(This article is adapted from 50 Things to Do When You Turn 50. Royalties from the book are donated to nonprofits dedicated to preventing and curing cancer.)
There is an old joke that says the closest most people come to perfection is on an employment application. Even if that’s true, career professionals who’ve recently turned 50 might be the next best example of perfection — at least when it comes to job productivity.
How can a 50-year-old bring more to the table than an up-and-coming 25-year-old or a savvy 37-year-old just hitting his or her stride?
I think it’s a no-brainer. Older workers bring a plethora of benefits to the workplace.
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They have more intellectual knowledge, having spent more years honing their craft and getting to know their industry and their company.
How about leadership and, by extension, mentorship? More-experienced workers often set the tone for professionalism in the workplace. They’ve seen it all, faced just about every challenge, and are rarely surprised by events, good or bad. There is a lot to be said for a steady, calm hand on the corporate steering wheel in times of crisis. Fiftysomething workers possess such attributes in spades.
Unfortunately, older workers still face something of a stigma due to age discrimination. Employers sometimes think: “He/she is a great worker and valuable contributor, but might be getting a bit long in the tooth. Maybe we should bring in someone younger . . . and cheaper.”
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How can you fight back against this “soft” bias against older workers? Simple. By showing management that you still possess value and are irreplaceable.
What makes a fiftysomething an irreplaceable worker? I maintain that it’s a combination of the attributes of attitude, ambition, enthusiasm, integrity, determination, discipline and work ethic.
7 Ways to Prove Your Value
“Hey,” you might say, reading this. “I have all those attributes, but nobody’s calling me irreplaceable.” You need to remember that success is more than simply having the tools to succeed. Irreplaceable professionals take these attributes and use them creatively. Here are some examples:
Irreplaceable 50-something career professionals . . .
. . . still actively seek to get ahead. Invariably, these workers ask, “How can I make a larger contribution?” Successful fiftysomething professionals are never passive. That’s why they are promoted, and then promoted again. Even at age 50.
. . . know the lay of the land. They know how their workplaces operate and have figured out what most promotions there are based on. Then they work on the skills needed to capitalize on that culture.
. . . create opportunities — and take responsibility. Ideas are the lifeblood of the workplace. Consequently, fiftysomething workers constantly deliver well-researched ideas and then volunteer to take charge of their execution. Initiative is another way of saying you deserve to continue to succeed in your career.
. . . become experts in their field. Yogi Berra once said that you can learn a lot by watching. True enough. Watch and listen long enough and you could soon become an expert in your field. You could do this by writing for an industry trade magazine or talking in front of a Chamber of Commerce group, for example. Becoming an expert is hard for younger professionals who don’t have that same “lay of the land” knowledge you do.
. . . know the value of being a mentor. Invariably, a younger worker lines herself up with someone who can champion her progress inside the executive boardrooms. In virtually all cases, that mentor is an older worker willing to share his or her knowledge and experience with younger protégés. Management loves mentors because shared knowledge means a more savvy workplace, which usually translates into larger profits and a successful company.
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. . . recognize what they are worth. Successful fiftysomething professionals always know their monetary value to their company, to their industry and to potential future employers. There’s no shortage of surveys and annual reports on salaries in the workplace. Look for them. Also, scout out the help-wanted ads (many include salary ranges) or contact a recruiter who can tell you what you’re worth on the open market.
. . . take politics in stride. Older workers know how to play office politics, and more important, they know they have to play office politics. They know how to communicate with everyone in the workplace, from the intern in the mailroom to the company president.
Like fine wine, the best career professionals are the ones who age gracefully.
Mary Furlong is President and CEO of Mary Furlong & Associates, a leading authority on the baby boom generation, and has spent more than 20 years guiding the marketing strategies of major U.S. corporations for their 45+ markets. The founder of SeniorNet and ThirdAge Media, she is the Dean’s Executive Professor of Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University’s Leavy School of Business.