One of my clients is an older individual who was recently downsized by a major organization. Being over age 50 and a long-service employee he was concerned about how to compete in today’s job market. A recent article he read in an established business journal offered quaint advice for older applicants such as updating your wardrobe, dying your hair and texting on your iPhone at least once during the interview.
As one who struggles regularly with technology and steadfastly refuses to dye my hair (I’ve earned my grey strands and am proud of it!!) I admit I balked at the superficiality and naivete this writer proposed. Having experienced personally the shock and anger of being downsized later in my career here is my advice to those older workers facing this challenge.
Realism, Networking, Thinking Small and Focusing
First, get realistic. Don’t naturally assume that because you were a Director or a Vice President in your previous company supervising a department of hundreds that your next opportunity will naturally look the same. The marketplace is changing, and all of us, regardless of our age or circumstances, need to adapt. That means making changes in how we work (e.g. contract work), where we work (e.g. work from home), and what we are paid (e.g. perhaps a salary cut). Don’t get hung up on job titles and reporting relationships.
Second, network like crazy! Contact every person in your Rolodex or your cell phone, every contact on your LinkedIn profile, and absolutely everyone with whom you had previous interactions, to advise them about your changing circumstances. Join Meet up Groups and job search self-help organizations such as Happen. Volunteer a couple of hours a week with a local charity.
Instead of dwelling on the past focus instead on what you are looking for in the future. Make sure your ninety-second elevator speech is concise, clear, and articulates the value you can provide to a prospective employer. When updating your resume and covering letter don’t get fixated on including every minor event, task or accomplishment. Focus on what is relevant in today’s workplace, and tailor each application to the position to which you are applying.
Third, forget large corporations. Sorry, but as someone who has spent a good chunk of his career working for large banks, I can tell you that most large organizations are simply spooked by the prospect of hiring anyone over age 45. Recruiters and Human Resources staff are oriented towards hiring applicants who “share their corporate values” which is often code for only hiring persons under age 35. Big businesses can boast all they like about their commitment to eliminating gender, racial and sexual discrimination but they have a long way to go in addressing prejudice against older workers.
Fourth, focus instead on small to medium-sized companies. Small businesses are the engines of the Canadian economy. Most of these organizations are oriented towards day-to-day issues. Many of these companies struggle with logistical problems such as production, delivery, capacity and planning issues. Smaller businesses also place a higher premium on loyalty, attendance and dependability… characteristics in which older workers excel. Furthermore, older workers, particularly those coming from large companies, possess both breadth and depth of experience that is directly relevant and scalable to small businesses. Small businesses generally don’t care about your age, and through my research, I’m astonished at the number of companies that were founded by entrepreneurs who were themselves earlier victims of corporate downsizings.
Several people I have met who started their careers working for large companies and who now work for smaller organizations say they would never go back. When I ask them the number one reason invariably it comes down to two factors: challenge and lack of internal politics.
Some Final Thoughts
Finally, remember the old adage: you get when you give. I’m a firm believer in “what goes around comes around” and “paying it forward”. If you help those like yourself who are in transition and looking to land a new position it will come back to you in the form of referrals, support and hopefully, a new job opportunity.
The only certainty in today’s labour market is change, and the only sure defence against being subsumed by change is learning and adaptation. Being current means more than investing in a pair of expensive jeans, a new hairstyle or an expensive smartphone to impress work colleagues. What it does require is an understanding of what is happening around you, both globally and locally, and responding proactively to advance your professional growth and career interests.
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