Thursday, April 16, 2009

Older Job Seekers: The Reality

There's no money in being discouraging to older job seekers. What career counselor would get older clients if his articles said job prospects are poor for people over 50? What how-to book author could sell books aimed at the 50+ set?

But ultimately I believe that a greater net good accrues from telling people the truth: It could help them realize they have to work harder than they thought to get a job. It could help them realize they need to focus on senior-friendly fields. It could help them better craft pitches to employers.

So, having worked with hundreds of job-seekers 50+, here's what I believe the truth is for them:

Yes there are a few fields in which people 50+ routinely get hired--for example, those that serve an older client base such as long-term health insurance, assisted-living facilities, even architecture firms, but in general, the job outlook for older workers is poor. Most employers avoid hiring older people. People 50+ are often perceived as:
  • expensive
  • Often not current on technology or new best practices
  • Having long-acquired habits making them more likely to be set in their ways
  • Not learning as quickly
  • Having a sense of entitlement: expecting additional respect and influence merely because of their age.
  • Imposing high health-care insurance costs
  • Working more slowly because of declining physical or mental health or reduced motivation.
  • Less willing to put in long hours because they fatigue more easily or are less open to bosses demanding that they work evenings or weekends.
  • Crankier and harder to deal with.
  • Having a worse memory than younger people
  • Tending to be long-winded
  • Having difficulty multitasking
  • Focused more on retirement than getting the job done
  • Being too timid in proposing bold ideas for fear of being replaced
  • Giving the workplace a tired image
Employers are additionally disincented to hire older candidates because workers over 40 are a Protected Class in civil rights legislation. So, there's increased risk of the employee suing for age discrimination if terminated or even denied a promotion.

Most successful job seekers 50+ get hired through their network, which often is more extensive because an older person has been around longer. If they don't get hired that way, they may go back to school but too often find that their degree doesn't make them much more employable. Or they answer many want ads but rarely end up with a decent job offer. Or they try self-employment, which for someone who by age 50+ hasn't heretofore been entrepreneurial, usually ends up failing.

Based on my experience with older clients, that's the unvarnished truth.


GeekMBA360 said...

Thanks for the candidate post. I conducted a "Layoff Satisfaction Survey" , and have received responses back from several folks who were 50 - 65 years old. They felt that they were laid off because 1) they were expensive and 2) their age. And they were having a hard time to find a job in this market. So, your post is definitely right on target.

But, I also heard back from a couple of older folks who worked in specialized engineering fields -- they've been doing a really good job in keeping up with new technologies. One person even went back to school in his 50s and got another degree. He also taught part-time at the local community college. They both were able to get job quickly even though they are in their 60's.

So, I think it's very important for older workers to continue to renew their skills, and BUILD a professional brands by leveraging their experience and network -- teaching, speaking at seminars, etc. would be great way for them to build a brand.

Anonymous said...

The scary thing about this post is that it is correct.

I don't completely agree with Geek, you can spend money to get training (as I did) and then realize that employers don't want a 50+ year old expert in whatever - they want someone considerably younger for the reasons Marty described.

Anonymous said...

Marty, you just wrote off 70 million Americans from the workforce. Thats alot of people to throw away because of your experiences as a "career counselor" Why not develop this opinion with a few facts, instead of just your personal opinions?
How about a little more work to prove you view point.

Marty Nemko said...

I haven't written off anyone. I'm just saying it's a lot tougher than the media would have us believe.

And these conclusions are based not only on my very large database of experience, over the years, my friends and acquaintances certainly admit that they're quite reluctant to hire older workers for the reasons specified. Also, among the many writings that come across my desk, I read work supporting my contentions. The only writings that don't are written by people who stand to make money by painting an overly optimistic picture.


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