would that not make me seem fraudulent?” This is a great question and one that people will argue for or against with compelling points. The object of a resume and cover letter however are to do but a single thing; get an interview. Once the interview is obtained, it falls to the applicant to sell themselves in the interview, marketing their strengths and values as benefits to be desired leading to being hired. Good thing he’s in Sales and Marketing.

Now by his figures, since January, he has applied for 1,000 jobs. (Is that even possible over 4 1/2 months?) As hardly any interviews have transpired, it would be interesting for ‘Peter Sharpe’ to send out a few resumes and see if he gets any increase in interviews. And supposing that with his new nickname he did land more interviews, he’d have eliminated one barrier to employment.

But what about when they see him and the colour of his skin and the lines on his face – the colour of his hair? He’s in Sales and Marketing remember. So my advice to him was to immediately hijack the interview at the first sign of being dismissed if that happens. After all, if he feels a job is lost that he is qualified for, there is nothing to lose but something to gain. So it could go like this…

“I’m not sure you’re what we’re looking for after all Peter. We’ll let you know though if we can use you.”

“That’s a good strategy of yours, I like it! Dismissing me early to see whether or not I get up and leave or persevere and make my best sales pitch. You are playing the customer who doesn’t want your product. Let me tell you then that I am internationally trained and have full fluency in 4 languages. That means your multicultural clients will readily identify with me. I have worked both on the front-line, at the top and everywhere in between so I can speak with customers at their level. I’m energetic, in good health, have a great sense of humour and meet all your requirements. I even adopted a nickname to increase my chances of obtaining this interview by improving the attraction of the product – me; and you bought it. I am fortunate to have met an employer who understands Sales and Marketing and can detect value when it sits across from them.”

And wouldn’t it be ironic if Bob the interview was sitting on his wallet containing his birth certificate identifying him as William?




Old Age: Barrier To Employment?

When you are twenty-six but look nineteen, your youthful looks can be a detriment to finding meaningful employment. Oh sure it becomes relatively easy to get some entry-level jobs, but the real career jobs are harder to come by because few take you seriously believing you too young to grasp the responsibilities.

At the other end of the employment spectrum, there are people who wish they looked to others to be in their late forties instead of being in their mid-fifties. Feeling that they are being dismissed because of their greying hair, these people often need employment and all it means. But if we are to believe many reports, we’ve got an aging population upon us whom over the next five-year period will represent a rather large majority of the overall population.

Now all those older people in their sixties are either not working nor interested, working still and about to retire in their near future, or be out of work and looking for employment. I have found in the last two years a most curious thing in that people younger than me are listing old age as a personal barrier to employment. Really? Does hitting a specific birthday define one as old, or does it really come down to both self-perception and how others perceive us?

Now me personally at 55 years old, I’m don’t find myself thinking about age a great deal. I guess it’s because I’m working and – no wait – it’s about HOW I’m going about working. You see I could do what the younger generations are stereotyping older workers of doing; slowing down, getting in a rut, playing out the string, talking of retirement that’s still years away for me, but I don’t.

You see, I’m one of the older people on my team at work. However, I’m extremely creative and always looking for different ways to communicate job searching tips and tools to clients. I’m the one called upon by others to write-up teaching manuals and hand-outs. I’m the one who is often putting in the extra effort with clients not just to make a resume for example, but to make a resume that is rich and stands out. My attendance is either perfect in the case of last year, or I’ve missed a single day which is good enough to win an excellent attendance award which I’ve done for the last seven years or so. I hardly have the health concerns then that younger people think the older workers have.

And that’s at the crux of this whole age issue; whitewashing an entire population where every individual must have the characteristics of the majority in that group. It’s saying that all workers near their sixties are in bad health, work slower, don’t pick up technology quickly and take afternoon naps at work. And this is about as accurate as saying all Human Resource Department people in their thirties and forties are prejudiced against hiring older workers; neither are truisms.

I do believe one thing most vehemently however and that is if you yourself buy in to feeling old and discriminated against because of it, you will be thought of that way by others too. After all, if you feel your age is a barrier to employment it’s easier to agree with you then it is to change your opinion by pointing out reasons you’re not. And to be honest, I often think that when an older person starts feeling discriminated against because of their age, perhaps that is because when they themselves were 20 years younger, they too had prejudicial opinions about older workers but have become one!

First and foremost I encourage you as an chronologically older person to think about what you have control over. You may not be able to control the number of candles on the cake, but you can re-master much. For starters walk with purpose instead of sauntering. People who walk with purpose and some jump in their steps ooze energy. Don’t move as if you are trying not to disturb the cobwebs between your legs. You can also control your hair style and colour.

When you talk to people; co-workers, employers, interviewers, recruiters or employment advisors, sound energetic. Be enthusiastic, smile, shake hands with some strength. You’ve probably had many years of experience so you should be able to relate much of that experience to the jobs you are going for now. If you are changing careers because the work you performed was too physical to do now, you should still be able to identify and promote the transferable skills you have.

