Overcoming Job-Search Obstacles and Redefining Your Career After 50
About a month ago, I wrote answers to a newspaper reporter’s request for a written interview for The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Excerpts from that interview were just published in the PD this week in two articles titled “Overcoming Job Search Obstacles for Older Workers” and “Redefining Your Career After 50.” The following is the complete and unedited transcript of the original interview.
1) What are some of the biggest obstacles for finding a job after age 50?
Obviously, the practice of age discrimination in the job market is quite pervasive. The vast majority of “older” workers have experienced it on some level or another. It’s difficult to come up with hard data, since most companies would never truthfully cooperate with any official study … but we all intuitively know that it’s true – age bias is simply a fact of life in our society. That basic truth really hasn’t changed very much over the last century – most modern societies favor youth over age. What has changed is the advancing age of the “Baby Boomer” generation. In today’s candidate-flooded market resulting from the economic downturn that began in 2008, there are a growing number of older workers who are competing for the same jobs as younger candidates who were caught up in the same mass layoffs as everyone else. Add to that the fact that everyone’s investments and retirement funds shrunk drastically during the last couple of years. As a result, Boomers are now finding that they need to keep working well past the age that they originally thought they’d retire. At the very same time, cost-conscious companies are still nervous about adding headcount in today’s slow climb back to economic recovery. When companies do hire new staff now, many try to save money by hiring younger, less experienced people who require lower salaries. It’s really not hard to see how all those factors combine to perpetuate the practice of Age Discrimination.
2) What advice do you have for people over 50 who are considering a career change?
I’ve seen this scenario often in my many years of experience as a recruiter. People who have gone back to school for a new degree, or simply made the decision to begin pursuing a new vocation late in life … one in which they have no prior experience. Someone wants to try sales (but has never done it before) … or people who get technical training or certifications in some IT niche that they’ve never had actual job experience with … or people who want to switch industries, thinking that their “transferable skills” will qualify them for jobs they’ve never done before. In most cases, they face an extreme uphill battle finding a job in today’s employment market. Right now the competition for every job opening is fierce, and the market is overloaded with masses of unemployed or underemployed candidates – many of whom have years of practical and very specific job experience under their belts.
So what’s my advice? It’s not really too different from the advice I’ve given to other job-seekers who already have the experience that career-changers do not. Present yourself – in both your resume and online profiles – in such a way that you feature any and all experiences you’ve actually had in your target career – even if they are not actual jobs. And if you don’t have any experience to speak of … go get it! The most obvious starting points are Internships & Co-ops, and Volunteer Opportunities. Both can often get your “foot in the door” with a company that might potentially hire you in the future. Showing people what you can do, how well you can do it, and demonstrating your exceptional work ethic – even if it’s not in a paid position – can bring you to the attention of professionals who notice such things, and reward them when opportunities open up.
3) What advantages do those over age 50 bring to the workplace?
Experience, maturity, a strong work ethic, expertise, unique skills, reliability, and wisdom. Older workers tend to be smart and reliable professionals who get the job done with minimal ramp up time.
4) Share any statistics on people changing careers after retirement.
In 2011, the oldest of the Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) will be turning 65. We are now seeing the beginning of a mass retirement movement unprecedented in American history – a radical demographic shift in the makeup of our work force. By 2015, one in five workers will be age 55 or over. All told, there are about 76 million people in that Boomer generation who will, over the next couple of decades, drop out of the work force. Sure, the current economic downturn is causing many Boomers to delay their retirement … but sooner or later they’ll all reach a point where full-time work is no longer an option. By contrast, there are only about 51 million “Generation X’ers” (people born between 1965 and 1976) who could potentially step into all those jobs that the Boomers are retiring from. That leaves a huge talent deficit: at least 25 million fewer potential workers!!! The next group in line – the so-called “Millennials” or “Generation Y’ers” (people born between 1977 and 1998) – number around 75 million … but they are simply too young and inexperienced to step into the senior leadership roles that the Boomers are vacating.
5) What type of careers are displaced mature workers choosing if they can’t find traditional employment?
These days, more and more mature job-seekers are turning to starting their own businesses. There’s even a media-coined term for this phenomenon: “Entrepreneur by Necessity.” I advise people to list such ventures on their resumes as their current occupation. Whether or not someone has actually earned any income from their company or had any actual success in their venture, listing a self-owned company on a resume is much better than having a large gap of current unemployment without any explanation. And, of course, it’s the perfect answer to that question: “So, what have you been doing since you left your last job?”
6) Anything else you’d like to add on the topic?
I recently assumed the role of Director of Talent Solutions at a relatively new company called Patina Solutions (www.patinasolutions.com). Patina is a Professional Services firm that is poised to take advantage of the growing talent deficit with a rather unique approach. Patina deploys a Portfolio of Talent made up of professionals generally over the age of 50 and with 25 or more years of work experience who have transitioned out of their traditional careers but still desire to make a difference and positively impact their respective industries. They are placed in consulting-contract assignments at client companies in a variety of industries. It’s an idea whose time has come … sending Baby Boomers into companies who need senior level talent for things like interim C-Level executive positions, critical management assessments, knowledge transfer, staff training, and high-level project-based work loads. They are the kinds of positions that younger, less experienced people simply cannot do! Founded at the end of 2008, Patina has four offices – Milwaukee, Chicago, Cleveland and Boston. The company’s aggressive business plan calls for as many as 25 Patina offices to open in different markets by 2013.
It seems clear that those companies who have resisted hiring older workers will be in huge trouble and have critical talent shortages when their own upper managers and executives retire over the next few years. And a company like Patina, which is ahead of the curve in recognizing the tremendous value of the shrinking but still highly employable Boomer workers, will be in the driver’s seat for the decades still ahead of us. It’ll be Baby Boomers to the Rescue!