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.

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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!

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February 18, 2011 at 12:01 am 6 comments

Contract / Consulting Jobs Explained … Available in Three Different Flavors

In today’s ultra-challenging job market, there are many opportunities out there for so-called “contract” or “consulting” jobs. Historically in the staffing business, it’s a well known pattern that when the economy is down, companies tend to rely more on contract resources to get work done rather than hiring permanent employees. When the economy is up, the reverse is true and permanent jobs tend to outweigh contract opportunities. It’s a very cyclical and predictable shift in how companies approach hiring.

I think it’s safe to say that most job-seekers — especially those who recently lost their permanent positions as a result of the economic downturn over the last few years — are hoping to find another full-time, permanent job. They might be reluctant to accept a contract position for fear of being unavailable if a permanent position suddenly presents itself elsewhere. On the other hand, working is better than not working, right? And very often a person will start out as a contract employee and end up being hired by that same company on a permanent basis because they performed so well. Still other job-seekers actually prefer the world of contracting, and only pursue those sorts of temporary positions. Such professional contract/consultants usually have a very specialized skill-set that is in high demand, and can actually make more money contracting than they could as a permanent employee. Those contract/consultants also often move around a lot, accepting contract positions in different locations for varying lengths of time. In other cases, there are many senior-level semi-retired professionals who no longer wish to return to the grind of a permanent position, but are still interested in remaining active in their field by taking on interim contract assignments.

By the way … for those who are collecting unemployment compensation, it’s worth noting here that accepting any type of employment, contract or otherwise, will certainly affect one’s eligibility to continue collecting unemployment benefits. If the amount you earn on a weekly basis is less than your unemployment benefit amount, then your benefits will likely be reduced to reflect the difference. If you earn more than your benefit amount, then your unemployment payments will stop while you are working. If that happens, and then the contract assignment ends (through no fault of your own) then theoretically you can simply resume your unemployment benefit payments, which should be extended past where they might have ended before … you should still get the full amount you were originally allocated. However, in such a case you will most likely have to re-apply to get your benefits re-instated. And here’s my disclaimer — there is no guarantee that your re-application will be approved. For better information about his issue, I would advise you to contact your local Unemployment Office and discuss the particulars of your situation with a representative there. Here’s a website with links to unemployment information in all 50 U.S. states: “Unemployment Information.”

Among many job-seekers, there is a lot of confusion about contract jobs. I’ve gotten many questions about contract positions that indicate how confusing it can be: What exactly is a contract job? How is that different from a “consulting” job? What’s the difference between a “1099” and a “W-2” contract job? Is a contract the same as a “part-time” job? Is “full-time” the same as a “permanent” job? Can a contract job be “full-time?” Can a “permanent” job be “part-time?” Who invented Liquid Soap, and why? (OK, I just threw in that last one to see if you were paying attention.)

SO, let’s start with some basic definitions:

GLOSSARY:
Contract Job: A temporary position with a company. Usually, but not always, has NO benefits included (unless they are available through a 3rd party staffing firm.)
Consulting Job: A fancier name for a contract job. Could be a higher, more senior-level position.
Temp Job: Yet another name for a contract job – usually referring to lower-level administrative positions (secretaries, data entry, bookkeepers, etc.)
Permanent Job: The traditional employee situation with a company. Usually (but not always) includes benefits.
Full-Time Job: 40 hours per week. (“Full-Time” could refer to either a contract or a permanent job.)
Part-Time Job: Less than 40 hours per week. (“Part-Time” could refer to either a contract or a permanent job.)
1099 vs. W-2: A “1099” employee is a self-employed “independent contractor.” Independent contractors bill their clients for their time – usually by using a purchase order – based either on an hourly rate or a flat fee for services rendered. Either way, no deductions are withheld from their payments, and they are responsible for paying all their own taxes (using IRS Form 1099 … hence the name.) On the other hand, a W-2 employee gets paychecks from the company they are employed by, based on the hours they work, at an agreed upon hourly rate. Those paychecks will already have all the standard deductions taken out for them by their employer (federal, state and local taxes, social security, medicare, etc.) Also, 1099 contractors must pay self-employment tax, while W-2 employees do not. In addition, independent contractors are often required by their clients to carry their own liability and other types of insurance.
At-Will Employee: In the United States¹, most “permanent employees” in today’s work world are hired “at will” – a legal term which means that they can quit anytime for any reason (or no reason at all) without giving advanced notice. Of course, the reverse is also true: they can be fired at any time for any reason (or no reason at all) without advanced notice. This really blows the old concept of “job security” eh?! It also tends to blur the line between a contract and so-called “permanent” job.

