Whether you’re in the 55+ job seeker category yet or not, the job search and career resources available for that group will undoubtedly become important to you at some point. That’s especially true if the tendency of too many companies to base their hiring decisions on perceived age-related drawbacks stays as active as it has been in the past.
Job Search Challenges for 55+ Job Seekers
According to Experience Works (formerly Green Thumb), “Finding a new job is never easy. For the growing number of Americans age 55 and older the road blocks to employment are many.”
To name just a few employment obstacles:
- Growing numbers of people staying in the work-force past age 65 through either economic necessity or through a desire to stay active.
- Factory, plant, and other business closures that have forced many employees into unemployment–even companies that have been in business for many years.
- Employer’s misconceptions about the ability of older workers to cope with the demands of modern business, technology changes, etc.
Resources–What’s Being Done for 55+ Workers?
Experience Works places a high priority on helping older workers improve their employability by increasing or broadening their skills. As their brochure indicates, they provide support through “training, community service, and employment.” The brochure also makes an excellent point about the trend toward more and more older workers throughout the United States, with 1 in 4 being age 55 or older by 2020–that’s just 5 years away, folks! Also, women and other groups, such as veterans, will make up a growing portion of those older workers.
Experience Works also mentions that a key piece of their activities involves the U.S. Department of Labor effort called “Senior Community Service Employment Program,” which began as part of the War on Poverty aimed at getting older people back in the active work-force. So what other resources might exist that could benefit 55+ workers with their job search?
AARP: This organization used to be called the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons, but today it serves a much broader population than that, including job seekers who are in their late 40s and early 50s and might be several years (a decade or more) away from retirement.
AARP’s resources include:
- The Work channel
- The National Employer Team
- The Water Cooler (online community group)
- Employment assistance through the AARP Foundation’s WorkSearch Assessment System and the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP)
The AARP website includes a list of more than 15 online job search and career resources for 55+ workers. You don’t have to limit yourselves to just Experience Works or to AARP itself. Take some time to explore those sites and see what you can come up with that might help you (or someone you know) who’s facing the 55+ job-seeking challenge and put you back in the “game.”
If you’re currently working and feel reasonably secure in your present situation, count your blessings! (And don’t get too complacent–keep this information handy for future reference.)
Or should that be “Learner-Leader”? Anyway, the question basically is, as a leader, are you pretty much always learning or have you decided that you already know what you need to know to get your job done?
I just had a client describe herself as a lifelong learner–and this isn’t the first time I’ve run across that concept. In fact, I’ve applied it to myself as well. To me, learning new things helps keep my brain energized and motivates me to stay active, not only in my professional field (resume writing and job search coaching) but on a broader and more personal scale.
What Makes the “Best” Leaders?
If you’re a leader in your company or organization, the concept of continuous learning becomes even more important, as evidenced by an article I found today (shared by a fellow LinkedIn Group member), titled “The Best Leaders Are Constant Learners,” by Kenneth Mikkelsen and Harold Jarche. It’s a thought-provoking article, and I need to read it a few more times to absorb all of it, but it definitely got my brain going.
To give one example of the core theme, the authors state: “As we attempt to transition into a networked creative economy, we need leaders who promote learning and who master fast, relevant, and autonomous learning themselves. There is no other way to address the wicked problems facing us. If work is learning and learning is the work, then leadership should be all about enabling learning.”
Why is Learning So Important for Leaders?
For one thing, learning is critical because we live in a world where change has become a constant, and many of us find ourselves overwhelmed by it. If you’re in a leadership role and can’t stay on top of change, you and the organization you lead could suffer serious consequences. As the article’s authors put it, “…leaders must scan the world for signals of change, and be able to react instantaneously.”
To put it another way, treading water won’t cut it in business today! In all probability, if your company isn’t moving (forward), it’s sinking or all too likely to sink in the not-too-distant future. As a learner-leader, you can make a significant difference in your company’s prospects by embracing continuous learning for yourself and enthusiastically promoting it throughout your organization.
