Author: Chuck Saletta | June 29, 2018
Tips to stay in the game
The current strong job market brings mixed blessings for older workers. On one hand, the unemployment rate for those aged 55 and up is a scant 2.8%, among the best of all age groups. On the other hand, older workers who lose their jobs often find it tougher than their younger cohorts to get back into comparable jobs. Indeed, they often find themselves long term unemployed or stitching together multiple part-time roles to make ends meet.
Still, time marches forward. We all eventually find ourselves at an age where employers might start to wonder whether we’re “overqualified” or would truly be long term prospects for their available roles. With those factors in mind, here are nine job hunting tips for older workers who want to keep themselves in the game.
1. Look for places actively seeking out experienced workers
There are job sites -- such as workforce50.com -- that cater to workers aged 50 and up. In addition, there are companies such as Your Encore that specialize in offering experienced experts to companies in need of project-specific skills for key roles.
By focusing your search in places that are actively recruiting for your experience, you can improve your chances of only interacting with employers that are happy to work with older workers. That helps you be more efficient in your hunt for work and gets you that much closer to starting your next job.
2. Consider temp agencies and temp-to-hire roles
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to finding work for people of any age is that it’s generally easier to get a job when you already have a job than when you’re unemployed. Taking a job through a temp agency keeps money coming in, closes gaps in your resume, and helps you with your confidence during the interview process, all of which improve your odds of getting hired.
In addition, in temp-to-hire roles, the company gets a chance to see you at work before committing to putting you on the full-time payroll. If the company sees you delivering what needs to get done and working well with others on its staff, you become the natural candidate for the job.
3. Be willing to "buy yourself a job"
Another option open to older workers is to buy a franchise from a company or an existing small business from a proprietor looking to retire. If you’ve been a diligent saver, you might find yourself with enough money to buy yourself a job that way, even if you don’t have enough to retire or aren’t ready to do so.
When you’re the owner, you get to choose who you employ -- including yourself. If you want to keep working well into your 80s (or even beyond) as an owner, you can very likely do so. Yes, you’ll have money at risk in the venture, but the advantage of buying an existing business or a known franchise is that you’re buying into a proven model, which helps mitigate those risks.
4. Encourage your employer to make more of your compensation "at risk"
One reason employers are often reluctant to hire older workers is the fact that experienced workers generally can command higher salaries than significantly less experienced ones can. If they’re worried about having to pay you more to get hold of your experience, you can offer to take a lower up front salary in exchange for a higher potential bonus if you’re successful.
Many roles have measurable goals that make it clear whether you’re doing a poor job, an OK job, or an excellent job. Employers are often willing to pay more for those who deliver above and beyond expectations. By being willing to take a lower up-front salary, you’re reducing the risk your prospective employer takes by bringing you onboard. By tying more of your total compensation to what you deliver, you also make it clear to your boss that you’re worth every penny (and more) of what you’re earning.
5. Leverage your friends and professional network
An advantage you have of being an older worker is the fact that you’ve met more people in your personal and professional life than you had when you were just starting out. Let your friends and network know that you’re looking, what you’re looking for, and how you can help them with what they need at work. They may not be able to help you right away, but if they know you’re looking and know what you have to offer, your name will more likely come to mind if a similar opportunity comes up.
These days, sites like LinkedIn put your professional network at your fingertips. And even if your own personal cost cutting has taken away your phone or personal internet access, many public libraries offer free computer use and internet access that you can use in your search. Whether you’re pounding the pavement or networking electronically, reaching out to those you know could very well open more doors than relying entirely on the kindness of strangers.
6. Tackle the "overqualified" label head on
A risk employers see when considering older workers is the risk that the job being hired for is beneath the skills of an experienced applicant vying for the position. They don’t want to hire someone and invest in training and onboarding that person only to have that person get bored with the role and quickly quit.
Help put your potential boss at ease by letting that person know you’re interested in that role and why you are. According to AARP, some potential phrases to use are ones like “At this point in my career, I want to apply my skills to a new position or field” or “I’m more interested in flexibility and work-life balance, but would consider taking on more responsibility in the future, should it be offered.”
Your goal is to come across as a team player and someone who wants exactly what that job is offering. By doing so, you look far less risky to your future employer and far more likely to fit into the company’s culture.
7. Consider offering your services to a not-for-profit that you support
Good charities are often stretched to the limits in terms of being able to serve their missions. Despite the good works they perform, they often find it hard to fill staff positions because they can’t usually pay as well as their for-profit competitors for labor. If a charity you support is looking to hire, you might find yourself to be an excellent candidate for the job.
After all, if you’ve long supported the charity’s mission, chances are that you’re already a known entity to it -- putting you that much higher on its list of potential candidates. In addition, if you’ve previously supported the charity financially, supporting it with your time and talent could just be an evolution of your support. As a bonus, that may help you accept the lower salary that the charity can offer.
8. Tell the truth -- and nothing but the truth -- in your resume
In crime dramas, witnesses being sworn in are often instructed to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” When it comes to your resume, telling the truth and nothing but the truth is critically important. For older workers, however, it may be preferable to omit the “whole truth” part of that oath.
Consider omitting the years of your graduation from high school, college, or graduate school and limiting your reported work experience and awards to those you’ve received in the past fifteen or so years. By doing so, you’re telling the truth to your prospective employer and focusing on what are likely the most relevant parts of your work experience, but you’re not directly revealing your age. You’ll still be seen as an experienced candidate, but you’ll reduce the risk of being branded as “old” before you even start.
9. Offer yourself as a contractor instead of as a direct employee
Especially in companies with generous benefits, there may be a fear that an older worker just wants to get on the benefits gravy train. The easiest way to get past that fear is to offer to do the job without those benefits. If you have experience and skills the company needs, it may be willing to restructure the role and pay you more as a contractor than you’d get if you’d otherwise get the role as an employee.
The company needs to follow certain guidelines to stay out of trouble with the IRS, but even with those rules, you might find yourself able to negotiate the job and a higher salary by forgoing the benefits. Many people even find they enjoy working as contractors, as it means they can focus more on the work and less on the office politics and mandatory employee meetings and trainings most companies have.
Keep yourself employable and active
For many people, age is indeed just a number. Whether you need the money to cover your costs of living or you just want to keep yourself active and engaged, working can be a key part of your life as you get older. Following these nine tips can go a long way towards helping keep you in the game and relevant to those who could potentially offer you your next role.