Anyone over the age of 50 who claims to be hard hit by the recession isn't wrong: According to recent data, people born between 1946 and 1964 have lost the most earning power following the recession.
But the 50-year-old who claims that "no one wants to hire someone my age" would be wrong.
If you're 50-plus and have experienced a job loss, or you're simply looking to switch gigs, take heart in the fact that your career isn't over. We spoke to two experts — as well as a few people who've been there themselves — for dos and don'ts advice on how older workers can better market themselves in today's job search... and get hired.
1. Don't... try harder
You read that right. Don't.
If you've been on the job hunt for a while, with little or no success, you may have heard this platitude: Just try harder! But according to Bob Sullivan, co-author of The Plateau Effect: Getting From Stuck to Success, it's actually the worst thing that you can do in this situation.
"When you find yourself putting more and more effort into something that’s getting less and less results, it's not a sign that you should keep trying — it’s just the opposite," says Sullivan. Of course, this isn't to say that you should stop putting in effort altogether. Rather, you should try something different, whether it's revamping your LinkedIn profile, networking more consistently, or working with a career coach to more effectively bust through a job-hunt rut.
2. Do... make your résumé ageless
Lisa Johnson Mandell was in her late 40s when she suddenly found herself without a job. Although she made sure to show off her 20-plus years of experience as an entertainment reporter on her résumé, after countless job applications went unanswered, her husband gave her the hard truth. "He said, 'Lisa, don't hate me, but you really look kind of old on paper,'" she recalls.
So Mandell removed key age indicators from her résumé, such as the year she graduated from college and the lengths of time that she was employed. "As soon as I sent out this new résumé that wouldn't tell anybody how old I was, I started getting responses — I'm not kidding you — within 20 minutes," she says. "And, in two weeks, I had three full-time job offers."
The result wasn't just a new gig, either — she also wrote a book, Career Comeback: Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want, in which she shares strategies for giving a résumé a more youthful spin. "Somebody in their 20s looks at 20-plus years of experience and puts you in the same age group as a mother or grandmother," she says. Of course, in an ideal world, experience should trump age, but Mandell adds that "if you're really intent on getting a job, you have to make concessions."
3. Do... brush up on your interview skills
If you haven't interviewed in a long time, you could probably use some practice. Instead of role-playing with a too-comfortable friend, try going on a few interviews for jobs that you aren't as jazzed about "because what you don't want is to go on an interview for the job that you most want and screw up," explains Art Koff, founder of RetiredBrains.com, which connects older workers with employers. "Every interview is a learning process."
You may also want to record yourself speaking. It's a tip that David Welbourn received while making a career switch at the age of 59 from a fundraising post at a hospital to a director role at a nonprofit. His advice: "Listen to your own voice, and ask yourself, 'Do I have enough emotion? Do I sound like I care?'"
4. Don't... write off temporary or part-time work
"Employers are particularly receptive to hiring the over-50 set on a part-time, temporary, or project basis," says Koff. "The employers get experienced, reliable employees, and in most cases, they don't have to pay benefits for these positions, making these workers cost-effective."
Koff even advises reaching out to a company that you admire and offering to work on a part-time, trial basis. "It gives you a little bit of a leg up because the employer can then say, 'We can hire this guy, and if it doesn't work out, we'll let him go,'" he says.
In fact, that's exactly how Evelyn Wolovnick found her way back into the workforce after being laid off from her job at an insurance company at the age of 59. After writing a few letters to companies suggesting that they hire her on a temporary basis, she landed a part-time consulting gig with a business in Chicago. Wolovnick signed the six-month contract six years ago — and she's still happily employed.
5. Do... start a blog
Blogging about your field will help alleviate younger hiring managers' concerns about your tech-savviness, advises Mandell. "It shows that you're web savvy and that you're up-to-the-minute in your field," she says. "If you're blogging about the latest advancements going on in your field, potential employers will say, 'Wow, this person is really current.'"
6. Do... give yourself a makeover
Mandell often advises older job seekers to make an effort to look younger, like dying gray hair or shaving your head to disguise balding. "It sounds kind of vacuous, but it really can make a difference," she says.
Welbourn received similar advice during his job hunt. "Somebody mentioned to me that I should get my teeth whitened, and dress a little less formally," he recalls. "It doesn't show a lack of understanding of the corporate culture — it shows confidence in being able to be a little informal with people in an informal setting."
7. Don't... ignore alternative ways to make money
There are a number of things that you can do on the side to earn money while you look for more permanent employment, such as freelancing in your field or even participating in market research surveys. "If you're working a 30-hour side gig, we're talking about making anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 on a monthly basis," Koff says.
There's an added bonus to this approach: If you're forced to step away from a full-time job, you may stumble onto something different — and even more lucrative. Koff recalls the story of one man who, after being laid off in his 50s, said to his wife, "After all these years, I'm going to finally clean out my garage." He did such a great job that he now operates a garage-cleaning company that staffs five employees.
8. Do... view your age as an asset
While working with New Directions, a company that provides career-transition training, Welbourn learned how he could differentiate himself from younger competition. "I got wonderful coaching about how to make the case for myself not as an older person," he says, "but as an experienced individual who was less likely to be fooled by situations, and someone with a good track record of success."
In fact, it's something that he takes into consideration when doing his own hiring. "This may sound ageist, but as a leader, I would rather hire somebody who really has good experience," he says. "Someone who can weather the ups and downs."