For the most part, contract jobs are either directly with a client company that has the need, or through a 3rd-party staffing firm that engages with the client company and provides consultants to them as needed. In such a case, the contractor usually becomes an employee of the staffing firm for the duration of the contract assignment. That firm then pays the person an hourly rate for the work they do at their client’s company, and then bills their client for that person’s time — after, of course, adding a significant markup. (Everyone’s got to make a living, right?)

The Pros and Cons of Contract Jobs:
When presented with the prospect of a contract job, it’s fairly easy for job-seekers to evaluate the overall pros and cons of such a position. Of course, each situation is different — but the following things are mostly true for all contract jobs.

Pros:
1) Income. Money coming in is always good, right? Bills get paid!
2) It looks good on a résumé. Contract jobs – even short-term ones – look way better on a résumé than a gap in employment … especially if it’s work within your industry niche.
3) It keeps you current and up-to-date in your field.
4) A contract job gets your foot in the door of a company that could potentially hire you on a permanent basis.

Cons:
1) By definition, it’s a temporary position. When the contract ends (and they almost always do at some point) you will most likely be unemployed again. Future unemployment benefits could possibly be affected.
2) Generally, contract jobs do not include benefits (health insurance, retirement plans, etc.) unless they are available through a 3rd party staffing firm.
3) Contract employees often feel like outsiders at their companies. They don’t have the same feeling of “ownership” of their work that permanent employees usually have, nor do they enjoy the same feeling of camaraderie with their co-workers that permanent employees usually feel.

The 3 Different Flavors of Contract Jobs:
Whether a contractor is a 1099 or a W-2, working directly for a client or through a staffing firm, full-time or part-time … contract assignments generally fall into 3 categories or “flavors.” This is something that often confuses job-seekers (and recruiters!) when they hear about a contracting opportunity. I’ve even heard from some job-seekers that the recruiters they spoke with don’t seem entirely sure which flavor of contract opportunity they are working on. Clarifying which of these 3 flavors someone is looking at is critical in evaluating such an opportunity, and deciding if it’s worth pursing.

1) Limited Duration Contract:
This is when the contract has a pre-defined beginning and end date. The duration could be any length … from a few days to a few weeks or months. I’ve even seen contracts last up to a year or more. The main thing that defines this type of contract is that there is no plan whatsoever to bring the person on board as a permanent employee. It’s either not in the company’s budget, or for whatever reason the company does not want to add headcount to their permanent payroll. When the contract ends, the job is over.

2) Contract with the Intention to Hire:
In this scenario, the company already has an approved “req” (requisition) from their HR department to hire a new permanent employee. However, they want to start the person out as a contractor first – mostly to see how they perform and how they fit in with the company and the personnel. It’s the classic “Try-Buy” situation. They don’t want to pull the trigger and hire someone until they are absolutely sure they have the right person for the job. If it doesn’t work out, it’s a lot less complicated for the company to simply end the contract than it would be to terminate a permanent employee.

3) Contract with the Possibility to Hire:
Here, the person starts out as a limited duration contractor, just like number 1. However, in this case, the company has made it known that they are at least open to the possibility of converting the contractor into a permanent employee. The rub is that they do not actually have an approved “req” (requisition) from their HR department allowing them to hire a new person. This can be the most frustrating situation of all. This scenario suggests that if the person does a great job and proves to be a valuable asset to the company, their boss could then request permission to hire the person. But, there is certainly no guarantee that such a request would be approved … and no actual promise of permanent employment no matter how well the person performs. The decision of whether or not to hire the contractor is often dependent on factors totally out of that person’s control.

