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Job Seeking When You're Over 50

Recently I asked a few laid-off high tech engineers to talk about their job search experience. Most of them were over 50, and the anger and frustration just rolled out of them: “They say I am overqualified for any opening they have, but what does a twenty-five year old junior Human Resources person know about technology?” “I never get called back once I come in for an interview and they see how old I am.” “They don’t give me credit for being able to learn new technology even though I’ve been doing it for 30 years.” They all agreed. It was age discrimination that was keeping them from finding a job.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 was passed to protect people over 40 from being discriminated against, but on a case-by-case basis it’s rarely worth it to sue. It’s hard to prove age discrimination since there are so many other possible reasons to deny someone a job. The good news is that the Baby Boomers have made 40 seem young, and “old” is getting older. The bad news is that laid off over-50-ers are having a tough time in this job market.

If you are over 50 and looking for a job or a promotion — whether or not you have been laid off — reflect on these questions to help revitalize your pursuit:

Are you energized and excited about what you are doing? Or do you seem tired and depressed, longing for the good old days? When you have been laid off, when you haven’t had a raise in a while, or when you feel overworked, it’s easy to express negative feelings. But if you tend to be outwardly brooding, you shouldn’t be surprised if you end up on waivers. People prefer to work with positive, upbeat colleagues.

Are you wearing to work what you wore fifteen years ago? If so, it’s time for a makeover. Once I almost didn’t recognize one of my clients after his two sons had treated him to a new wardrobe, new haircut, and a gym membership. He wasn’t any younger, but he looked great and felt great. Keeping up his appearance made a difference in his self-confidence, and it showed.

Are you fooling yourself about your skills and experience? “I’m pretty sure I could write for the web if my company asked me.” “My assistant always did my PowerPoint presentations.” “Our attorneys always keep up with the latest regulations.” Excuses, excuses. Even senior managers need to maintain some technical expertise to be viable professionally. There are plenty of online courses, seminars, and professional organizations that are willing to help keep you up to date.

How is age an advantage in your industry? Unless they are in social media, expert jobs generally call for a little gray hair. The same is true for coaching and counseling jobs. It’s hard to sell yourself as an expert tax attorney at 32 or as an executive coach at 38. Would you believe my experienced advice about careers if I were younger than you?

Once, a man in one of my career change workshops stood up and stated that he was 60 and changing careers to become a drug and alcohol counselor. People gasped in disbelief. “No. Wait a minute,” he said. “I’m targeting seniors, and I’ll be marketing my services through senior centers and assisted living facilities. I’ll be successful because I am 60.” He was right.

If you are worrying about age discrimination, here’s some respite: Spend the time on yourself and your career strategy, and remember that there are ways that you can use age to your advantage. In my mother’s immortal words, “Act your age, but don’t creak!”

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