Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Remaining Viable as an Older Worker

It can be stressful searching for a job when you’re in yours 20s or 30s, but what about decades later, when you’re in your 40s or 50s? It can be terrifying.

Certainly, when you’re older you have more experience to offer an employer, but, well, you’re older. And in a youth-obsessed society, that can seriously impact your ability to get the job you desire and believe you are qualified to fill. Is that fair? No. Is it legal? No. But it happens all the time, from the worker who is slowly eliminated from top-level meetings, to the job candidate being denied a second interview once the interviewer saw the crow’s feet and gray hair.

Still, the news is not all bad for older workers. Just look at the start-up companies that go begging for older executive coaches when they realize they have zero management experience, or the employers who hire back retired workers when they find they make better, more dependable employees.

At the same time, it’s best to be prepared for the way you will be viewed by others once you hit your middle years. For example, are you still wearing the tie you got from your kids in 1982? Is your hairstyle reminiscent of Mary Tyler Moore 30 years ago? Do you complain openly of your aches and pains and have no idea who Kanye West is?

If so, it’s time for some updating, so you won’t be outdated. Consider:

  • Visiting a personal stylist. Of course, you’d look ridiculous with six earrings in your ear, blue spiked hair and biker boots. But you also need to have someone qualified analyzing your appearance from year to year. Visit a department store cosmetics counter, a hair salon that caters to professionals and consider getting some new duds, or at least update your current wardrobe with alterations. (By the way, this applies to men and women.)
  • Keep up on current events. Not just what your 401(k) is earning and what’s playing on the Golden Oldies station. Pick up a copy of Rolling Stone magazine, check into some of the trendy television shows being talked about by younger staff members, and visit MySpace and YouTube so you understand what's popular. Okay, so maybe it isn’t your cup of tea, but look at it as an investment in your career.
  • “When I was your age…” Never, never, begin a sentence this way. You might as well ask for a rocking chair and arthritis medicine. Try not to recall your glory days, but rather offer opinions based on experiences in your career that are timeless and universal.
  • Offer contacts. There’s nothing quite as valuable to co-workers and company brass than the relationships you have formed over the years with vendors, customers, competitors, etc. There is be a certain level of trust among those with long relationships that can be highly valued in a competitive environment.
  • Keep the edge. Don’t rest on former glories. Always appear enthusiastic in offering new ideas or accepting new challenges. Don’t have a “been there, done that” attitude that says you’re bored, but you’ll do it because you get paid to.
  • Know when to give in gracefully. This is something time in the workplace has given you: the ability to know when it’s a no-win situation. This is when you back off and learn to fight another day. Because if you keep at it, you may end up looking like a cantankerous old blowhard who can’t work with others.

    For more information on career resources for older workers, check out the "career links" on this website.

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