Some employees might well push themselves to learn without your encouragement, but many more probably won’t–either because they lack sufficient motivation or because they don’t recognize the importance of ongoing learning. Part of your responsibility as a leader is to help your employees see that importance and open themselves up to learning opportunities. Not only that, but you need to ensure that their learning path isn’t a dead-end within the company or you could lose the newly energized employees to a competitor!
Career missteps are nothing new–you might even have made one or two yourself. However, if you made a mistake that involved ending up on the wrong side of the law, you’ve probably discovered that it can have a hugely negative impact on your employability–especially in senior-level positions and/or those involving sensitive areas of a company, such as finance.
In too many cases, you never have the opportunity to explain the situation–for example, to show what you’ve done since then to remedy your error or initiate the changes necessary to ensure never making that kind of mistake again. Employers take one look at your information and say, “Thanks, but we’ll pass.”
Recently, however, it appears that employers’ knee-jerk reaction to job seekers with a somewhat flawed past might be diminishing at least somewhat.
Screening Applicants with a Criminal Past
According to “The State of Screening” (by Lauren Dixon on Talent Management Today), the trend is changing. She cites a survey that shows “roughly 75% of employers said they provide background assessments where candidates with criminal histories are able to explain the details of their conviction…”
Among other key points shared in the article, I found these especially interesting:
- For executive-level hiring, 58% said they use the same background check as for other employees, while 39% conduct more extensive checks and 2% don’t do a check at all.
- While 90% indicated they had found information at some time that led to not hiring the individual, 44% of them disqualified less than 5% of the applicants who revealed a criminal conviction.
- If a candidate lies on the resume or job application (for instance, trying to conceal a criminal incident or claiming a degree they don’t have) and is found out before hiring, a substantial number of the employers would reject the candidate: 44% for lying on the application; 75% for lying on a resume.
What Can You Do about This Problem?
If you’re fortunate enough to be targeting one of the employers that shows some leniency or open-mindedness about past mistakes of this kind, most likely you just need to have a convincing explanation to reassure the company that you’re not a risk going forward. Even better, that you’ll be a strong asset because of the value you can bring that far outweighs your mistake.
On the other hand, if you can’t prevent rejection because you never get a chance to explain anything to offset the “bad news,” you face a much tougher challenge. One step you probably should take is to head off the situation if possible by networking your way into the company. If you can establish one or more supportive contacts within the organization, you might well be able to provide your explanation that way. Obviously, this requires establishing a positive relationship with your contact(s), so there’s a willingness to advocate for you.
If you take the right steps and take advantage of opportunities to clear the air, you might be able to change this hostile job search environment:
How do you react when someone tells you that you need to be networking to have a productive job search? Do you say, “Network? Oh, no, I can’t do that!” or just throw up your hands in horror? With all the technology-fueled job search trends around these days, you might think, “Hey, I don’t need to network. I can just put my resume online and email it to people.”
Sorry, but you can’t get out of it that easily. Technology can serve as a tool for networking, but it’s not a substitute.
How Technology Can Help You Network
In the “old days” (really old!), job seekers used to call contacts or employers and not even get a chance to leave a voice-mail message. Email as a tool basically didn’t exist (see, I told you this was the really old days). Faxing, if you had access, was one way to communicate but not exactly interactive and not very personal.
Then along came technology advances that changed the job search rules permanently. Now, if you ignore the potential uses of technology, you’re likely to find yourself outpaced by your competition. As I’ve said before, ignorance is NOT bliss.
If you need a good way to organize your existing network and maintain contact with key members (those you’re actually building relationships with), technology can certainly offer assistance. It can also make your task easier with regard to keeping track of actions you’ve taken or plan to take, the timing for those, and so on. Depending on how computer-savvy you are and what your needs are, a simple Excel spreadsheet might suffice. To get more advanced support, you could try a program like Jibber Jobber to manage multiple aspects of your job search.
The point is: You need to consider how technology can help you network…and how it can’t.
