If you’re older and looking for work in your field or want to change careers, you’ve got company. Lots of it. A combination of living longer, the fear of outliving retirement, fallout from the recession, the need to sock away more for later or collect health care benefits, and the desire to make a difference is making work important.
According to a 2014 Merrill Lynch Retirement Study, 72 percent of preretirees want to work in their retirement years, and 47 percent who have retired have worked or plan to work. Boomers, it turns out, are starting more businesses than any other demographic.
While it’s true that older people, on average, take longer to find work than those who are younger, there are opportunities.
We spoke about job strategies with Kerry Hannon, a career and retirement expert and author of “What’s Next: Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job In Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond,” and “Great Jobs For Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy . . . And Pays the Bills.”
What is the work climate like for those aged 55 and over?
I’m not going to say that ageism doesn’t exist, but the jobs are there. It’s clear that employers do not only want employees who are wearing hoodies.
Older workers have an edge when it comes to experience and knowledge, but what are the perceived disadvantages?
Some employers believe that older workers may not have the stamina to do the job, that they’re not up to speed with technology, won’t play nicely with younger colleagues, or will have a hard time reporting to a younger boss.
How do you combat that?
Get physically fit — you will exude vibrancy and a can-do attitude. Stay on top of technology and changes in the field. Sign up for computer workshops online, at local colleges, adult education or senior centers. Do you need to go back to school to get a certification? (Many community colleges offer age 50+ retraining.) Let employers know you have a collaborative work style with workers of any age. And, show them you are savvy by having a strong social media footprint.
What does that entail?
Hiring managers will do a Google search on you. You must have a good LinkedIn profile with a professional-looking headshot. Not including a photo doesn’t preclude age discrimination, but eliminates many opportunities. According to LinkedIn, recruiters are 11 times more likely to click on a profile that has a photo than one without. Get active in industry groups on LinkedIn, post interesting articles, and participate in discussions. It’s also a great way to pull together your professional network.
How important is it for older workers to be on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+?
A great online presence gives you an edge. Using social media properly allows recruiters to discover you, and for you to unearth job openings. You can reconnect with past colleagues and pals from across the decades now working in industries or companies you’d like to join. This simple and subtle networking is essential for everyone. If you’re not adept at social media, take a class or ask your niece, son, or a kid in the neighborhood, for help.
What else do you need?
A professional e-mail address like Gmail, not AOL or Yahoo, which will date you.
Can you market your age as an asset?
Yes. You need to articulate your value. Workers 50+ tend to be self-starters, know how to get the job done, and don’t need as much hand-holding as those with less experience. A great benefit to being older is that you have a good deal of knowledge and leadership ability. Chances are you will be hired over someone with less in their quiver and in need of training. Look at your skill set and past experience as transferable to lots of different challenges and fields. Nonprofits and small businesses are good for older workers. They often need your chops, although you may have to work for less.
Older workers are competing with younger job seekers who may not command as much money. Should a worker later in life be willing to sacrifice some salary for a job?
Absolutely. At this stage, it’s always best to get in the door and sacrifice money for a job you want to do. You might be able to negotiate for nonsalary compensation to offset your paycheck such as more vacation, flextime, work from home, even four-day weeks. If you perform well, they may bump up your salary.
Does it send a bad signal to accept less money?
If you like the job and want it or need it, it’s not worth being hard-line. It is also always easier to find a job when you have a job. So accept it, and then keep looking discreetly. In the meantime, you’re keeping your resume alive and your confidence up.
What if you’re unemployed?
Do something every day. Ask for advice and talk to people doing the jobs you’re considering. If you’re thinking of starting a business, volunteer, moonlight, get in there and do the job and see if it’s what you imagined it to be. Volunteering for a nonprofit lets you test the waters, adds to your resume, and puts you in touch with people who might know of a job opening or introduce you to someone who does.
Don’t a few companies have programs that pay a stipend to soon-to-be-retired employees so they can use their skills at a nonprofit and see if it might be their new career?
They’re called “encore careers,” combining socially meaningful work with a paycheck. Those jobs can turn into full-time positions or lead to other part-time or full-time work.
What do you think makes the people you’ve interviewed so successful at making a career transition or starting their own businesses?
They haven’t made rash moves. So, if you are beginning to think about the next chapter, start planning at age 55 what you want to do at age 60 or at 60 for 65. Is it to get into a different department or company, work fewer hours, be your own boss, or switch gears altogether? Do your homework, and network, network, network!