“If you’re over 50 and laid off, you can forget about finding another good job.”
These words came from a 60-something friend, a survivor of dozens of layoffs at a large tech company. As a career coach, I’m sorry to report that my experience shows that she echoes what many boomers think.
I’ll concede that there’s a grain of truth to what my friend is saying (times are tough and many jobs have gone overseas). That said, I also believe that plenty of out-of-work Americans in their 50s and 60s need to stop making excuses and start getting realistic about their job searches.
These are the six excuses I hear most often and my “no excuses” advice to deal with them:
Excuse No. 1: “My resumé is just going into a black hole.”
Don’t blame the black hole. Blame yourself for an outdated job-search strategy.
A resumé might have helped you stand out 10 years ago. But today, with an abundant supply of middle-aged job seekers, your experience and credentials make you just one in a crowd.
My “no excuses” advice: Work on ways to differentiate yourself as a job candidate and to create meaningful relationships with people who can help you get hired. Both can pay off more than hitting the submit button on another online job post.
Make a list of 10 things that set you apart from your peers and ask your friends to validate the list. Then reach out to five people you’ve lost touch with who might know of job openings. Set a time to catch up and when the conversation turns to you, tell them how you’d like to make a significant impact in your next job, applying your “special sauce.”
You should also get your unique talents and expertise into your LinkedIn profile (which shouldn’t be a cut and paste version of your resumé). According to a Jobvite survey in 2012, 93 percent of recruiters use LinkedIn to find candidates. Next Avenue has an article I wrote showing how to make your LinkedIn profile compelling.
Excuse No. 2: “I can’t afford to take a pay cut.”
Time to face reality: The last job you had, at that pay scale, may not exist anymore.
My “no excuses” advice: Take a hard look at your expenses and how much income you really need to cover them. Create a “minimum threshold” budget you can live with then explore alternatives to trim your daily living costs. If you have kids about to enter college, consider a wide range of schools with different tuition prices.
And remember that there are plenty of other criteria beyond pay. You might want to work somewhere that offers you the potential to make an impact on the world, stimulate your intellectual curiosity or serve as a stepping stone to future opportunities.
When you’re job-hunting, never forget to factor in what I like to call the “Happiness Quotient.”
Excuse No. 3: “I’m too old.”
This is a favorite excuse for people who’ve given up on themselves and their ability to adapt to the work world of 2012.
The truth is, if you’re able-bodied and mentally competent, you’re not too old to get hired. But you may need to get up to speed on the best ways to look for work today, improve your social media skills to cast a wider net for your job search or even consider reinventing yourself in a new career. So take the time to invest in yourself.
My “no excuses” advice: A great place to start adapting to today’s job market is your alma mater’s career services department. As Next Avenue has noted, many colleges now offer alumni free or low-cost career counseling, job-search webinars and in-person workshops on such topics as personal branding to make yourself a stronger candidate.
For those who claim that some hiring managers are guilty of age discrimination when selecting candidates, well, you’re right.
There are cases where the interviewer will think you’re too old. Prove them wrong! Make your pitch for the open position so compelling that age won’t enter the picture.
Or boost your expertise to become a consultant, so you can avoid hiring managers altogether. My 60-something colleague, Walter Akana, started sharpening his social media skills a few years ago and now teaches social media to M.B.A. students and midcareer professionals. No one questions his age because his knowledge and expertise are all that matter.
It’s also not too late to launch an encore career. Start by volunteering at a nonprofit to get a lay of the land and make valuable connections. When an appropriate salaried position opens up, you’ll be a known quantity. Check out encore.org and the encore.org articles on Next Avenue to learn more about creating an encore career.
Excuse No. 4: “Companies don’t appreciate my experience.”
Being bitter is guaranteed to turn off prospective employers and keep you stuck in a rut. Get over yourself.
My “no excuses” advice: Take a hard look at the last jobs you held. There may be a reason they didn’t last. Maybe those positions weren’t right for you in the first place. If so, this is your opportunity to seek a role where you can truly do your best work.
Become more aware of your true talents. One way to do this is by reading Tom Rath’s excellent book, StrengthsFinder 2.0.
Another way is by working with a career coach or counselor.
Once you’ve homed in on what you’re best at, practice presenting yourself for interviews through stories that illustrate your talents in action.
Excuse No. 5: “If I take this job, I’ll be moving backward.”
Too many job seekers think their next landing place must be “the perfect move.” When it doesn’t materialize, they become discouraged. But your next career move is just that — the next move, not necessarily the perfect move.
My “no excuses” advice: Don’t think of a potential job being beneath you just because it offers less seniority or pay than your last one. Instead, think of how you can leverage the position down the road.
I call these “stepping stone” jobs. They’re meant to get you on the right track, as opposed to landing at an ultimate destination.
It’s worthwhile to consider job offers that will move you in a promising direction or even laterally, even if it’s not where you eventually want to end up. Lateral career moves have become a powerful way to gain traction so you can eventually achieve bigger goals.
Here’s a suggestion: Think of your “ideal” job. Now, think of two types of jobs that are stepping stones to that one and start hunting.
Excuse No. 6: “I can’t find a job because the economy is lousy.”
This is the most damaging excuse of all. Many of the changes on the employment front over the last few years are fundamental — things like hiring contractors instead of full-timers or thinning out middle managers. These moves won’t come undone in a better economy. The recession may have exacerbated the trends, but it didn’t cause them.
My “no excuses” advice: What you’re seeing today is the new normal. Get used to a different way of finding work — one where it pays to think like a business owner.
Market yourself effectively. Know your competitive advantage. Provide value consistently. Develop multiple revenue streams.
Sure, these strategies take work. But what’s the alternative?
The bonus is that when you’re able to take control of your career, you’re no longer left to the whims of a single employer. Rather, you’ll have built the foundation for creating new opportunities that fit within your sweet spot: the type of work you do best and enjoy the most.
Now, that’s a recipe for professional fulfillment.
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