Networking Without Technology’s Help
The core of successful networking focuses on the relationship-building mentioned above. You can wiggle around that requirement all you want, but it won’t go away. You still need to form and build strong relationships if you hope to have a fully functional network. Of course, if you don’t care about that, you could skip the relationship building, but then, what’s the point of trying to have a network at all?
Networking without technology’s help doesn’t mean you never use technology. It does mean that you evaluate what you need and want to achieve with your network and identify actions that don’t rely on technology. This might include arranging in-person face time with key connections or communicating with them by phone (oh, wait, that’s using technology!)–or even employing what some people these days consider antiquated methods, such as mailing a handwritten note to a connection to express appreciation for something he/she has shared with you or done to help you.
It could also mean doing something that I just did last week: attending a professional conference in your field to connect or reconnect in person with people you know but don’t see often, as well as people you haven’t met yet. A well-planned conference should give you ample opportunity for networking in friendly circumstances–not only in conference sessions but in the hallways between sessions (in fact, some of the most effective networking happens then).
Whatever you do about networking, please don’t close the door on it before you’ve even stepped inside. If you do, you’ll lose out on possibly irreplaceable value to strengthen your job search.
Age discrimination in the workplace has long been a big concern–especially if you’re not getting any younger as time goes on, and obviously none of us is! Now, however, there seems to be a growing trend of people working longer and at least some companies being glad it’s happening. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, and it’s worth delving into.
Older Worker Discrimination Balanced by Need?
It’s possible that even companies that have been cavalier in the past about getting rid of older employees for a variety of reasons will now have to re-think their approach. I read an article in the Sept. 2015 AARP.org Bulletin, by T.R. Reid, titled “The Value of Older Workers.” Reid makes several points about the value of such workers, including a stronger work ethic and a resulting increase in productivity and economic output. However, he also says, “As the post-recession economy moves back toward full employment, many industries are finding it harder to fill jobs, particularly in skilled trades.”
And it isn’t only the skilled trades where older workers are needed or are already making a strong contribution. Professions such as nursing have been experiencing a “pinch” as trained and skilled healthcare professionals retire. Will this trend continue–possibly even increase–over the next several years? I certainly wouldn’t want to bet against it, and for many of my clients who are currently mid-to-late career, it could be just around the corner. If you’re in that situation, the trick might be to figure out just where your niche is in this new situation.
Resources for Older Workers…Or Those Who Want to Get Ahead of the Curve
Aside from commonly known resources online and offline, the AARP issue I mentioned above has a couple of online resources you might want to check out (for yourself or someone you know):
- Website to help 50+ workers stay competitive and current: aarp.org/work.
- On Sept. 22–Free virtual career fair talking about the latest job search trends: aarp.org/virtualcareerfair.
In addition, AARP has a new book coming out in November 2015 that might give you some ideas to think about. It’s definitely going on my “must have” list to buy, and I encourage you to look for Work Reimagined to see if it can help with your situation.
In the same AARP Bulletin issue, I read an article by Jo Ann Jenkins titled “Disrupting Work,” that talks about the changing face of the workplace today. Jenkins says, for example, “We’re beginning to see businesses and organizations with four generations working side by side….This requires young and old to develop a culture of learning and respect for what each brings to the work experience.”
What some people (individuals and companies) might see as a problem, Jenkins considers an opportunity to pull together the best from both older and younger workers. How you–and perhaps your company–view it is something to think about. You might not have the ability to influence your company’s actions, but you ought to be able to weigh your own and decide what actions are appropriate for you to take.
The phrase “midlife career change” is nothing new. It’s something that’s been occurring for decades, maybe even centuries. However, there are some aspects these days that might make career change–midlife or otherwise–more challenging or at least challenging in different ways than in the past.
Midlife Career Change–What’s Involved
Two broad scenarios can apply to these situations. Either you’re considering a career change voluntarily or it’s being forced on you by external circumstances beyond your control. Some considerations apply in both cases. For instance:
- When–how fast, etc.–does the change need to happen?
- What economic factors must be taken into account?
