If you’re a midlife job seeker, you may be surprised at some of the obstacles you’re facing in your search. You were once convinced you’d be settled in your career at this stage, having worked your way up the ladder, and looking forward to retirement. Your current situation is the last thing you imagined.
For most of us in our forties, fifties, and beyond, retirement is about as attainable as a unicorn. Even if you are one of the fortunate few who is able to afford retirement, you may be feeling antsy and bored, and want to return to gainful employment.
As a seasoned professional engaged in a job search, you’ve probably already tried a variety of tactics. You may have applied for countless positions only to be rejected, and the promise that “success is just around the corner” seems elusive.
If you’re still reading this article, you probably haven’t been successful… yet.
Job Searching is Stressful at Any Age
The job search process is rigorous at any age. It may leave you frustrated, anxious, and stressed. The job market is especially unkind to mature, experienced workers as well as those returning to work after a hiatus.
A recent article I read relates the story of a surgeon who prepares his patients for surgery by telling them, “you’re going to feel like you have been hit by an 18-wheeler… before feeling better, which you eventually will, and then you’ll be better than ever.”
The patient in this story expresses gratitude for the surgeon’s brutal honesty, which allows her to adjust her expectations and prepare her recovery process accordingly.
I’m not here to tell you “this won’t hurt,” but rather, as a recruitment professional, to tell you that job search at 50+ is going to hurt – a lot. You will be rejected, you will be battered and bruised, and you may beat your head against a wall many times. But you can and will be successful, if you can keep from becoming discouraged.
No single article can possibly summarize the enormity of the job search process or provide a comprehensive guide for such a complex set of circumstances, but hopefully these tips will get you started, or restarted, on a successful journey to a rewarding career.
Job Search Tip 1: Lower your expectations
Lower expectations? That’s not what you expected to hear, but to clarify, don’t lower expectations indefinitely – only initially. There’s no need to be defeatist, but do be realistic.
This tip is two-fold. First, lower your expectations about the job search process itself, which will help you maintain a positive outlook and prevent you from becoming discouraged early in the process.
“Trade your expectation for appreciation and the world changes instantly.” -Tony Robbins
Second, you may have to adjust your expectations about the type of job you accept. This means staying open to the seemingly lower-level opportunities that may come your way. If you have been out of the workforce for many years, or if you are trying to get a job in an industry in which you have no experience, these apparent (one or two) steps back are your way to move forward.
Once you are able to demonstrate your skill as well as your ability to work with all age groups, you are well positioned to advance quickly.
If you accept a job at a lesser level of expertise than you might like, don’t grumble through it and don’t take it for granted. Remember to take advantage of valuable connections, networking opportunities, learning scenarios, and more. Don’t burn bridges or make a bad impression, because you never know where your co-workers, clients, or vendors may end up in the future.
Job Search Tip 2: Befriend the “enemy”
Younger workers can be your toughest competition or your greatest allies. In many companies, the younger generations are now making the hiring decisions, setting the tone in the office, and establishing the culture and the rules for success. Therefore, embrace generations X, Y, Millennials, and everyone who came after you in the workforce.
This is not to say you need to be BFFs with them (that’s Millennial-speak for “Best Friends Forever”). But try not to alienate yourself from younger workers, either. Be friendly, polite, ask them questions about their professional experience, take an interest in them at the office… and, most importantly, learn from them – culturally, technologically, politically, and personally.
Moreover, try not to perpetuate the (inaccurate) stereotype of the embittered, jaded, older worker who is never satisfied with anything at work because it’s different from how it was 20 years ago. And if you can, form an alliance with a (younger) co-worker who can act as a sort of guide as well as advocate for you in the organization. Choose well: align yourself with someone who is talented, influential in the company, well-connected, and well-received. Be sure to add value to him or her, in a mutually beneficial connection with that person.
Job Search Tip 3: Get online!
If you aren’t already actively networking online, it’s not too late to start. However, it is ideal to begin networking, and maintain an active online network, before you are in dire need of employment.
Building your online presence is an ongoing, long-term process. It’s not an overnight fix, and won’t produce instant results. But, it is absolutely necessary in today’s world to have a strong online presence, or ‘brand.’
The first thing many recruiters and hiring managers will do is look you up online. If there is little or no information about you online, the recruiter or hiring manager will assume one of three things: (1) you’re hiding something; (2) you’re not technologically savvy (you’re “old”); (3) you aren’t making a difference in your field.
An important note about your online presence: it’s not enough to simple “have a profile” on a social media or online networking website. You must spend a few minutes several times a week connecting, posting, and cultivating your network. If you are intimidated by social media, this is where your young mentor / friend from step 2 comes in very handy!
Step 4: Target your search
Avoid the shot-gun approach: Resist submitting your resumé to every open job within an hour radius. True, job search is a numbers game, so more is better. However, why waste time applying to jobs that aren’t going to suit you?
Take time to research companies and jobs that are known for being amenable to more experienced professionals. Several organizations publish lists of companies and occupations every year, such as the AARP. Additionally, target industries where demand is high, such as government and healthcare. When demand is high, you increase your chances for success.
Be sure to include non-profits, churches, schools, and doctor’s offices in your search, as they are always in need of hard workers of any age or experience level.
Step 5: Ask a friend
Once you’ve acquired a substantial amount of experience, sometimes it’s difficult to remember how skilled you really are. You may be taking some of your greatest assets for granted, because certain skills come so easily to you. Ask a friend or past co-worker what they remember about you, and what positive attributes about you and your work stood out. You’ll be amazed at what you may learn from this.
This exercise serves a number of purposes: it boosts your confidence, which promotes success, and it assists in focusing your job search on positions that will benefit from your strengths. These strengths are the skills you should promote on your resumé as well.
Also, consider ways you can market these skills on a contract, freelance or part-time basis. Ask yourself: Given my extensive professional background, can I start my own business or consult rather than seek an employment relationship?
Friends can also help in other ways: networking, proofreading a resumé, honing your interview skills or advising on your interview ‘look’ and attire. If you can afford it, you may want to hire a professional to assist in these areas.
Step 6: Never give up, never give up, never give up!
This may be the most difficult step of all. But maintaining a positive outlook and refusing to give up will pay off, even if it takes time.
If you feel despair or hopelessness coming on, review step one and consider resetting expectations. You may also consider stepping away from your job search for a bit. Take a break – even if it’s just for a day – see a movie, visit your favorite park, spend a lazy day with friends.
“Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence [or youth!] – is the key to unlocking our true potential” – Winston Churchill (with one minor addition from A. C.)
© Andrea Clement
Andrea Clement is a career advice columnist, writer, and communications professional. Her background in medical sales, training, and healthcare recruiting led to her role as the Guide to Health Careers for About.com, an IAC company. She has contributed to books, journals, websites and has made media appearances on television and radio in her capacity as a healthcare career expert. She writes about her experience as an adult orphan on her blog, No Parents No Problem. Learn more about Andrea here. Follow Andrea on Twitter at @AndreaSantiago, or connect with her on LinkedIn.
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