That magical number, "50," seems to have vastly different interpretations, depending on whether you're looking for a job or already have one. If you're currently employed, by the time you reach 50 years old, you might look at what you've accomplished since it's likely you've been in the workforce for nearly half of your life. On the other hand, despite laws that prohibit employment discrimination based on age, landing a job when you're 50 might require a different strategy than you used at the beginning of your career.
Know Your Rights
Practical aspects of searching for employment when you're over 50 include knowing your rights. Unless age is a bona fide occupational qualification, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1964 prohibits employers from denying equal employment opportunities to applicants and employees who are 40 and older. Employers can't advertise positions that say they want "young professionals," nor can they deny employment or promotions to workers based on age. Most companies know the law, although the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires compliance with ADEA regulations only from companies that employ at least 20 workers. (See Reference 6).
The nuts and bolts of your job search — your application, resume and cover letter — shouldn't reveal your age. List your academic credentials, but leave off the dates you earned your degree. Recruiters who calculate your graduation date will know you're over 50 if you graduated from college in 1983. Don't list every job you've ever held for two reasons: Your resume will probably be longer than necessary and you'll give away your age. Let your resume focus on your most relevant work history, which can usually include the last 10 years or so. Revamp your resume into a functional one that puts your professional competencies front and center, instead of a chronology that reveals how long you've been working. Recruiters really want to know what you have done lately. Avoid boasting about how many decades of experience you have, suggests Katharine Hansen, careers expert and co-owner of Quintessential Careers, in her post titled, "Resume, Cover Letter and Interview Strategies for Older and Mature Workers." (See, Reference 5, first bullet in second section, " ... Cover Letter Strategies.").
It's a shame, but some recruiters and hiring managers base their decisions solely on appearance. This means you could have a stellar work history and outstanding qualifications, but if your appearance gives any indication that you're over 50, you might not be among the short list of suitable candidates. Women, treat yourself to an appointment with an image consultant who can give you tips on updating your look by getting rid of gray hair and wearing more stylish — but still age-appropriate — clothing and accessories. Men willing to shave their heads like Randy Adams did and don ultra-casual wear might do themselves a favor by looking far younger than their chronological age, as described in Adams' journey to his role as CEO, chronicled in the UK's Mail Online's November 2012 article titled, "I Had to Shave My Head to Land Silicon Valley CEO Job." (See, Reference 4).
Four generations comprise today's workforce: traditionalists, born 1945 and earlier; baby boomers, born 1946 to 1964; Generation X, born 1965 to 1980; and millennials, born 1980 and later. It's likely that you're in the baby boomer generation, which made up 38 percent of the workforce in 2011, according to AARP's report titled, "Leading a Multigenerational Workforce." During your interviews, subtly reference characteristics of your generation without discounting the contributions of younger workers. For example, you could reflect on your stable work history as evidence that you value commitment and loyalty and connect those professional values to the company's philosophy. (See Reference 3, PDF page 10/36, for generation dates).
If you've let conventional processes be your mainstay, you should upgrade your knowledge of technology and software proficiency. Cloud computing, social networking and webinars often take the place of compact discs for digital storage, cocktail parties and classroom learning. Your ability to differentiate between Windows 8 and OS X Mountain Lion could give you an edge over your competition. Embracing the concept that technology is useful for practically every field, industry and job type is important because when you're a 50-plus job seeker, attitude can mean everything.
- Forbes: Older Workers: There's Hope: Study Finds Employers Like You Better Than Millennials
- Anne Loehr & Associates: Workforce Trends: How Baby Boomer Retirement Will Change the Workplace in the Next Decade. You Ready?
- AARP: Leading a Multigenerational Workforce
- Mail Online: I Had to Shave My Head to Land Silicon Valley CEO Job
- Quintessential Careers: Resume, Cover Letter and Interview Strategies for Older and Mature Workers
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Age Discrimination
- Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images