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Job Search at 50+

Updated on October 2, 2014

Is Wisdom Worth Anything?

I have been there, done that, and I have a box full of t-shirts. When I was 21 looking for my first real job - all the good jobs read "must have 5-7 years of experience." Now I'm 50+ and the Good Lord knows I have the experience, education, hand's on capability - but employers aren't interested - because I am overqualified or would probably not be energetic enough in the job. I just love hearing a 35 year old sales manager tell me that he perceives anyone over 50 as not very lively, hard of hearing, probably a lot of health problems, and no energy or drive to win. He's more interested in hiring that 25 year old who doesn't know his p's and q's and can't find a pencil to write down an order - that looks like a Ken doll or a Barbie and makes his heart pitter-patter.

There are plenty of folks right now in this country who, after basically completing a career find themselves looking for work. After 50 finding a meaningful new job takes a completely different tact than it did when you were 21 and fresh into the market. We need to explore a number of issues faced by this group of hard working citizens 50 - 65 years old that really do want to work - and can work - and can offer a ton of wisdom.

First, let's get some honest answers out here. We need to do a sort on ourselves - those of us in the 50-65 age group. Realistic evaluation of one's own self is very difficult and requires that we be totally honest with ourselves. We can't sell someone else something that we can't sell our selves.

First, physical ability needs to be evaluated. I remember when I was about 14 a man in our hunting club said we should pick up some railroad ties at his office to use for a bridge across a creek on our property. Cecil was about 65 at that time, retired from the railroad. We went to his old office and he proceeded to lift, tote and load 16 foot treated cross-ties into the back of our flatbed truck - on his own. I was a stout 14 year old - and could pick up one end of these things. I recently built a raised bed garden out of 8 foot cross-ties, and could hardly pick these up myself. Cecil was so strong at 65 it was amazing. I am no Cecil, but I am thankfully healthy in every other way - except being about 60 pounds overweight.

Many of my friends are on high blood pressure medication, cholesterol medication, are taking medication for all sorts of reasons. The question is, can they perform their job function as described as anyone else that isn't needing medical intervention? Probably so for many of these folks. So the physical issues may not preclude a job. But keep in mind, there are issues that may prevent you, if you honestly consider them, from doing that job function you are used to. Maybe there is a way for you to still do something close to it - so don't plan on the same money, but maybe you can do 80 percent of the job for 80 percent of the wage.

Mental acuity fades at some point for everyone. It doesn't start at the same rate for some either. Hopefully now that you have reached the years where they start associating metals (golden years) you will have attained the peak of mental acuity as well. It may well be that things don't come to you as fast as they did when you were 30. But when they do come to you now, you know more of the back story on how something came to be. That is called wisdom. Being able to sort the difference between "how we did it back in the day," from how it should be done now allows us to use that wisdom.

Employers today are concerned with a number of factors. Educating them in the hiring process is just as important as it has ever been. When a 55 year old goes in for an interview and the question is posited "how long do you intend to work here?" Keep in mind, the average time a kid out of college today is expected to stay in the same job is 3.5 years. So when the interviewer hears you say - 10 years - that is about 3 times longer than those "sharp" kids he says he is interested in, is going to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars training - only to have them jump ship for the next shiny play pretty.

You are concerned that you are "out of the loop" on how things are done. You can't get a call back on the dozens of resumes you have sent out to companies. The HR person at the company doesn't return phone calls - and won't take one when you do call. You mailed your resume and have no idea if they received it. You feel like you are still viable but from the way you are responded to you really feel old.

So what is going on? Did you know that when you dusted off your resume and made copies of it - then mailed it to the HR department, or maybe hand carried it in to the company, it was scanned electronically into a system. That system has software set up to break your resume down so it finds specific code words that make you get rejected - or accepted to the next level. In other words, when your friend at Acme Boats and Iron says "send me your resume and I'll had deliver it to HR," that means he carries it to a person in HR who doesn't look at it - but scans it in to the system. IF and only if your resume has the right key words, it will be looked at. Otherwise, it is just another resume - and if it is a decent job and others know about it - your resume is one of 3-5,000 applications. ]

In the good ol' days, you would find a company and decide that is where you wanted to work. You would solicit information so you could figure out who it was that held the key to your opportunity and find a way to get them to hire you. That may work today - if you actually have a personal relationship with the right individual with enough sway to get it done - and always try this first - but more likely they will be ham-strung so they can only direct you to HR.

