Job hunting can be an ordeal no matter what your age. If you're past 50, however, additional obstacles may lie in your career path — not the least of which is age discrimination. That doesn't mean you should stay in a job you hate or give up the hunt for better employment. But, experts say, it does mean you'll need to be proactive, flexible, and resilient.
At your age, you have decades of job experience. That's a good thing, right? Think again. If an older job candidate has more experience than needed by the position they've applied for, an employer might be concerned: A company doesn't want to train and onboard someone who will grow bored of the role quickly, leave, be resistant to change, or overstep their bounds because they've been in higher roles before. Your goal is to look like someone who wants exactly what that job offers. "Reframe what you've done at a previous job and give it a shiny coat so that it doesn't look like something you did 20 years ago," says Kerry Hannon, author of "Great Jobs for Everyone 50+." "Relate it to what's going on right now."
The New Job Pays Less
If you've been out of the workforce for a while or have decided to switch fields, don't be surprised if that new position pays less than you're accustomed to. Bear in mind that the opportunity to expand a skill set or fulfill a professional dream may be worth accepting a lesser salary. "If you're financially fit, you'll be able to accept the job, which might not have the salary that you hoped for, but gets you back in the workforce," Hannon says. Try to negotiate more flextime, vacation days, and other perks for a better compensation package. You could also take a lower upfront salary in exchange for a higher potential bonus based on meeting or exceeding performance goals after you're hired.
Being on Social Media is Expected
An updated LinkedIn profile is essential if you're job hunting. Don't use your fear of being hacked or a dislike of social media as an excuse for
not building a personal page. "LinkedIn can be intimidating," says Maggie Graham, a Colorado-based career counselor. "After all, more than 460 million users are on the platform across 200 countries and territories, its features are undergoing constant change, and there's a tidal wave of decisions that confront new users." You don't need to spend hours a day online — but like a garden, your LinkedIn page will need tending. Make sure your profile isn't a word-for-word duplicate of your resume. Be considerate when networking with strangers on the site. And make sure you've activated your profile to let employers know you're open to offers.
Photos Are a Must
You may be camera shy, but your LinkedIn profile needs to include a photograph of yourself — professional and recent. "Dress for success. This includes updating your haircut, glasses, if you wear them, makeup, if you wear it, and business attire," says Randi Bussin, a certified career-management coach. Whatever you do, don't use that vacation selfie you posted on Facebook.
Job Sites Aren't Geared Toward Older Adults
A general employment site such as Indeed may be useful for getting a sense of the local job market, but sifting through all those listings can be discouraging. Instead, look to sites designed expressly for older, more experienced workers, such as RetirementJobs.com, and organizations such as AARP, which maintains a robust online site for job seekers over 50. AARP also offers free reviews as well as paid services to update a resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, and more.
The Office is Designed for 20-Somethings
Free snacks and beverages are nice perks. But a company that places a premium on perks appealing to millennials and Gen Z employees — physically demanding team-building exercises and open, communal workspaces, for instance — can be an awkward fit for older workers. Employers may also not know how to communicate effectively with older applicants during interviews or in written job descriptions. "It often manifests itself in what I call lazy language," Tim Garrett, a labor and employment attorney with Bass, Berry & Sims, tells the website Human Resource Executive. "Somebody says that they want to cultivate a 'youthful environment' when what they really mean is a 'vibrant environment.'"
Age Discrimination is Real
You may never encounter a younger coworker who uses the subtle put-down "Okay, boomer," but it's a fact that older adults face bias during the hiring process and on the job — partly because many employers don't know how to manage an intergenerational workforce. "This is the first time ever that five different generations are in America's workforce at the same time, from Gen Z-ers up to baby boomers," LinkedIn career expert Blair Decembrele tells USA Today. "It's no surprise that there are some growing pains." As you look for work, acknowledge that bias exists, but don't sell yourself short. "Older workers have wisdom to bring to the table," says Steve Hatfield, of the consulting firm Deloitte. Come prepared to discuss how your experience and professional goals can be an asset to the company within the position you're seeking.
It's Easy to Become Discouraged
Given these obstacles, it's not surprising that older adults can become depressed about their career prospects, says Ruth Kanfer, a professor of psychology at the Georgia Institute of Technology and co-author of a study that looked at older adults seeking employment. "As you get older, you're less likely to know people who are actively searching for jobs in the areas that you are," she says. "You're not connected to the job-search network the way a 25-year-old or 35-year-old might be. That means you may not know of as many job opportunities as younger people." Her advice: Push yourself to network, as much for social support as for professional leads. Join a LinkedIn or Facebook group for job seekers, attend a local gathering of like-minded professionals via Meetup, or simply reach out to friends and professional acquaintances to let them know you're looking. "Talk to other older people who recently found work about what they did right and wrong," she adds. And hang in there!