Those last two flavors are often confused with each other, and many times are both referred to by recruiters as “Contract-to-Hire” or “Temp-to-Perm” opportunities. However, as I’ve just explained, they are quite different from each other in a very fundamental way. It’s up to each job-seeker to dig in and ask the right questions when evaluating these opportunities. The most obvious question should be: “Does the company already have an approved req to go ahead and hire someone on a permanent basis if this contract works out?” If the recruiter can’t answer that question clearly, tell them to go back to their client and find out! I’m certainly not saying that you should turn down any of the 3 flavors of contract jobs defined here. However, knowing what you are getting into, and managing your own expectations is key.

¹ As many astute readers have pointed out, employment laws, the “at-will” status and requirements for giving notice may vary outside of the United States.

January 10, 2011 at 12:01 am 187 comments

Baby Boomers to the Rescue! An Idea Whose Time Has Come …

In these tough economic times, with headlines screaming about scary unemployment numbers, job losses and company belt-tightening, it’s easy to overlook some interesting trends that actually bode well for more senior job-seekers. Oh, of course it is true that there are still record numbers of unemployed workers on the market, and certainly if you, yourself, are out of work … well, it’s hard to not view things through a negative prism. However, one of the best kept secrets in today’s employment market is this simple fact: in general, there are more and more jobs going unfilled due to a growing shortage of qualified candidates!

One piece of evidence I have that illustrates the validity of this fact is that I receive a daily email from Indeed.com generated by a job agent I have set up there. It sends me any new postings for Recruiter positions in my area. The number of new recruiter jobs being listed every day is higher now than at any time in recent memory – and more and more keep appearing! To me, that means only one thing: there are a large number of open jobs out there, and businesses and staffing agencies alike are having trouble finding qualified candidates to fill those jobs! Why else would there be a need to hire recruiters? It’s not just that hiring managers are being overly picky (which they are) or that decision-makers are moving the hiring process along slower than ever (which they are.) It’s a talent shortage, plain and simple. One of the reasons behind that fact is a trend involving the aging of the Baby Boomer generation.

For many years in the staffing industry, I’ve been hearing a very interesting and often-repeated statistical analysis of the ever widening gap between the growing talent needs of modern businesses, and the shrinking pool of qualified candidates who could fill those jobs. In 2011, the oldest of the Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964)¹ started 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)¹ 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)¹ – number around 75 million … but they are simply too young and inexperienced to step into the senior leadership roles that the Boomers are vacating.

I recently assumed the role of Director of Talent Solutions at a relatively new company called Patina Solutions. Patina is a Professional Services Firm that is poised to take advantage of this 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 retired from 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! Patina is a 3-year-old start-up with four offices – Milwaukee, Chicago, Cleveland and Boston. Their aggressive business plan calls for as many as 25 Patina offices to open in different markets by 2013.

In a way, it’s quite ironic. I’ve already written several articles about how rampant the practice of Age Discrimination is in today’s employment market. [See “Age Discrimination: Secret Conversations Revealed!” or “Age Discrimination: Exposing Inconvenient Truths” or “Are You ‘Overqualified?’ Handling the Age Issue …” for more of my musings on that topic.] However, in light of these new statistical trends and shifting workforce demographics, it’s clear that those same 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!

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¹Addendum:
Many readers have commented to me about the numbers of people in each of the generations quoted in this blog posting. Different sources I’ve seen quote different numbers. Part of the problem is pinning down exactly what years define each group, and there seem to be differing definitions out there for which years constitute Generation X’ers and Y’ers. Using the birth years now shown, I believe the population numbers in this posting are as accurate as possible.

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If you are a professional over the age of 50, with 25 or more years of work experience, and you’d like to be considered for Patina Solution’s Portfolio of Talent, click on the Patina Logo below to register:

                                          
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December 2, 2010 at 12:01 am 15 comments

Advice for Recent Grads and Career-Changers

In the world of job-searching and recruiting, when you hear the words “Age Discrimination” or “Ageism,” most people think of the all-too-common practice of discriminating against older people in the job market. However, there’s another side to that practice. “Overqualified” is only one end of the spectrum, while “Underqualified” is at the other end. Recent college graduates are now facing a job market that has radically changed over the last few years of economic downturn. Finding a decent job if you’ve had little or no actual real-world experience – other than academic – is harder now than it ever was before.

