THE “A” WORD
I love coaching people in their careers and job searches. Recently I spoke to a group of unemployed job seekers, mostly 50+, as I have done many times. The focus of the presentation involved outlining the actions needed to conduct a successful job search in 2015. I made no mention of age.
Many questions followed. The first was: “Ageism. What about that?” I sighed and smiled, thought for a moment, and then responded definitively, “Yes.“ The group chuckled. It’s uncanny how often this is the first question, no matter how I try to focus on personal empowerment.
The truth is: yes, there is ageism, and too much of it. According to AARP, approximately two-thirds of workers age 45-74 have seen age discrimination in the workplace, and out of those, 92% say it is very or somewhat common. Ageism is the hardest “ism” to prove, far more difficult than the race, gender, religious, or nationality “isms,” difficult to prove in hiring as well as termination.
Our seriously lopsided, youth-worshiping culture adds fuel to this fire, combined with the fact that 65% of Baby Boomers plan to work past age 65 or do not plan to retire at all (according to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies 15th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey). Not everyone is happy about this.
Like every other “-ism,” ageism is difficult to undo when we began getting negative messages about aging as children. Eventually, we all get older (as nature intends!) and suddenly think, “Uh oh.” We’ve internalized ageism. Now we need a more balanced point of view.
The question for a 50+ jobseeker is, how do you feel about your age? The first and most important step to keep age from being a problem in your job search is to keep age from being a problem for you.
Vast research shows the undeniable value of older workers. Loyalty, sense of responsibility, dependability, integrity, dedicated work ethic, and skilled relationship management are just some of the measures in which we excel.
Embrace the skills, strength, wisdom and experience you bring to the table, and apologize for nothing. Create an honest, professional online presence and update it regularly. Make sure you’re on LinkedIn, with career highlights bullet-pointed and personal recommendations provided for each position you’ve held. Pay attention to what the job requires, and be honest about your ability to deliver.
This is important. Really important.
Are there gaps in your skill set? New technology, software you need to learn? The “digitality” of our world and workforce is well-established now, and basic fluency is expected in every industry and almost every job. If your skills need updating, consult your local public library, community resources, and online learning tools like those offered by http://www.lynda.com and http://www.gcflearnfree.org. You can do this!
Is your experience relevant to the position you are seeking? If it’s experience you need to acquire, consider volunteering to gain access to potential contacts for networking purposes. If there’s an organization you’re especially interested in (particularly nonprofit), volunteering can allow you to demonstrate your passion, energy, commitment and skill in a way that may make transitioning to employee status easier.
The thing to remember is that the job market is indeed a marketplace. You must know what they are buying before you can sell yourself. And it’s easier to sell yourself with confidence and enthusiasm when you take the steps needed to keep yourself marketable.
There are no senior discounts for 50+ job seekers. Remember how capable you are. Fill in any gaps you need to, then get out there and go after something that will engage you fully, in head and heart.
If a Hiring Manager is 30 and absolutely doesn’t want to work with anyone over 35, you’re probably not going to change that. However, once you get called for an interview, it’s safe to assume you’ve been deemed competent and qualified to do the job. Now they just want to check “fit” and see how you might work with the team.
I believe this is where the rubber meets the road, and attitude is everything. How are you showing up? How do you feel about being interviewed by a 30 year old, or even a 25 year old? Do you demonstrate energy and enthusiasm about such a partnership?
If even one molecule of your face suggests you’re thinking, “I can’t believe I’m interviewing with someone young enough to be my son or daughter,” or, “Is this person old enough to have a job?” then trust me, the interview’s over. This is reverse ageism, and it’s just as rampant as the other kind.
Young professionals want and deserve to be respected just like you, so you’d best recalibrate before you even get out of your car, and breathe into an attitude of warm collaboration. They each have something to share with us, as we do, them. Remember, there are four generations working side by side in the workplace right now. This has never happened before in history. It’s an exciting opportunity for us all.
TIME TO GET WORKING
Each of us over 50 has the ability to focus on our strengths, and to overcome and push back against cultural stereotypes of aging. There are so many myths to debunk. What if instead of blaming everything on ageism, we got to work at being the most qualified job candidates possible? What if we chose to rise to the challenge, joining the ranks of thousands working to view and express aging positively?
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal cites research validating that how we feel about aging affects our health outcomes as well. So reframing our outlook will not only help us network and interview better, it will help us live longer and healthier.
And we can do it together. Remember, there are lots of us! You are not alone.