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Are older workers still employable?

older-worker-smallWith the economy slogging along, and more people competing for fewer jobs, many are concerned about whether they are at a disadvantage when competing with others. This appears to me to affect "older" workers more than most others. Many are under the perception that, because they are more experienced and typically at the top of their wage earning potential. The worry is that younger workers can work longer for less. While this might be true on occasion, I don't think it's worth worrying about, and here's why.

Folks in their 40's and 50's are truly in their prime working years. This is a time where they should be maximizing their income and capitalizing upon their experiences in their jobs. The thing is, these folks have another good 15-20 years of productive work left. As I see it, there are a number of obstacles in the way of folks who want to work for an employer rather than start their own business.

Potential employers appear to be extra cautious in hiring older workers. There is a lot of liability for employers who hire older workers. If they decide to let an older worker go, even for cause, they must take extra precautions to eliminate the threat of an age discrimination suit. Additionally, some folks perceive that older workers get short shrift because younger workers can get paid less.

Here are some suggestions:


  1. Check out employment opportunities with contract firms or temp agencies. Many of the largest employers in our region use these firms to fill work needs within their ranks. Sometimes these positions can turn from contract to full time as it provides the employer a chance to evaluate the worker for a possible full time job. It should be noted that many companies now limit contracts to no longer than 18 months. After an individual reaches this time limit, they are ineligible to return for 6 months, and the cycle starts again.
  2. Fix your resume. Too many of these older individuals have awful resumes, and I'm not understating this. Their resumes do not clearly identify their skills and abilities, or contain information that precludes them from being considered. If you are applying for multiple jobs and not getting any calls, your resume may be to blame.
  3. Focus on your target market. Once you have identified the industry you want to work in, identify the employers you want to work for. Too many folks look at just the large companies and overlook smaller employers. The NC Employment Security Commission (NCESC) has a directory of companies by industry and county to help folks find companies in their area and area of interest.
  4. Identify your skills and value that you bring to the table. Too many people are just looking for a job to get paid. You have to be able to bring value to an employer. It sounds trivial, but employers aren't looking for someone to pay. They need to make money, and you have to generate a lot more than you are being paid.
  5. Learn to interview. Too many folks have lousy interview skills. "Older" workers may be in worse shape because they go in to the interview defeated. Your body language will tell the interviewer more about you in the first 10 seconds than your resume. I talked to an individual at a job group I spoke to a few years ago who told me he wasn't getting hired because of his age. That wasn't the problem at all. He as abrasive and had a chip on his shoulder. My wife and I picked it up immediately.
  6. Start your own business. I know this sounds scary, and it truly does intimidate a number of people. However, some of the greatest businesses and ideas have been developed during economic downturns. Additionally, a great number of businesses have been started with little or no capital investment. I know a number of women who are working as virtual administrative assistants, filling in a few hours each week for a number of businesses. This fills their work week, and reduces their financial risk. Think about it. If you are supporting 4-5 businesses with a few hours of work each week, and one goes away, your income is merely reduced, not eliminated. I believe this is a trending work model going forward – the independent contractor supporting multiple businesses.

I am more hopeful for folks in their "older" years. If this is you, take a different view. You have so many experiences and skills. Convert those into opportunities to make a good income, and to get yourself into work that you love. If you get paid doing what you love, it won't feel like work.

2008-2013 Mark Burch Coaching

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