Two of my kids (twins, actually) are both seniors in college right now. Both are making plans for continuing post-graduate education. Expensive as that will be, I shudder to think what their chances of finding an actual job would be if they stopped where they are and entered the market in June – one with a degree in Biology, and the other with a degree in English. Both will graduate at the top of their class, have done several practical summer internships specific to their fields, and have glowing letters of recommendation. So what types of jobs would you think they’d be qualified for? (Can you say: “Would you like fries with that?”) How much earning power would you expect those expensive Bachelor’s Degrees to give them? What advice would I give to others who are in a similar position … young people with college degrees, but almost no practical job experience?

It’s a tough question – and one that I’ve been asked many times over my years as a recruiter. It is similar to the situation faced by job-seekers who might actually be older, but for one reason or another have decided to change careers in mid-stream and start down a new path. They might have gone back to school for a new degree, or simply made the decision to begin pursuing a new vocation … one in which they have no prior experience. I see that all the time. People who want to try sales (but have 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 all those 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 those younger or career-changing people do not. Present yourself – in both your résumé and online profiles – in such a way that you feature any and all experiences you have 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.

Internships & Co-ops
Internships & Co-ops in a new field are a great way to gain practical experience in a new career. When describing an internship or co-op on a résumé or online profile, don’t just list the place and your title. Expand on your responsibilities. Feature the relevant industry-specific skills you used. Describe specific projects you worked on. List any and all accomplishments you achieved while there. Use industry buzzwords and keywords in your descriptions so that you’ll be picked up on searches done by recruiters and HR people looking for candidates … and so that you’ll match job descriptions in your target industry.

Volunteer Opportunities
Many job-seekers use volunteer work as a way of gaining experience in a new industry or job path. If you have volunteered somewhere, then list that volunteer position on your résumé. However, do NOT use the term “volunteer!” Simply list the organization and your title or role, describe your function, relevant skills used, and any accomplishments there just as you would with any of your other jobs. Let the fact that you are not being paid wait for an actual interview, where you should then disclose it. And as I said with internships & co-ops, use industry buzzwords and keywords in your descriptions of your volunteer work so that you’ll be picked up on searches done by recruiters and HR people looking for candidates … and so that you’ll match job descriptions in your target industry.

Finally – concentrate on Networking activities as your main method of job-seeking. [Read “How to Network: A Step-by-Step Guide for Job Searching” for details on how to network your way to a job.] Sending out a ton of résumés, answering online job postings or contacting recruiters would mostly be a waste of time for inexperienced job-seekers. The fact is that recruiters and HR people who screen the responses to online job postings will almost never consider an applicant with little or no experience. The only exception to that might be for a true “Entry-Level” job that clearly says “No Experience Necessary.” However, I would question the quality of that type of job situation. Yes, there are opportunities like that out there – but be careful, and do your homework on those companies and positions. As the saying goes … “buyer beware!”

November 3, 2010 at 12:01 am 3 comments

Are You “Overqualified?” Handling The Age Issue …

If you are a job-seeker who is over a certain age – sooner or later it’s not uncommon to hear that you’ve been passed over for an opportunity that you applied and/or interviewed for because you were judged to be “overqualified.” That’s such an interesting word: “overqualified.” Think about it … it means, literally, that you possess experience and qualifications that exceed the stated job requirements. So, you might ask, why should that be a bad thing? Wouldn’t any company want someone who exceeds their requirements instead of someone who does not? Well, we all know what’s really going on when someone says you are “overqualified.” It’s a euphemism for “too old” or “too expensive” or both, right?

