Ask Stacy — How Do I Find Work When I’m Over 50?

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older worker
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Finding a job is never easy, but for some people, the older they get the harder it becomes.

Here’s this week’s reader question:

How about advice for us older workers who can’t find a job because of age? Those of us who are in late 50s and 60s who have been downsized or lost our jobs through no fault of our own. It’s like a game. You can’t hide your age on your application or resume.

We just want to work and contribute to ourselves and a cause. I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes and been to job fairs and job-finding seminars and so have many others, but we are just not considered. Maybe you can do an article on this.
Thanks. — David

You can feel David’s frustration.

Well, David, from one older guy to another (I’m 61), I’ll try to help.

Let’s start with this news story video I did a couple of years ago. Like me, it’s old, but also like me, it still works:

Forcing your way back into the labor force

For older workers, things aren’t as bad as they used to be.

According to a February 2017 AARP Public Policy Institute fact sheet concerning workers 55 and older:

  • The unemployment rate for the workforce age 55 and older was 3.4 percent.
  • An estimated 1.3 million people age 55 and older were unemployed. (This number includes only those people actively seeking employment.)
  • The average duration of unemployment for older job seekers was about 36 weeks.

While these numbers may not look all that encouraging, relatively speaking, they are. When we covered this topic five years ago, the unemployment rate for older workers was close to 6 percent, 1.9 million workers 55 and older were unemployed, and the duration of unemployment was 56 weeks, more than a year.

Of course, this positive trend does little to help someone like David, so here’s some advice that might.

Play your age up, not down

As David points out, there’s no hiding your age in an interview, so make it an asset. Instead of focusing on the number, highlight what comes with it: your experience and reliability. Career counselor Vernon Bailey, interviewed in the video above, added, “Younger people might not have that experience, and you’re demonstrating you can do it, because you’ve already done it.”

Imagine being an employer and finding someone with the energy, flexibility and modern knowledge of youth, but with the vast experience of an older worker. There’s nothing stopping you from becoming that person. It’s a lot easier for us to develop the attitude of youth than it is for them to earn our experience.

Learn tech

If anyone thinks you’re “behind the times” or “out of touch,” prove them wrong. If octogenarian media mogul @RupertMurdoch can learn to use Twitter, so can you.

Behind on industry-specific skills and software? Brush up with some courses or teach yourself. AARP has lots of resources that can help. And don’t forget to use the resources your tax dollars are paying for at your state’s career center. That’s where we found Vernon Bailey.

Settle for less, at first

Go easy on salary negotiations and aim for performance-based bonuses rather than a higher base pay. Bailey said, “Consider what they’re offering with the caveat to renegotiate after six months,” once you’ve proved you deserve more.

Focus on getting your foot in the door. If you sense that the employer is wavering because of money, explain you’re flexible and just want to prove yourself — and that they’ll spend less time and money training you than someone younger.

If you’re looking to change fields, you might even consider an internship. They’re not just for college kids anymore.

Prove you’re a good fit

Any decent job candidate has to show they can adapt to the culture and be a team player. For older workers, this might mean persuading a younger boss you’re not out for his job.

Ever worked for a startup or some other company with a younger culture? Mentioning that might help. If not, make it clear in the interview you’re not there to challenge authority, and don’t imply that you can teach junior a lot of life lessons.

Update and trim your resume

Here’s AARP’s resume advice, which includes some samples in different styles. But however you choose to organize your work history, don’t include it all, only go back 10 to 15 years.

No matter how much experience you have, employers probably won’t skim through more than two pages. The exception is if they specifically ask for a full rundown, such as in academia, where you probably need a curriculum vitae.

Also, be careful with your language. Some terms and phrases that were common and accepted the last time you had to look for work may have become cliches. Try looking at the resume of a younger professional (but not a new college grad’s, because they’re terrible) for guidance.

In short, think young, act mature. Most of the qualities that may make you seem vulnerable can actually give you the edge when presented properly. And, of course, some job advice is useful no matter what your age: Check out “Job Interviewing: 8 Things to Do and 8 Things to Avoid” and “5 Tips for Writing a Terrific Cover Letter” for more.

Don’t forget the unconventional

There are so many new ways to make money these days, it’s hard to count them all. If you can’t make money the old-fashioned way by filling out applications and working for someone else, maybe it’s time to try working for yourself. A few ideas:

  • Retail arbitrage: This is simply buying something from one place and selling it at another. As with many new ways to make money, it’s all about the internet. Check out “The Secrets of Buying and Selling for Profit.”
  • Teaching: You’ve been around the block a time or two, so by definition you’ve learned something that may have value to others. Services like Udemy allow you to earn money by instructing via webcam. What will you teach? Literally anything from accounting to baking to woodworking.
  • Consulting: Whether it’s washing cars or programming computers, when you’ve done something for a long time, you know things others don’t. You can sell that knowledge and experience by being a consultant. Use the internet to research the competition, then reach out to your contacts and network your way into some gigs. Sites like LinkedIn can also help you connect with prospects.
  • Work at home: Check out “10 High-Paying Part-Time Telecommuting Jobs,” “Top 25 Companies for Work-From-Home Jobs” or any number of other articles.
  • Other ideas: This website is full of ideas to make money; everything from making a few bucks on the side to launching a new career. Check out our “Make” section for dozens of ideas.

Bottom line? One of the reasons it’s hard for older workers to get a job is because the world has changed. So change with it.

I’ve made my primary living in television news for more than 25 years. During the Great Recession, my income began to drop radically, and I knew it wasn’t coming back. After floundering a bit, I saw what was right in front of me and started placing more emphasis on the web. The transition was painful — I lived primarily off my savings for a year or two — and it’s still ongoing. But today, while I still do TV, the web brings me 60 percent of my income.

If I can reinvent myself, so can David. And so can you.

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The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. In other words, don’t ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you. And if I don’t get to your question, promise not to hate me. I do my best, but I get a lot more questions than I have time to answer.

About me

I founded Money Talks News in 1991. I’m a CPA, and have also earned licenses in stocks, commodities, options principal, mutual funds, life insurance, securities supervisor and real estate.

Got more money questions? Browse lots more Ask Stacy answers here.

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