Over 50 And Can't Get Hired? Here's A Possible Solution

Gail Belsky older job seekerNow that I'm job hunting, I've been wondering: At what age do you become that 'older worker" who has hit the brick wall? Based on what I've seen and heard from other mid-careerists, the magic number seems to be 55.

Last week, a CNNMoney story, "Workers Over 50 Are The New Unemployables," suggested the even more depressing sell-by date of 50 (based largely on old data, however) -- bad news for me, at 51. But the picture I got from talking with job-search expert Patricia Smith wasn't quite as bleak. Nor was the age of doom and gloom quite so young.

Smith, a senior vice president at the career-coaching firm, New Directions, in Boston, specializes in high paid executives in their fifties and sixties -- not exactly a representative population, I know. But while those top earners are a minority, they're also the ones who have to convince employers that the experience is worth paying for.

From Smith's perspective, the brick wall has shifted up to the late 50s/early 60s, and even then, she says, it's not impossible to get a well-paying full-time job. That doesn't mean there's been a flood of new jobs for older workers, or that age discrimination isn't still a problem. Ageism is very real, according to Smith, but it's an obstacle, not a barrier. "You don't want to work for a company that doesn't want to embrace you because of your age, anyway," she says. So what do you do if you're 58 and have hit the wall?

More: 7 Lessons That Older Workers Should Learn From Generation-Y

Or if you're 51, like me, and trying to position yourself for a career shift before it's too late? One answer (not always an easy one, emotionally or financially) is to change your idea of what work is.

Smith says the key is to broaden your thinking to include more flexible work arrangements: consulting, interim work, long-term project work, or joining a "flexible workforce" firm that takes on projects, and parcels out the work to a team of freelancers. If you're thinking of switching careers while you're still employed, then quitting your job to work in the so-called "fluid space," with no benefits or 401(k) plans, may be impossible. But if you're already unemployed, or freelancing, it might make sense.

I recently joined such company a month ago, and it's been a great experience -- the work is steady yet varied, and the team aspect makes it feel like I've got colleagues again.

More: Why Relocating When You're Older Can Be A Nightmare


The Benefits Of Being A 'Free Agent'
For aspiring career-changers, the benefit to working in a more flexible mode is that you can branch out a little, learn new skills, and test out other areas without making a full commitment. Employers don't have to commit fully to you either, which might make them more likely to take a chance on someone who's new to the field.

Get A Foot In The Door
Working in an interim or freelance capacity can also be a way to make contacts inside an organization. And, according to Smith, older workers can often command a high rate because they're offering experience for far less than it costs to hire a full-timer.

After talking to Smith, I'm going to begin looking for flexible workforce firms that might focus more on the communications area than straight editing and writing. This could be a way to expand my experience and broaden my network. Why not? I might as well take advantage of the flexibility I have -- for as long as I have it.

Have you tried freelancing? How has it worked for you?

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keith

For someone in my situation 50 on ssi and cant no longer work construction you have limited options when the older person dies your living with choice 1 kill yourself of be homeless Choice 2 get law enforcement to kill you if you cant complete choice 1

May 17 2014 at 6:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Andy Candy

you need to consider, people at the top of the business food chain-ceo's-have spent years to amass a lot of connections, and managed to broker into where they're at now. a lot has to do with cashing-in collateral in the business world that they've managed to get. or, they've managed to own or be a partner in the business, so they're not easy to displace

they're not like workers who came to work every day and did their job for 20 or 25 years until they got laid off.

the first 2 groups are the minority of older workers.

December 25 2013 at 3:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Andy Candy

frankly, i think companies want 28 to 35 year olds with a degree and minimal experience.

for that group, it's a great time to be job-shopping.

with the massive layoffs in the recession that hit in 2008, there're plenty of older people out there, very well qualified to do the job, but employment ads i'm seeing only call for a degree and maybe 4 years work experience. that would place the ideal job candidate at under 30...

i'm not in h.r., but in my opinion, based on my experiences, what a hiring manager doesn't want to deal with is lots of older applicants who are obviously very well qualified and experienced to do the job. then you get into possible legal issues over older worker bias, which we know's out there.

i've found it doesn't help to market yourself with a massive amount of work experience. most jobs i've seen for 'experienced' people usually require no more than 10 years experience.

there are exceptions, but to have more than 10 years work experience on a resume, in my opinion, hurts your chances for being considered for most jobs.