Not long ago, I represented a very savvy 50-something year-old candidate who was invited in for a final face-to-face interview for a key position with a Fortune 500 client company I was working with. His job history and specific qualifications were an exact match for what they were looking for. He fit the requirements listed for the job to a tee. In addition, he knew the salary range they had defined for this position, and was fine with it. He had already filled out an extensive job application, taken a 2-hour online personality and skills assessment test, had a lengthy phone interview, and met in-person with two different HR people. Based on all of that, his chances seemed excellent. When he walked into the interview room, he met the actual decision-maker – the person who would be his immediate supervisor for this position. She was a very attractive, 20-something year-old woman – very sharp, with an MBA from a prominent business school, 5 years of increasing responsibilities at this company and a rising star in their corporate culture. (Now I’m imagining this next part … so please forgive me for this narrative license!) They looked at each other, and he thought: “She’s young enough to be my daughter!” And she thought: “He’s old enough to be my father!” It was reminiscent of a scene from the movie “In Good Company.” The interview continued in a very professional manner – but needless to say, he didn’t get the job and was never given any direct explanation why. When I later questioned my HR contact at the company, I heard the “O” word mentioned in passing … but not much else.

Age discrimination is a fact of life in the business world. While the definition of someone’s “prime” working ages varies from industry to industry, from company to company, and from position to position … if I had to guess based on my own experience as a recruiter, I’d say that candidates who range in age from their early 30’s to mid 40’s are probably the group who have the least trouble with age discrimination. Much younger than that, and most job-seekers would be looking mostly at low paying, “entry-level” positions (the woman in the previous example notwithstanding.) And, of course, job-seekers in their 50’s and beyond encounter the “overqualified” objection much more often.

So, what is an “older” job-seeker supposed to do? What advice or strategies can I offer to help those candidates in that more senior category? Well, first of all I suggest you read “Age Discrimination: Exposing Inconvenient Truths.” At the bottom of that article, I’ve already detailed several concrete ideas designed to help older job-seekers overcome the age discrimination issue. Those ideas included:
●   Targeting “age friendly” companies.
●   Only pursuing positions that really match your level of experience.
●   Keeping up to date on technology.
●   Maintaining your health and appearance.
●   Embracing a positive attitude.

Beyond those general ideas, I want to offer some other more specific suggestions, ideas and tips that might help older job-seekers in their pursuit of their goals. These are mostly interview strategies to consider when the “overqualified” objection seems to be coming up, either overtly or by implication:

  • During interviews, emphasize your capabilities, not your experience.
  • When interviewing with a hiring manager, try to find out what their problems, needs, and concerns are. Then, explain how you can help. Offer ideas for solutions to problems. This is known as the “consultative sales” approach. A younger person with little to no experience will be much less likely to know how to do this. [Read “Why Job Hunting is a Consultative Sales Position” for more on this concept.]
  • If you are getting asked questions during an interview that indicate the interviewer wants to know your age, respond by saying: “I think what you’re asking me is ‘How long will I be in this position?’” Then, pause and say firmly: “I’m committed to staying at your company at least five years. How many young candidates will promise you that?”
  • Don’t use phrases like: “At my age…,” “Years ago…,” “Back then…,” When I was younger…,” “It used to be that …,” We used to…,” “…up in years,” “Nowadays…,” etc. Avoid statements in résumés and cover letters like: “I have 25 years experience in …” And don’t make references to your grandchildren!
  • If someone comes right out and asks how old you are, say: “I’m only xx”. The word only is very important. Without coming out and saying it, the word implies to the other person that you think you’ve got many productive years ahead of you.
  • If a prospective employer comes right out and says: “you’re overqualified,” consider responding with a statement like: “Well, you wouldn’t feel that way about your surgeon, would you? Don’t you want a person that you’re confident can do this job without requiring a lot of training and a lot of your time?”
  • Or consider saying: “Wouldn’t you rather hire someone who exceeds your requirements instead of someone who doesn’t?”
  • You probably won’t be able to overcome the “overqualified” objection unless you understand what the employer believes is the underlying problem. You might say: “What problems do you foresee if I were overqualified?”
  • Consider saying: “When you say that I’m overqualified, does that mean you are concerned about what you might have to pay me? I would be happy to discuss compensation with you. What did you think is reasonable?” [Read “Answering the Dreaded Salary Question” for more strategies on handling this issue.]
  • Finally, as an interview closer, consider saying something like: “I understand your concerns as far as you thinking I’m ‘overqualified.’ However, I am confident that you will find me a valuable asset in this position. In addition, should you want to promote internal talent in the future, I’ll have proven myself and have the years of experience to assume more responsibilities successfully. My sole objective is to prove myself over time.”