In this day of electronic scanning of applicants, the reason behind it is because of electronic applications. I have spoken with dozens of HR hiring managers that tell me they cannot afford to run an ad for a job because they are required to go through all of the resumes received for such an ad. Therefore, they turn to headhunter organizations to filter as many of the job seekers as possible. They still received thousands of jobs candidates for any single job posting. Keep in mind, only two weeks ago, McDonald's had 58,000 job opening for hamburger flippers. Over 1,000,000 people applied for these minimum wage jobs. Think about how many apply for a job paying $80,000 instead!

So how do you "fix" your resume for the scanner? Be careful in doing anything yourself. Never put anything in your resume that isn't factual. But don't be afraid to tell your story in a direct and as powerful a way as can be done. You have 30 years of experience so do what you can to extol the virtues of your wisdom. Show how you saved the company money, made the company money, won business, kept a problem at bay, made good decisions, hired good people, filled the team with a winning spirit. What did you do and what did you do well?

The new format of resume can be put together using a head hunter that has some good qualities. Don't just use anyone and you don't need to pay a head hunter - they get paid very well for finding you. I get calls all the time from folks willing to take me to the market for 15-20% of my first years wages - if I get a job and they only want half up front. IF I had half up front I wouldn't need a job!

So what is your wisdom worth? It depends on how bad you need the job - in other words, nothing has changed. If you can uses the fact that you have some wisdom to gain the job - that is what it was worth. If you can show to the hiring manager that you won't require either so much investment in training, supervision, child care, maternity leave, compared to that young whipper-snapper she is contemplating, you may just win the job. Don't underestimate the power of knowledge. Make sure you keep them off balance just enough to keep you ahead of the game without coming off too much like their mother or father.

It is difficult for some 40 year olds to have 50 or 60 year olds working for them. For various reasons, they all have to think it through. Some folks, at 50 or so, are not going to take direction, are so set in their way of doing things that it turns off the hiring person. There is a difference in asking how someone does something and telling them "I do that this way and it always works." They like to hear, "what is your approach?" If you know there is a flaw in that approach and you say, "that never works well for long," you just made an enemy. If you say, "when you do that, have you ever had XXX result from it?" When they say yes, "I thought you might have. Maybe if you added YYY and some ZZZ to the deal it would be a different approach." If that is what has turned a deal for you in the past, it may resonate with the manager and if they are smart, they would see how it would be good. For your appearance, you look like you were just thinking fast on you feet. Wisdom is precious.

When we reach 50, most of us are finding the nest is either empty or nearly so. The hiring manager needs to realize that this means if you need to travel, nothing is holding you back - unless a spouse is requiring medical attention or some other reasons. But what a great time to be able to do all that road warrior stuff and not worry about missing a t-ball game, football practice or cheerleader try-out. See the world - it is time to! Good luck.

One more, major thing. Your appearance is critical.You may think that white shirt you wore on your last job is just right with that sport coat and tie for your interview. Wear it into your local men's store and look around. Maybe enlist the assistance of the people working there. Explain you can't buy a new $400 suit today - that you are looking for a job - but if they can help you look your best you may come back and buy that suit soon enough, you will get a great response. Ladies, it is the same for you! That snazzy red dress with the plunging neckline that now exposes less than interesting space, may need to be rethought. What you sold then and what you are selling now are a bit different.

Hair - a big deal. Men in particular, but women to some degree, take a look in the mirror (with you reading glasses on). Hair growing in areas that aren't supposed to have hair growing there are turn offs. I have a hair that grows right in the middle of the bridge of my nose. My wife has plucked it out from the root - and in two weeks it is back. I can't see it - she sees it immediately. Ear hair, eyebrows that look like hedge rows, armpits that can be seen inadvertently with hair (women!) and hairy legs (women) are immediate turn offs. Dandruff is a big, controllable, turn off.

Stink. Don't. Don't use your favorite aftershave, cologne, perfume, for an interview. Take a bath, and don't use smelly soap. Just be clean, use unscented deodorant, and if you must tap behind your ears, ask your daughter or son what fragrance they currently wear. Charlie, Brut, Mennen, not good choices.

Continue your search, use your wisdom to gain the advantage. Once hired on you will have the opportunity to advance because of it - but don't position yourself away from the job because you are smarter than the one doing the hiring....remember, they have a job.

The Inventurist


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