by Kerry Hannon, Forbes
If you’re over 55 and pounding the pavement these days, it’s not pretty.
I have several friends who fit this description. They’re frustrated, furious and frankly dumbfounded by their inability to land a job that suits their experience and desired salary.
They’re picking up part-time consulting jobs to keep afloat, zapping résumés into the black hole of online resumé bins, waiting for a response, and pulling their hair out. They have graduate degrees, and once held executive and management positions.
They know what’s up. And, no, it’s not the recession. Sound familiar?
Age discrimination is for real. It’s illegal for employers to discriminate based on age, but any older job-seeker knows it’s a fact of life.
At a November 17, 2010, meeting in Washington, DC, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, heard testimony that age discrimination is causing the nation’s older workers to have a difficult time maintaining and finding new employment, a problem exacerbated by the downturn in the economy.
The number and percentage of age discrimination charges filed with the EEOC now account for a nearly a quarter of all complaints. Last year, there were 22,778 charges filed, up from 16,548 in 2006.
Troubling, right? But hold on. The news is worse. Dr. William Spriggs, Assistant Secretary for Policy, U.S. Department of Labor, testified that the rate of unemployment for people age 55 and over has more than doubled in the last three years to reach 7.3% in August, 2010, up from 3% in November of 2007, “making the past 22 months the longest spell of high unemployment workers in this age group have experienced in 60 years.”
For older men, that figure is over 8%, according to Deborah Russell, Director of Workforce Issues in AARP’s Education and Outreach Department. And on average, workers 55+ were unemployed for 44.3 weeks in October, 2010, nearly three months longer than the average of 33.2 weeks for workers under the age of 55.
There’s no getting around it. Like it or not. Employers want to hire younger workers who will presumably work for less and with more enthusiasm. “Some employers think older workers are less productive, less healthy, and more resistant to change,” says my friend and go-to guy on these issues, Mark Miller, an expert on aging and retirement and author of The Hard Times Guide to Retirement Security (Wiley/Bloomberg). “Human resources experts and recruiters say older workers do often bring a false sense of entitlement to the workplace and resist adapting to changing business conditions.”
“The issue is not age, but personal health, energy level, and an entrepreneurial spirit,” says Betsy Werley, executive director of The Transition Network, a nonprofit networking group for women over 50. You need to be willing to prove that you still have what it takes.
Here are five strategies that can help you fight back:
- Ask for help. In the private sector, many U.S. corporations, small and large, are beginning to provide career coaches and counseling on a limited basis to help employees who have retired or lost their jobs. Increasingly, firms will put you in contact with career centers operated by area colleges or local government agencies offering workshops on résumé writing, career counseling, job fairs, and retraining programs.
- Market your age as a plus. Workers over fifty tend to be self-starters, know how to get the job done, and don’t need as much handholding as those with less experience. A great benefit to being older is that you have a good deal of knowledge. And whether you realize it or not, you have a network. You have a lot more resources to draw on than people in their twenties and thirties.
- Get over yourself. It’s about the company’s needs, not yours. Don’t go on and on about yourself in job interviews with lengthy resumé regurgitation. Approach the interview like a highly-paid consultant. Look for ways your expertise and background can solve an employer’s problems. Not the other way around. Don’t bad mouth past employers, even if you are bitter from being ushered out the door in a downsizing move.
- Be on board with technology. You should be at ease with computers and basic programs, navigating the web, e-mail and mobile technology.
- Meet people. If there’s a particular industry you’re interested in, join an association affiliated with it. Look for volunteer opportunities in that field. Attend industry and professional meetings and conferences. Glom on to alumni groups and the career center at your alma mater where can find help with resumé polishing and smoothing your interviewing skills along with offering networking opportunities. Join LinkedIn. It’s great way to build a professional network. Employers troll it for perspective hires.
Bonus tip: You might mull over a mini-makeover, too. Interviewers do judge a book by its cover. Invest in some new duds, freshen up your hairstyle, find fashion-forward specs if needed. Dab out some gray if the spirit moves you.
Follow me on Twitter, @KerryHannon