September 20, 2010 at 12:01 am 11 comments

Comic Relief: Job-Seeking Humor – Volume 4

Now that we’re past Labor Day, and summer breaks are mostly behind us, job-seekers are probably hunkering down and trying to get back to their daily grind of hunting for employment. To ease everyone back into the work world, I figure – what better time than now for me to take yet another break from my usual “advice for job-seekers” mission, and offer up this 4th blog of pure humor?! [See “Volume 1”, “Volume 2” and Volume 3” for the last three editions of this popular side-trip!] After all … it’s always good to start off a new work week with a good laugh.

Once again, I’ll point out that I fully realize that being unemployed is generally not a laughing matter. However, much like “gallows humor,” the intention of “job-seeking humor” is quite simple: to lift the spirits of people who are in an otherwise depressing situation. I’m a firm believer that maintaining a sense of humor is a key component to positive mental health. And I’m a still a tough critic when it comes to job-seeking humor. I figure, if it makes me laugh out loud, it’s worth sharing here!

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In the category of Videos, the following clip is called “David Pedersen’s Video Resume.” Not long ago, “Video Resumes” were touted as the newest “hot technology” in recruiting – but they never really caught on in the mainstream. This clip appeared on YouTube a couple of years ago, and no one is really sure if David Pedersen is an actual person, or just an actor hired by some devious filmmakers … was this supposed to be an actual video resume by a recent grad, or simply a parody? Without going totally over the line, it’s just ridiculous enough that it inspired debate and controversy about its authenticity. Personally, I think it’s just absolutely hysterical. (My favorite moment in this video is the smarmy look he gives the camera at 0:13!) I just never get tired of watching this clip:


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In the category of Cartoons, here are some more miscellaneous funnies that I couldn’t fit into any other blog articles, but I think are hilarious nevertheless … and deserve to be shared here:

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Finally, in the category of “Letters I Wish I Could Send,” here’s a little something for any job-seeker who has ever received a standard Rejection Letter or Rejection Email from a company after you’ve applied to and/or interviewed for a job. It is a template for a tongue-in-cheek “Rejection of Your Rejection Letter.” I’m not sure where this letter originated … different variations of it have appeared on numerous websites over the years, and yet it always seems timely. Use this at your own risk:

REJECTION OF YOUR REJECTION LETTER:

To Whom It May Concern:

Thank you for your letter of [date of the rejection letter]. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me employment at this time.

This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field of candidates, it is impossible for me to accept all refusals. Despite [Name of the Company]’s outstanding qualifications and previous experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet with my needs at this time. Therefore, I will initiate employment with your firm immediately.

I look forward to working with you. Best of luck in rejecting future candidates.

Sincerely,
[Name]

September 7, 2010 at 12:01 am 4 comments

“Unemployed Need Not Apply” – Working Around This Scary Message

Lately, there’s been a very disturbing trend in the job market. More and more companies are automatically screening out job applicants who are not currently working. They are eliminating unemployed job-seekers from their candidate pools, and are choosing to only interview people who already have jobs. Recruiting firms from all over the country are reporting hearing this from their client companies with increasing and alarming frequency. Some companies are doing this behind the scenes, quietly instructing outside 3rd-party recruiters, internal corporate recruiters and HR people to focus only on currently working candidates while excluding those that are not working (without telling them, of course.) Others are brazenly advertising this preference in their job postings!  I know … it sounds outrageous – and you’d think such a thing would be illegal, right? Well, guess what – it’s not. Unlike race, religion, age, gender, etc., being unemployed is not a “protected” status subject to anti-discrimination laws. Here’s a link to a recent article from CNNMoney that made the rounds a few weeks ago, and brought this issue to light for a lot of people: “Looking for work? Unemployed need not apply.”