- Who do you know that might be willing and able to help in some way?
If you’re contemplating a voluntary change, you might also need to think about aspects such as the following:
- How sure am I that I need to make a change? Am I just reacting to a temporary situation out of frustration?
- If I’m sure it’s needed, how much time and effort (and maybe money) am I willing and able to invest in making it happen?
- Who else will be affected by the change and has a right to be involved in the decision one way or another?
Career Change at Any Point
Whether change is self-initiated or directed by others–and whether it happens in your 20s, 30s or later–it involves choices and decisions that aren’t always clear-cut. Some of them get tougher as you get older. For instance, you might be competing with younger job seekers who have knowledge and skills you haven’t needed to know until now. On the other hand, you might have experience that can translate really well into the new field and help you gain an edge over them. That’s something you have to determine and find ways to make your advantages work for you as strongly as possible to offset the perceived disadvantages.
When you’re younger, you might have more flexibility in making changes, because much of your potential earning time still lies ahead and changes might be somewhat easier to make than they will be later on. However, with the increasingly rapid pace of external change (particularly technology and its effect on the world of work), even younger workers could face some daunting challenges when making a career change.
Who’s In Control of Your Career Change?
Essentially, you need to assess the situation, evaluate your options, and make whatever decisions you can about how, when, and if you should proceed. If the career change is involuntary, you could also find it necessary to overcome the negative feelings you’re experiencing because of that. Trying to move forward before you deal with those feelings can be an uphill battle and take longer than if you get on top of things first. The key point is to be able to put as much thought and energy into the forward-momentum planning and execution of your career change as possible, regardless of whose idea it was.
If you’re currently working and aren’t a direct employee of a company, you would probably be part of the freelance workforce. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on several factors. Regardless, it points to a trend that has been growing over the years and could have relevance for you in the future.
Is Freelancing the “New Normal” Employment?
According to a study quoted by Recruiting Trends, freelancing is the new normal, with 53+ million Americans doing it. The rosy picture painted by the heads of Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk suggests that this is a strong and positive trend. For example, the CEO of Elance-oDesk says that “the connected era we live in is liberating our workforce. The barriers to being a freelance professional…are going away.”
The Downside of Freelance Work
As you can probably imagine, all is not necessarily rosy about this situation. The article references the opposing view that the surge in freelancers and consultants stems from “recent tough economic times when full-time jobs were scarce.”
If you’re one of those who turned to freelancing/consulting after being laid off, for instance, you might not find this reported trend to be a positive factor–especially if you’ve been trying to reenter the full-time workforce as a direct employee. For one thing, freelancers generally don’t have access to the side benefits of direct employment–things like paid sick leave and vacation time, medical coverage, and the like.
Perceived Positives of the Freelance Trend
In the Recruiting Trends article, several facts are quoted as evidence of positive growth in freelance work. Briefly, these are:
- Increased demand for freelancers: 32% increase versus 15% decrease.
- Use of technology to find work: 69% are finding technology helpful; 42% have done freelancing via the Internet.
- Improved reputation: 65% indicated that the choice of freelancing for a career path is regarded with more respect than it was 3 years ago.
- Growth potential: 38% expect their hours to increase in the coming year versus 12% that expect a decrease.
If you have been or are considering being part of the freelance workforce vs. a direct employee, the above information might give you something to think about. Of course, if you’re looking at the situation as a “no other choice” scenario, your attitude about it is probably less positive than it would be if done voluntarily.
What to Keep in Mind about Freelancing
Regardless of your reasons for being a freelancer/consultant, it’s important to keep in mind that your future prospects could depend heavily on the value you contribute in each situation going forward. Value is still a kingpin in the minds of potential employers–that is, what can you do for them that would enable them to be more competitive, profitable, etc.?
Ideally, every assignment or project you land should enable you to make–and document–a clear contribution to the success of the organization you’ve done the work for. Progress from one assignment to the next over time could also play a significant role in how your freelancing is viewed by prospective employers. Simply treading water won’t impress them.