You are in a better place to promote yourself for good or ill than anyone else. And so if like I say, you believe you are over the hill, why would you expect others to see you any differently? If you challenge others perceptions of being an older person by how you act and what you are capable of in addition to what you say, then you have a good chance of being perceived as still capable of making a valuable contribution.

You may have only so many years of employment left to go, but you can still market yourself to your advantage. Be positive, act confident, be friendly, take pride in your appearance, get active, be visible and network. Finding or keeping employment is a full-time job no matter your age. Like Ringo Starr sang, “It don’t come easy!”

Old Age; Barrier Or Asset?

Turn up the font on this blog old dudes if you find it easier to read; this blogs for you.

Now before I throw myself into the blog, and for some of you out there, throw myself into a hangman’s noose, I’m 53 now, 54 in June. I want that right up front so you know what demographic I’m in on some census report. I’m also Caucasian, married, own my home, employed full-time, like the Beatles, gardening, drive a Smart Car, and play acoustic guitar. So what does any of that have to do with looking for a job and dealing with the issue of age? Nothing. Nothing at all unless of course I want to make them relevant personally.

Getting older is inevitable and while some movies have characters that reverse age or have stopped aging, or live for hundreds of years, it’s not likely going to happen in our reality. So with an overall average longevity of 84 years lets say, and a working life that might have you working anywhere from age 55 – 67 or so, you’re looking at almost 20 years of life after you stop working. Ironically you may have had about 20 years before you really got going at working too. Hmmm…40 not working and about 40 working give or take a few years either way.

So as you age, (or aged)you’ll find new challenges to deal with without question. Maybe its wearing glasses, false teeth, losing your hair, your temper, your patience, your memory, your tolerance for others etc. I didn’t say you will have all of these, but maybe some of these and there are lots more to deal with too. However, before you phone up the local Nursing Home and ask if they have a Party Planner to arrange your next birthday celebration, there’s a lot of positive things that happen as you age. Sure there are. Maybe you get wiser, more mature, no longer pay for a mortgage, get the thrill of grandchildren but not the responsibility full-time. Could be too that you are respected more, have a more senior position in your workplace, and command attention when you walk in the room.

However, let’s look at the older job seeker. Are you using your age as a crutch to explain your lack of success? Many countries are reporting aging populations, and with all those aging populations, you might actually be closer in age to the interviewer or the company president than that young pup sitting across from you in the Reception area with his headphones and electronic gadgets. Your life experience and diversity of employment might be vastly superior to his, so why not turn that into an asset?

Younger people are always been credited with picking up technology faster and easier, having more recent training, being full of energy and enthusiasm, and being open to learning. So, why not espouse some of these strengths of theirs as your own? Come across as inflexible, unwilling to adapt, set in your ways, living in the past and you just feed the stereotype. So take a course on your own time at night school or online. Use the internet to network professionally, create a social media presence, update your hairstyle and clothing – in short, get with it Daddy-o. Get hip to the trip, move to the groove, shake and bake, trade in the 8 track and download some tunes. Don’t know how to get started? Go shopping with your grandkid and tell him he’s your new fashion and technology consultant. You’ll have a blast and so will he. Hmmm…on second thought….just go in on your own to a reputable clothing store and look for a young salesperson and say you’re in their hands. Oh and smile a lot; she’ll think your cute.

Too many aging people are complaining about being discriminated against in part due to their age. Okay, so if that is really the case, what are YOU doing about it? I don’t mean suing the employer or calling some Human Rights Tribunal either. I mean what are you doing to set yourself apart from that stereotype? If the answer is honestly that you’re doing nothing well, they may be right. On the other hand, if you are still vibrant, creative, in good health, willing to learn and full of enthusiasm, SELL IT TO THE INTERVIEWER! Demonstrate all these things. Maybe you should turn off your Blackberry or I-Phone just in front of the interviewer so they actually see you have one! If they want to set up a second interview, put it in your electronic calendar. Use the new lingo that the company is using so you talk the same language.

It’s easier to use advancing years as an excuse rather than an asset because it takes so much less energy to complain about it than to do something about it … and you just proved that 19-year-old interviewer right by the way. If you have a lot to offer in the way of experience, maturity, wisdom, foresight etc., and you can marry these assets with the pros of youth, you’ve got a winning combination. Maybe you’ll bring stability to the workplace, can help the employer reach out to customers who identify more with someone in their own age group, and won’t be looking to climb over people and rise to the top. You’ll be happy to just cling to a middle rung on the ladder until you’re done. And you can assure the interviewer that you won’t engage in office gossip because you can’t hear half the things you used to anymore either! LOL (That means Laugh Out Loud these days Granny).

Bring your sense of humour to the interview but keep it appropriate and show some real vitality and enthusiasm. Downplay any health issues and look as put together as you can instead of ruffled, tired and stodgy. The person you most often have to convince that you still have what it takes is often sitting on the same side of the interview table as you are; imagine that.