(First published in Changing Aging Magazine)
“So, what year did you graduate from high school?”
Do they really think that I don’t see right through their question?
I keep my cool and politely answer their inquiry. I know they just want to hear me tell them my age. They just want to hear it from the horse’s mouth, some kind of admission of guilt. But I am innocent. I am 58 years old, and I am proud of my age, aging, and the vast experience and wisdom I have acquired over the years.
But I am facing the same difficulties as countless others my age in reentering the job market. Last year I was laid off from a job after being told that my position was being eliminated. Shortly after, I found out that someone else replaced me. Since then, I have applied to countless jobs. Despite aging reports, I don’t worry about my future, and I am not seeking jobs out of desperation or the fear of financial collapse. I am seeking a job because of my strong desire to keep working, learning, and achieving.
Recently, an article in The New York Times, entitled “After Years Out of a Job, Older Workers Find a Way Back In” emphasized the rapidly shifting set of workplace skills. The conclusion, “Be pliable”, doesn’t quite address all the issues.
As older job applicants, and quote unquote seniors, we need to simultaneously deflect skepticism about our age and embrace the unique qualities that older applicants’ job search strategies may offer such as creativity, resourcefulness, and, yes, tech savviness and proficiency in social media. The responsibility to promote these qualities falls on us. I advise us to do it a certain way. Keeping up with the times is what successful job seekers do regardless of age. If we, as 50-and-older aspirants, are to reenter the tough world of employment, we need to fully embrace our own evolution toward the future.
Some older job seekers opt to take online classes, and my generation has fair access to all things digital. Through study, I believe that boomers can showcase technological prowess. There are thousands of courses to choose from, many of which are free. In addition to obtaining unofficial certification through these courses, I’ve found it beneficial to impress instructors in order to obtain letters of recommendation. If this appears to be a burden, ask for a comment of three to four sentences. A mention of excellent participation from the adviser, course creator, course leader, or instructor will be an extra boost to an applicant’s credibility. Knowing how to stand out in a class of 100 is excellent preparation for the actual game of full-time employment.
Online reputation sounds great, but we also need to show up to the interviews looking fresh and energetic. Understanding that the days of the “power suit” are gone in most offices and industries, it’s been quite a challenge to figure out what casual means to me and then pick clothes that I will not be embarrassed to wear as a 50-something in a corporate setup. It need not cost a lot of money. I look at it this way: updating the wardrobe is as simple as walking into one of many chains focused on a younger demographic and finding a look that fits. Embracing my age seems to be the best approach — not trying to be something, or someone, I can’t be.
I have the aptitude and desire to continue working. Lowering my expectations does not appeal to me, and I believe we need to raise the bar for ourselves and not fear change. We need to avoid stasis, be self-critical, and do the hard work to get back into the race. We need to recognize that the job market is about individuality rather than conformity and to be aware that our skills seem to be diminished in the eyes of younger employers and address their skepticism with energy and enthusiasm.
At the same time, our cultural view of older men and women needs to be refreshed. If you are grey or bald, I say be proud and shout about it. Let everyone know how much you have to give to your potential employer and your community. Put your assets on display.
And when it is time for an interview with an employer who is young enough to be your child just remember one thing: Your qualifications, experience, and talent will set you apart from the rest.