Whether you’ve lost your job after years of loyal service, see the writing on the wall at your struggling company or are looking to make a move to improve your situation, you’ll face an increasingly uphill battle for secure and satisfying employment once you’re in your 50s.
Kurt Brown (not his real name) had risen to the top of his field, making a six-figure salary as a well-known industry player. He decided to make an intrastate move closer to his and his wife’s family hometown, taking another lucrative position in sales and marketing. He thought all was well with the world until management made a move to cut its highest-paid staff members. The middle-aged Brown was blindsided.
“I was woefully unprepared to be out of a job,” says Brown, who had not needed to conduct a job search for more than a decade. He had no idea the roller-coaster ride that would last for the next several years. Taking part-time jobs and settling for work that paid half was he was previously making, he struggled to market himself to the right people.
"Looking for a job is a full-time job,” says Brown. “But when you're working eight hours a day and you get home and get on the computer and see if anybody responded and see that there's another job you can apply for and you put together all the stuff and then you make sure it's spell checked and you fill in every column and required field on the job application and then you hit send and you hope to hear something…it's a long tedious process.”
Brown eventually took a mid-level job at a large retail store, managing two departments, impressing his supervisors enough that he was given five more departments to manage, with no extra pay.
A lack of technology skills hurt Brown during his search, he admitted. He had previously had been able to get by using whatever software program his employer had used. With today’s explosion of tablets, smart phones and social media, Brown, like many older workers, had difficulty matching up against twenty- and even thirty-somethings.
After eight years of struggling through part-time and mid-level positions, Brown finally landed an executive position in sales and marketing that allowed him to help a large nonprofit, using his decades of executive-level skills.
“I have to be honest with you, I thought for sure I was done. I hit the point where I had pretty much given up. I thought [my retail job] was going to be it for me because suddenly I was in my 50s and companies were going to take one look at my gray hair and that's it. I would see jobs that paid half of what I used to make, think I could do them with my eyes closed and then didn’t even get calls back. I’d sent out 100 resumes and get one or two responses and goet one interview out of that. I will never again be in that position where I'm totally blindsided and have no idea how to go about a job search,” he says.
Brown is more positive for older workers now, pointing out that more employers are beginning to understand the financial and institutional value of employee retention, which is higher among older workers, and more broad-based work experience. “There are jobs out there and there are employers out there who have done their research and understand that older workers have some semblance of loyalty, they'll appreciate the fact that they were given the chance and they will stick with the company,” he says. “Knowledge of technology is helpful, but there are employers out there that are looking for workers who can do a variety of things beyond that.”
Taking the time to create a comprehensive career and skill-set evaluation will make your task much easier and help you spend the latter half of your in an enjoyable, stable environment.
Do a financial analysis: Before you begin looking for a new job, evaluate your financial position. Not only will you need to earn enough to pay your bills, but you might also need extra funds to decrease credit card debt and fund your retirement. A meeting with a financial adviser qualified to do comprehensive financial planning will help you determine your earning, savings, retirement and insurance needs. This will help you determine the minimum salary and benefits you can accept from any job you’re considering.
Evaluate your skills: That 25-year-old college degree might have been the cat’s meow when you graduated, but it won’t impress today’s employers unless it’s from a big-name school. Even then, you’ll need to show you’ve maintained your skills and improved the abilities you can bring to a company. List the jobs you want, then visit job boards to look for patterns companies want in these candidates. Even if you’ve been in the same profession for many years, today’s employers might want specific skills such as knowledge of a particular software program or social media savvy. Don’t wait until you’re out of work to improve your skills. Take night-school classes at your local community college, attend weekend training workshops or seminars and earn a certification to improve your employability.
Get in the right mindset: A mid-career job search can be the toughest project you’ve ever taken on. “You need to accept that finding a job will be the hardest job you've ever had,” said Claire Turner, senior employment program director of The Senior Source, a Dallas-based nonprofit agency that provides career consulting for older workers. “You need to let go of what’s worked in the past, realizing that you need to update not just your job skills, but also your job search skills.” Turner recommends working on interviewing skills, improving your resume and building your network.
Older workers must also consider their competition for jobs and potential co-workers when interviewing. “It’s important that job seekers over the age of 50 present themselves as though they are a member of the current working generation and are in a position to relate well to other age groups,” said Tim Driver, founder of RetirementJobs.com, the largest career website for people over 50. “You need to present yourself as more easy to integrate into a team that might be comprised of different ages and be ready to take direction from someone quite a bit younger.”
Update and improve your network: Many of the best jobs are never advertised. Build your professional network and strengthen relationships with your current peers. Join a professional association and serve on a committee or write articles for its newsletter. Attend networking events and arrange for informational interviews. Update your resume and create several versions based on the jobs that interest you. Send it to friends for feedback.
Turner also recommends taking advantage of the free and low-cost job counseling services available to older job seekers. “Don’t go it alone. There is low-cost and free help available to get you on the right track,” she said. When looking for assistance, watch out for job counseling services that charge thousands of dollars to “improve” your resume and mass mail it to a generic mailing list, she warns.