Below is a screenshot of an ad from Sony Ericsson for a Head of Marketing Communications and Public Relations position, taken from a video newscast from a TV station in Orlando. The ad was placed by an Orlando-based recruiting agency called “The People Place” for a job in the Atlanta area, which is where Sony was moving their headquarters. They were supposedly creating 180 new jobs at that new facility … and Sony was refusing to hire any unemployed people to fill those jobs! (The irony of this is astounding – advertising for a head of “Public Relations” with an ad that created a firestorm of BAD public relations!!!)

This practice has, for obvious reasons, angered a lot of people. In some cases it has caused a backlash against those companies. For example, in the Sony Ericsson case shown above, the local community of Buckhead, Georgia – the Atlanta suburb where Sony was building their new facility – threatened to rescind a deal they made with the company which included $4 Million in tax credits when they learned of this hiring policy. (Sony subsequently removed the ad, saying it was “a mistake.”) In other cases, when reporters called companies who posted jobs with restrictions against unemployed applicants, those companies removed the ads – obviously to avoid negative publicity … but we can only assume that their discriminatory hiring practices continued behind closed doors.

In the world of 3rd Party Recruiting, this practice isn’t really new at all. Traditional “Head Hunters” have done this for years, only going after top talent – usually people who worked for their client’s competitors – and actually recruiting them away from one company to come work for another. Head Hunters would never call someone who was unemployed. [Read “The Real Truth About Working with Recruiters” for more on how “Head Hunters” differ from other types of recruiters.]

So why are today’s companies now doing this? At a time when there are more unemployed job-seekers out there than any other time in recent history, why would any company eliminate from consideration such a huge pool of talent … potential candidates, many of whom are probably just as qualified (if not more so) as anyone who is currently working? Without trying to justify it, or in any way condone this practice – as a recruiter who has heard these preferences expressed from client companies I’ve worked with myself, I can probably shed some light on their thinking.

One reason might be expediency. Every job posting now brings in an unprecedented flood of applicants. Company recruiters and HR people are completely overwhelmed with literally hundred and hundreds of resumes for each and every job opening they advertise. By eliminating unemployed applicants, they are whittling that number down to a more reasonable group of people that they can screen and interview in a more efficient and timely manner.

Another reason is perception. It’s basic human nature to view a candidate who is still working in a better light than an unemployed job-seeker. No matter what the true facts are, there is always that irrational but nagging suspicion that someone is out of work for “performance reasons.” It’s not logical, and it’s not likely to produce a higher caliber employee … but it is the way many people think.

Companies might also rationalize that a currently working person is “the best in their field” since they managed to avoid the layoffs that so many others experienced in their industry. They may believe that those currently working “passive candidates” are more likely to be up to speed in their industry niche, and would therefore require less training than someone who has been out of work for a while … that they could more easily “hit the ground running.”

Trying to understand the reasons that companies do what they do in their hiring practices can be useful information for any job-seeker in determining how to position yourself for the best chances of success. If the name of the game is perception, then it’s up to you to create a perception that will be most likely to avoid being eliminated before you even get to the starting gate.

The Workaround:

So what is an unemployed job-seeker supposed to do with this information? How can you work around the scary message: “Unemployed Need Not Apply?”  The most obvious answer to that question is to not appear to be unemployed!!!  I’m certainly not suggesting that you should to be dishonest or lie in any way. However, there are several ways to present yourself – especially on your résumé – that will avoid the stigma that comes with being an unemployed job-seeker. My advice is to position yourself as NOT being currently unemployed – but rather to use either Volunteer Work, Consulting (Contract) Work, or Self-Employment as your current position. I’ve detailed those strategies, and described how to use them on your résumé, at the bottom of a prior blog posting: “Explaining Short Job Stints and Employment Gaps.”

Don’t give companies any reason to overlook you before they even talk with you! Use this information, and my suggested strategies, to get past the irrational screening process. Your goal should be to advance yourself to the interview stages of the hiring process where you have the opportunity to impress people with your actual talents and skills, your positive attitude and your passion for your work.

