I’m closer to 60 now than I am to 50, and I started a new job recently -very recently- one that uses my skills, taps into what I’m passionate about, and provides ample learning opportunity. I feel like I made the right move, but I had to go through a pretty significant learning curve and a lot of disappointment and frustration to get here.
While searching, I learned there are a lot of instances involving age discrimination, intentional or not. This article is not actually about any of that. The issues exist. We know that. This piece is about older job seekers making the most of what we have, you know, like we’re always telling our kids to do.
While job searching, I spoke with a lot of people about the process, the obstacles, the myths, the should dos and the must nots. And I learned plenty. Perhaps the most important lesson for me was the need to use what you’ve got. If you’re looking for specific information on putting together your resume and cover letter, how to dress for an interview, how to set up your LinkedIn profile, what you should and should not post on Facebook, this is not the article for you. If you’re needing guidance on those aspects of the job search, let me know and I’ll send you some links. But if you’re looking for insight on what gives you an edge and on what makes you as an older job seeker not only valuable but even more valuable, then this is the place for you.
Use what you’ve got
Use what you can only acquire through time: Connections – Experience – Resiliency. These are what you bring to any job, regardless of what that position might be. And when you’re up against great applicants half your age with degrees piled one on top of the other, you’ve still got connections, experience and resiliency, stuff those kids don’t even know exists.
Use your connections
First of all, spend some time figuring out what you want. If you know what you’re looking for, it makes the conversations with your personal connections a whole lot easier and more productive. This can be a difficult thing to pinpoint, but don’t feel badly if your having trouble figuring out what you want to be. Read. Volunteer. Talk to people and find out where your passion lies right now. It may be completely different from a past life. It may be something you’ve been working on as a hobby for years or something you’ve gained experience in by volunteering over the years. Laurie Dickson, 57 and an administrator in a Northern Virginia Nursing program, spent about a year looking for a job. “Trying to figure where I fit at this stage and what I wanted to do was a challenge…What works is having a plan B and knowing I don’t have to stay in a crappy or stressful job if it is not making me happy.” Be open to possibilities. Just as I’ve been telling my kids for years, nothing is permanent, and you’ll never know whether or not you like something until you try it.
Personally, I worked a retail gig while I was looking for a more permanent job. This made the search a little less pressing, kept me on a schedule, and provided me daily opportunities to connect and try new things. It also helped just a little bit with maintaining some source of income.
We’ve all got connections. It might not seem like you have anyone in your circle to help with the job hunt, but you might well be surprised by whom you already know. Look through your Facebook friends and their spouses. If you haven’t already, get started on creating a LinkedIn profile, and then make connections, paying attention to all of those connection recommendations you’ll start receiving. That wider circle is where you might just find your next position, or at least a chance at an interview. As parents, many of us know a lot of people through our kids’ activities. David Silberman, retired now at 69, says, “Make a list of EVERYONE you know and go and meet with these people to discuss what you are looking for. Ask for 10-15 minutes of their time.” We all need help at some point in our journey. Be honest with people. Let them know what you’re looking for and make the ask. Everyone likes to think they have value and have something to offer. Asking for someone’s help or advice is a compliment!
Now is the time to take advantage of some of those casual relationships you’ve developed. LinkedIn members know what the platform is used for. If someone you know is on there, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Align your experience with your interests
Whether you’re 50 or 80, you’ve got some experience. You may not realize it. You may not recognize it. You may not have enjoyed getting it! But you’ve got it. Once you know what it is you are looking for, look for connections whose interests align with yours. And don’t be afraid to highlight those volunteer positions you held for all those years. Feature them in your cover letter, and connect them to what the position is looking for. Volunteer coordinating for a national non-profit is no different from volunteer coordinating for your kid’s elementary school. Keeping a family schedule for 15 years and making sure your kids are fed, clothed and reasonably clean for a couple of decades makes handling an executive calendar child’s play. You might have to do some convincing, but give yourself credit for the work you’ve done. Draw the comparisons for the hiring managers, do the work, and sell what you’ve got.
Stress your resiliency
Life makes us resilient. Experience requires resilience. Parenting is all about resilience. And the number one thing employers are looking for? Resilience. Stress it. Show it. Prove it. Resiliency is about picking yourself up and making things work with what you’ve got. By the time you’ve reached 50, unless you’ve been weirdly coddled your entire life, you’ve developed resiliency skills. In a company with lots of young people, the resiliency of an older worker brings balance, calm, and thoughtful movement forward, all necessary to succeed in any field.
And if you’re a hiring manager reading this, here’s Laurie Dickson again: “We’re hiring for a faculty position and a fabulous resume came in, tons of experience, but it dated back to the 70s. I thought, ‘How old is she and how long would she stay,’ which is stupid. There is no certainty that a younger one would stay. Plus, my resume went back almost as far.” Sometimes, we need to remind the younger generation of our own unique attributes. Job seekers over 50 come from a generation more accustomed to long-term commitment, in large part because we weren’t raised in the gig economy. We’ve got amazing skills, but we’ve got to work hard to let potential employers know that.
I’m the mom to three young people and they have a lot to offer in terms of enthusiasm, skills and energy. Tempered with the skills, resiliency and experience of my own generation, the resulting team is phenomenal, and this balance is what we have to offer.
Disclaimer: Age discrimination is illegal, though not as much as I thought. There are plenty of workarounds for employers to hire or not hire based on age. I haven’t attempted to go into any of the legal issues in this article. For more information about your rights as a job seeker, visit