Experts Advise Older Job Seekers to Be Open to Other Career Directions
Larry Wilson quit counting his employment applications about the time he sent his 100th into the employment search maw.
Working as a substitute teacher the past five years, and having pretty much abandoned any hope of landing full-time work, Wilson waxes philosophical about the odds facing a displaced worker over the age of 50.
“We all know that people are supposedly created equal, and that there’s no discrimination,” said the 57-year-old Wilson, a resident of St. Charles County, Mo., who was last employed full-time eight years ago. “Then there’s the real world.”
Reality is an unemployment rate among the 55-and-older crowd that has risen by 103 percent since the onset of the recession, according to a data analysis by the AARP.
Equally sobering is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notation of the 56 weeks, on average, that unemployed job-seekers over 55 wait to find a new job.
Job searches for the remainder of the unemployed population end at the 38-week mark.
Older workers with a wealth of experience contend the reasons for their difficulties are both obvious and unstated.
“It’s difficult to prove without a shadow of doubt that it’s discrimination,” AARP President Robert Romasco said during a recent visit to St. Louis. “But if you talk to anyone over 50 looking for job, you know they’re not feeling the love.”
Older job-seekers suspect employers harbor assumptions that experienced employees will command higher salaries, strain the budgets for employee health care and lag behind younger workers in adapting to the latest technology.
Michael McCarty, a director of Business Persons Between Jobs and an adjunct marketing instructor at Maryville University and St. Louis University, said he believes the suspicions make sense.
“It’s the nub of the jobs crisis that hiring managers won’t or can’t acknowledge,” McCarty said. “If someone has been employed in a single profession or with a single company, they are deemed too old and too expensive to hire.”
The continuing woes of the housing industry earlier this year cost Michael Fischer his position as the chief executive and president of a St. Louis area home products manufacturer.
An executive familiar with the bottom line, Fischer, 55, discounts the notion that older workers drain resources from payrolls and benefit packages.
He points out employed parents in their 50s are often empty-nesters and no longer need health benefits to cover the cost of pregnancies or dependents. A couple can get by with less, he adds, without children living in the home.
Still, having been in on hiring decisions in the past, Fischer is aware of the mind-set of hiring managers that come across his work history.
“People see my resume and think I’m overqualified,” said Fischer, a member of the Go! Network, the St. Louis nonprofit providing support to unemployed executives and managers. “They are skeptical when older workers say they are willing to reinvent themselves, because they think they’ll leave the next time something better comes along.”
Larry Wilson, for all intents and purposes, worked steadily from the moment he “was able to ride a bike and deliver papers” until his 2004 layoff as an accounts manager assisting the business operations of a Japanese firm in North and South America.
“If you look at my resume, it looks like I’d cost a fortune,” he said. A hiring manager might think “he covered both North and South America; he must have made at least $100,000, so he won’t settle for $50,000-$60,000. That’s what I would think if I was on the other side of the desk. Your experience doesn’t work for you anymore; it works against you.”
Wilson in fact would settle for an annual salary in the $50,000 range.
Fischer isn’t interested in returning to a corporate suite; he is pursuing sales positions he figures will pay about two-thirds of what he earned as an executive.
Experts say a willingness to move in another career direction is essential if laid off employees of a certain age are to have any chance of returning to the full-time workforce.
Laid off as an executive assistant in April, Daisy Wilson, 51, is actively seeking a position that will capitalize on a recently earned Lindenwood University degree in human resources management.
“You either reinvent or retreat,” said Wilson, Larry Wilson’s wife. “I choose to reinvent.”
Embracing such a take-charge attitude is the precise message St. Louis career coach and author David Hults drives home in presentations to clients and area organizations that offer support to the unemployed. Hults also counsels experienced workers to bear some of the responsibility for their failure to break through the employment barrier.
Older workers, he contends, are often slow to understand the job searching methods of yesteryear no longer apply.
Gone are the days when the majority of jobs are secured through a “front door” process that begins with a response to a posted employment opportunity, winds through the human resources machinery and ends with a formal offer.
As a the State of the St. Louis Workforce survey pointed out this month, nearly 40 percent of new employees were steered to their current jobs by friends or family members. Just 29 percent reported learning of employment opportunities through advertisements.
Yet, despite his work with BPBJ — where the bulk of members are balding or bald, gray or graying — McCarty says the vast majority of the people seeking to connect with him on LinkedIn business networking site are students he encounters at Maryville and St. Louis universities.
Older workers unwilling to adapt to the new way of doing things, Hults says bluntly, usually find themselves shut out of employment opportunities.
“Many (jobs) are filled because people networked aggressively before” a company realized there was a need to fill a new position, Hults noted.
In defense of people in her age group, Daisy Wilson counters that hiring managers born since 1972 may not fully appreciate how the concept of networking runs counter to many seeking employment for the first time in years, if not decades.
“The older generations were taught that more than five friends weren’t really friends,” Wilson said. “But in this day and age, we use the term ‘friend’ very loosely.”
AARP responded to the outcry over the lack of job offers alike this month by introducing an initiative that encourages the hiring of older Americans. “Work Reimagined” secured commitments from 120 nationally known employers — including AT&T, Toys R Us and Scripps Health — to actively recruit more experienced workers for open positions.
Using LinkedIn as a platform, the program additionally provides resources to assist the older workers with job searches.
Citing the shaky economic recovery and wariness about the November election, McCarty says turning around the fortunes of millions of unemployed older workers will unfortunately require far more than 120 companies taking a pledge similar to the one exacted by AARP.
“If I’m an employer, I’m going to find a way to hire a part-time employee or a consultant if I can,” he said, “so there will be no benefits and no commitment to the employee.”
It’s a mind-set, McCarty adds, that harms job-seekers no matter what their year of birth.
Source: MCT Services