December 25 2013 at 2:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
D T

What I find so darn PRECIOUS about those 30-something hiring managers, is their almost Peter Pan mentality that they will never ever get older. Apparently hiring managers and HR people have a magic elixir that will prevent them from getting over 40. And it's so powerful that the company they work for will never fail, never be bought out and sold to China, and their job will never be eliminated. I'm quite certain that this is why they feel so comfortable treating people over 45 like downer cattle. They simply cannot see beyond their own infatuation with their own age, at the fact that they too, will be looking for work later in life. And when that happens, they will sit there with another smug 30-something version of themselves, and rail against the injustice when that person decides that they no longer have any worth. Think about it...

And look at any company. The CEOs and other top officers are almost always over 50. Funny how that works... they can do their jobs, they can have insurance, but you can't if you're over 45.

August 26 2013 at 12:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Margaret Napier

I found I was considered over the hill in my late 30's, when I returned to San Francisco. The whole world seemed to be putting generation X on a pedestal and all of the old ways of doing business became outdated. Gone were the days of having to make a business profitable, it was a new paradigm ie. Amazon Fed Ex sending a $12 item shipped 2 day air for free is now considered good business sense. If I had proposed that in the corporate arena a decade prior I would have been fired.

June 24 2013 at 10:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hi

Even though employers are not allowed to inquire about your age, they still figure it out by dates of previous employment and what year you graduated from high school and college. Since you must supply this information to them, I feel it still age discrimination.

March 28 2013 at 2:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lupe's AOL

The "dirty little secret" in the Silicon Valley, Bay area, California is that high tech companies, the Googles and the Apples and the Microsofts, simply do not hire anyone over, say, 45 or so. Shocking but true. In the true culture of "people hire people that look like them," as hiring managers get younger in age, so go their hires. Shortsightedly, most of these companies don't realize the value that maturity and experience brings. Most high tech employers hang onto the notion that those of us over age 50 or 60 are wedded to our "old ways" and can't contribute. Little do they realize that our experience and our knowledge was hard fought, and whether or not we realized it, flexibility and adaptability were the hard lessons we were forced to learn throughout the last 40 or so years. The internet is not that old; I can STILL remember the first Mac produced and how exciting it was to think about possibilities! To the extent that an individual can keep up with technology and innovation, irrespective of age, he or she can and should be able to given an opportunity to contribute. Consulting, or "side jobs or assignments," are a great way to keep up the functional skillsets and stay connected to business. Volunteering is also a great way to stay connected and to make contacts, too.

March 06 2013 at 2:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
justbun

Now white people are being discriminated upon.

March 06 2013 at 12:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to justbun's comment
jacqueline.tarleton

Actually, older white people have been discriminated again for a very long time. Anglo Americans as a culture have a low opinion of their elders as I witnessed as a caregiver in nursing homes and private homes among all income levels. I predicted when I was in my 20's that if Anglo Americans did not change how they treated their elderly, their treatment would come back to haunt them. It did not occur to me that all of us would be caught in a trap of ageism. Part of the reason Anglo American youth have a low opinion of their elders is because their ancestors committed horrible deeds in the name of being white. They don't understand how their great grand parents and grand parents let those deeds happen and view them as idiots at best and criminals at worst. Why would they hire one? It doesn't dawn on the youth that the great achievements came from a diversity of people including white people who chose a better way. If a hiring manager should happen across this post, remember that you have your job because people like us...the over 50 crowd...paved the way for you.

November 29 2013 at 9:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
star63353104

I will be 60 next year and would like to look for another job that I would like. Where I work now everyone is young and feels I should retire.....I cannot.....I need the money.

March 06 2013 at 12:06 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Melissa

My husband, 53yrs, has worked at the same place for 30 years until the housing market crashed. He is working but at a job where he is making 1/2 of what he was. I am disabled but do not yet qualify for SSF. We are struggling to get by week by week. At our age dropping insurance is impossible but we may have to scale back what coverage we can fit into our budget. Pretty much it will mean not going to our followup visits and stretching out med so they last a little longer. My husband is considered a skilled worker on heavy equipment and has a CDL class B but no one wants to pay close to his old salary. What happens to those who tow the line barely missing a day of work in 30 years only to be tossed aside. They end up on the street. Time to pitch a tent on the White House lawn.

March 05 2013 at 11:36 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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