Finding Work When You’re Over 55

Jun 20, 2019

In an era where job seekers are facing blatant age discrimination, it seems pretty safe to say that we will all face it at some point in our careers. Since more than half of workers over 50 lose their jobs before they are ready for retirement, getting hired is a real issue.

For right now, the tight labor market encourages employers to search outside their “ideal” applicant. However, government studies show that older applicants see between 36-47% lower callback rates—even in a strong job market. They also show that job seekers over age 55 have longer periods of unemployment than their younger colleagues.

Many workers over 55 get stuck with lower-paying ‘older person jobs like retail sales, crossing guards, or taxi drivers. Or they turn to gig work like driving for Uber to make ends meet. Often these pay concessions are due to the forced necessity of taking jobs outside their field.

It’s not all doom and gloom for older candidates, however. Workers over 55 are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. labor force. This means that employers will be used to seeing these candidates, and it will be more likely that an older candidate will be hired by one of their peers. Also, while 29% of older job seekers are unemployed for 27 weeks or more, that number notablylower than the 45% in 2014.

Here are some ways that applicants over 55 can create a better job search experience and increase their chances of landing the role they want.

Tips For Older Job Applicants

  • Remove the year you graduated college from your resume, but don’t leave out employment dates. It’s better to focus your resume on the past 15 to 20 years, dates included, and limit your resume to two pages total. Don’t forget to tailor your resume for each position!
  • In your job interview, show that you’re still learning new things despite your extensive experience. To do so, you’ll need to invest in your skills. Attend conferences, take continuing education classes, or even enroll in college-level courses.
  • Consider working part-time or temporary gigs. Employers are more receptive to hiring older employees this way.
  • Also think about freelancing in your field. You can show expertise and benefit from your experience while working in today’s gig economy.
  • Use concise language to position yourself as an experienced individual with a record of success. Elaborate on your experiences and give examples of different situations you’ve handled over time. Especially highlight cases where you adopted a new process or where you let others take the lead.
  • Make sure you don’t use outdated terminology or technology—like saying “rolodex” or having an AOL email address.
  • Embrace social media! Employers expect candidates to have some kind of online presence. You don’t want to encourage the stereotype that older workers are technology-averse.
  • Explain how you can use your experience to help an employer or hiring manager achieve their goals.
  • Think about employers who are targeting older customers. They’re likely to be more receptive to you.
  • Salary tends to be a sticking point for many older workers. Consider taking a pay cut (and let the hiring manager know up front) in exchange for flex time, more vacation days, or other benefits. If you’re switching fields, let the employer know that you understand you will have to work your way up and that you’re prepared to do so.
  • Don’t pass on a job just because it’s not what you had been doing. Look at your skills and experience as relatable to different industries and positions, and see where you could fit.

When There’s a Serious Issue

Even if an older worker does everything “right,” there’s a possibility of age discrimination. Watch out for potential red flags in the interview questions. Did the interviewer explicitly ask any age-related questions? Did they suggest that you’re overqualified and might not fit into the culture? Did they seem surprised to see how old you were when you arrived for the interview?

It’s difficult to confirm age discrimination unless you find that the person hired was much younger and has similar qualifications. If you have the evidence you need to file an age discrimination complaint, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Written by: Sarah Perlman

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