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Tips for Mature Job Seekers in a Tough Economy
by Terrie O'Connell

Even if you're over 50, you can still make it in today's job market. You just need the right attitude and the right strategy.

Fortune magazine painted a frightening career picture for older professionals in its February 1999 cover story, "Finished at Forty." "Once you're 55, it's almost impossible to find a job in business. But a new trend is emerging: In corporate America, 40 is starting to look and feel old."

To be sure, finding or keeping a job, especially in this economy, becomes increasingly difficult as you age. But it is not as impossible as Fortune magazine would have seniors (and not so seniors) believe. While age bias does exist, it, like youth and inexperience, is an obstacle that can be overcome.

So what are older professionals to do when they are forced out of the workplace by downsizing or decide to leave their long-time jobs voluntarily to pursue other options? How do they succeed in a market that favors younger professionals who will work for less money?

First of all, assume a positive attitude. Carole Kanchier, author of the book "Dare to Change Your Job and Your Life," says that can make all the difference.

She cites the examples of two of her clients, both of whom lost their jobs in the 1990s because of defense-industry downsizing, to make her point. One believed she had too much experience and knowledge to offer to potential employers to go without a job for long, and she was employed within two months. The other was convinced that he could never get a job because none were available in the aerospace industry. He was jobless for more than a year before seeking guidance and getting his career back on track.

"You need to believe that you're going to get the job," Kanchier says of older people on the job hunt. "If you think you're too old and you won't get it, then you won't get it."

Helen Harkness, author of "Don't Stop the Career Clock: Rejecting the Myths of Aging for a New Way to Work in the 21st Century," echoes that sentiment. "You have to be excited about what you're doing and really want to do it," she says. "And then you have to communicate that excitement. ... If you don't have a plan, you fake it until you make it. You don't go out there looking like a victim."

Career self-assessment is equally essential. Consider your interests, skills and values and determine exactly what you want from a job. Don't just take any job for the sake of a job or security or salary. When examining your abilities, first distinguish between transferable skills (also known as functional skills) and special-knowledge skills. The latter skills--knowledge of the law, for instance--are exclusive to a particular profession. The former skills--like communication, editing and organization--come naturally no matter what your training, and they can be of benefit across professions. If you cannot find functional skills anywhere in your employment past that you could apply in a new field, then you are looking at the wrong field.

All workers in this economy need to take an entrepreneurial, "brand-you approach" to the job search. Think of yourself as the product you are selling, and then determine your market and how to merchandise your skills.

Another tip: Ask yourself what you would do in your spare time--or what you would do if you were 20 years younger because people are living much longer these days and ultimately will have longer careers. After evaluating your own skills, evaluate your industry. Most workers in their 50s do not know what is happening in their own firms, let alone their industry, and that may lead them to invest valuable time in trying to find work in an industry that is dying.

Furthermore, you should be prepared to address difficult issues in job interviews. Employers, for instance, seldom will raise the issue of age directly because of laws against age discrimination. But you should address the issue if they sense age-related discomfort on the part of the interviewer. Emphasize how your age, and all the maturity and experience that come with it, will work to the company's advantage.

In addition, while you may be reluctant to take a pay cut, you should not be too quick to rule out such jobs because a job with a company that pays less now may pay more than in the future. Just determine what your family can afford and how long it will take to make up the difference. If you are determined not to take a pay cut or take a step back on the career ladder to get your foot in the door of a new company, a smaller firm may be the answer. They are less bureaucratic, less conservative and often have a greater need for the skills older professionals can provide. They are also generally willing to pay larger salaries for workers with greater maturity and varied experiences. Most importantly, more and more of today's jobs are in small firms anyway.

Consulting is another viable option, and as you approach employers on either an employment or a contract basis, let them decide which method fits their needs best -- and perhaps nudge you along a new career direction.

Whichever route you choose -- big company or small, employee or consultant -- always do your homework. Research the companies where you want to work and the people in them, and let them know, in your cover letters and interviews, what you have learned and how you can help them achieve their company goals. The Internet is an invaluable tool in that regard.

You also should remember a tip that is invaluable to anyone on the job trail: Use your professional network. If you don't belong to professional organizations, join; and if you belong but have not been active, re-engage. Networking is one area where age should be a distinct advantage because the longer you have been working, the more professional relationships you should have. Some networks are even geared toward 40- and 50-something workers.

TROA, whose Web site includes a transition center, caters to retired military officers, while more than two dozen Forty Plus chapters nationwide offer aid to older workers seeking career counseling. , which dubs itself "the leading Web destination of first-wave baby boomers," published a special report on second careers that examined the secrets of older workers in successful transitions. And the American Association of Retired Persons , which is not just for retired people any more, offers an abundance of career advice in the "Working Options" section of its Web site.

Above all else, put your chronological age out of mind and remember that work life can begin anew at what some might consider old age. People often let their age alter their thinking about their lives. You can have a full career after you're 50 or 55.

If you feel your age is a factor in your job search, I encourage you to consider the support offered in our group or individual coaching programs. Call today for a free 1/2 hour consultation to discuss your situation and goals at (720) 298-6614

Terrie OConnell may be contacted at Terrie O'Connell is a renowned career consultant with her own successful entrepreneurial career spanning over 16 years. Terrie's passion is to help others realize their dreams - through strategically co-creating one's career, business and personal goals. Her comprehensive Career Center ( offers outstanding resources for those looking for career growth or job search strategy. For answers to your career questions, contact Terrie toll-free at 1-866-4LIVEADVICE and enter #16219.



Copyright Michele Caron, 2002-2005