Getting a Foot in the Door After 50

Managers and professionals in their 50s who get downsized out of a job increasingly aren’t opting for early retirement, an article in The Wall Street Journal pointed out. That’s because many can’t afford to stop working – and even if they can, they often want the camaraderie and stimulation of a job.

But finding a new position means they must convince a prospective employer that they aren’t too old to learn something new and have the energy to work as hard as employees in their 20s and 30s. Plus job candidates in their 50s need to convince the prospective employer that they are comfortable reporting to a younger boss—and perhaps willing to earn less than their prior jobs.

Some hiring managers think older candidates may “just want to land someplace before they get the ideal job, are bored or are going to try to take over,” Cathy Fyock, an employer strategist based in Crestwood, Ky., told the newspaper. “They are discounting or not considering individuals at all because they’re ‘overqualified’ without really thinking through legitimate reasons why the person could be a fabulous addition to their work teams.”

According to a December 2005 retirement study from AARP, an advocacy group for older Americans, 68 percent of workers age 50 to 70 said they planned to work full time after the traditional retirement age. While the median retirement age in the 1990s was approximately 62, 75 percent of respondents in the survey expected to continue working until at least 65, the article pointed out. Among the most popular reasons to continue working were the desire to stay mentally active, and the need for income and health benefits.

John Baackes, currently chief excecutive of Senior Whole Health, a health-care provider for the elderly based in Cambridge, Mass., left his former job as a senior vice president at a large insurance company last year. Though he was about to turn 59, retirement was the last thing on his mind. “I have children who are still in high school, so from a financial standpoint, it would have been impractical to retire,” he told the newspaper. “I also did not want to spend any more years doing something I wasn’t passionate about.”

Susan Dennison, a construction director based in New York, lost her job when her position was eliminated; but at 60, Dennison said she wasn’t ready to retire, emotionally or financially, so she started looking for a new post. “I need to work. I’ve worked for many years, very diligently, and with all my heart and soul…and I can’t do it any differently.”

Finding the right place, though, isn’t always easy for 50-plus workers, the article pointed out. One 54-year-old job searcher in New York, formerly a senior product manager at a bank, had to leave because his job was being relocated and he couldn’t move. He believes his résumé is outstanding and that he performs well in interviews, and feels he is in better physical shape today than he was 25 years ago. But he said he often has been unable to get past the initial screening process.

“All screeners at companies are 26 years old, they look at your most recent job, flip to the bottom of page two and they say, ‘Oh my God, this guy graduated from college before I was born,’” said the project manager, after sending résumés to almost 40 companies. He isn’t certain that age discrimination has been at play, but he said he has gotten many more interviews since removing references to his first job and his college graduation date from applications.

Kate Wendleton, president of the Five O’Clock Club, a career-counseling network, believes that when dealing with a younger interviewer, “you need to reassure them that at your age, you want to do the job you are applying for right now.” She advised older applicants to say, ‘I’ve been through it all, I had people working for me, and I’m happy now.’” She also advised 50-somethings to convey that they plan to stay on the job for a long time, and have a lot of energy.

According to the article, the worst thing an older applicant can do is speak dismissively to a youthful-looking interviewer. Never talk “about the ‘old days’” and “how we did it,” said Wendleton, who also tells older applicants to update their wardrobes and not to hesitate to color their hair.

Older job searchers also must avoid getting weeded out because of the high pay they received in prior jobs, the article noted. The U.S. Department of Labor found in 2005 that the average annual earnings per worker peaked at $39,156 between the ages of 45 and 54, and then declined to $31,096 for workers 65 and older.

Edward Mills, a 68-year-old director of fundraising at Consumer Reports and a former computer-systems developer, said the people hiring for his current job told him right away that he would be out of their budget range. But Mills avoided discussing salary through the entire interview process, telling his prospective employers that the salary question would work itself out. Then, when he was finally offered the job, he negotiated his pay for the position.

In many cases, though, older candidates simply have to accept lower salaries, the article noted. Baackes, who said he made between $200,000 and $300,000 at his former position, knew he would have to sacrifice his old salary if he left. He now makes only about two-thirds of his former salary, but he said he’s still happier in his current job.

News from BLK

We are delighted to welcome two new members to our Research Division. Joan Schulman is an entrepreneur who has managed her own small business for many years. Her customer service experience is second to none! Joanne Dikun comes to us with an extensive sales and account executive background from Motorola and Scott Paper company. We’re all very pleased to have both women join our strong research team.

Bob Larson, CPC, Chairman of the National Association of Personnel Services is honored to be the Luncheon Speaker at the combined NJSA, NYSA, Pennsylvania Staffing Association Eastern, and MAAPC 2006 Owners/Senior Managers Retreat being held this June 14 – 15 in Point Pleasant Beach, NJ. Bob will address the group on the topic “The Future: ‘Supply – Demand’ versus ‘Demand – Supply’” – a discussion of the realities of today’s competitive job market.