August 23, 2010 at 12:01 am 31 comments

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Michael Spiro

About the Author:

Michael Spiro has been a 3rd-Party Recruiter and Account Executive for nearly 20 years. He is currently the Director of Recruiting / NE Ohio Region for Experis Finance, a dedicated business unit of ManpowerGroup. Other recent positions include President of Midas Recruiting, a boutique head-hunting firm, Director of Talent at Patina Solutions, and Executive Recruiting positions with two of the largest search firms in North America. Before his career in the staffing industry, Michael was a manager in a large non-profit social-services organization. And in a former life, Michael was active in the entertainment industry, with extensive road-warrior experience as a touring performer (singer-songwriter / guitarist / comedian) and as a recording artist, producer and booking agent.  [More...]

Index (by Topic):

Résumés & Cover Letters:
 The "T" Cover Letter - The
         Only Type Worth Sending

 The Brutal Truth on How
         Résumés Get Eliminated

 Explaining Short Job Stints
         and Employment Gaps

 The Résumé Test &
         Checklist: Does Yours
         Pass?

 Beating the Résumé-
         Elimination Game: Where
         Do Recruiters' Eyes Go?

 The Truth About Lying on
         Résumés

 "Why Did You Leave Your
         Last Job?"

Networking:
 How to Network: A
         Step-by-Step Guide for
         Job Searching

 Looking for Networking in
         All the Wrong Places

 Targeted Networking: How
         to Effectively Reach Out

 The Art of Giving: the Key to
         Effective Networking

Interviewing:
 Face-to-Face Interviews:
         Secrets, Tricks and Tips

 Phone Interviews: Secrets,
         Tricks and Tips

 Skype Interview Tips ...
         Welcome to the Future!

 Nuggets: A Secret
         Interviewing Technique

 Answering the Dreaded
         Salary Question

 20 Surefire Ways to Blow
         an Interview

 "So, Do You Have Any
         Questions?" Nailing the
         Interview Closer

 Cool InfoGraphic: "What
         You Wish You'd Known
         Before Your Job
         Interview"

Age Discrimination:
 Age Discrimination: Secret
         Conversations Revealed

 Age Discrimination:
         Exposing Inconvenient
         Truths

 Are You "Overqualified?"
         Handling the Age Issue

 Baby Boomers to the
         Rescue! An Idea Whose
         Time Has Come ...

 Overcoming Job-Search
         Obstacles and
         Redefining Your Career
         After 50

 Advice for Recent Grads
         and Career-Changers

Switching Jobs:
 The Proper Way to
         Quit a Job

 Counteroffers: Just Say No!

General Job-Seeking Info:
 The Real Truth About
         Working with Recruiters

 Contract/Consulting Jobs
         Explained ... Available in
         3 Different Flavors

►  What Recruiters Say
         vs. What Job-Seekers
         Hear

►  The Dirty Truth About
         Misleading Unemployment
         Statistics

►  Let the Jobs Find You:
         Making Yourself More
         "Searchable"

 "Help ... I Need a Job!" A
         9-Step Guide for Newly
         Minted Job-Seekers

 Avoiding the "Black Hole
         of HR"

 Is Your Elevator Pitch
         Taking You UP
         or DOWN?

 Time Management: Recipe          for a Well-Balanced Job          Search
 Getting Un-Stuck from your
         Rut!

 The Double-Whammy of
         Rejection and Isolation

 "Unemployed Need Not
         Apply" - Working Around
         This Scary Message

 Using Social Media to
         Enhance Job-Searching

 Warning: That Rant You
         Posted Just Went Viral!

 The Golden Rule for
         Business: Never Burn
         Bridges

 The Power of a Positive
         Attitude

 Why Job Hunting is a
         Consultative Sales
         Position

 Top 10 Most Helpful Things
         for Job Seekers

 Top 10 Most Annoying
         Things for Job Seekers

 New Year's Resolutions for
         Unemployed Job-
         Seekers

Job-Seeking Humor:
 Comic Relief: Volume 1
 Comic Relief: Volume 2
 Comic Relief: Volume 3
 Comic Relief: Volume 4
 Comic Relief: Volume 5
 Comic Relief: Volume 6
 "In Transition" and Other
         Awkward Euphemisms

 Candidates Gone Wild:
         Recruiter Horror Stories

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