THE BLOG
12/20/2013 12:39 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2014

Are Headhunters Chowing Down on Boomers?

Musketeer via Getty Images

The economy added 203,000 jobs in November while the unemployment rate dropped to 7 percent, the lowest since November of 2008, according to a recent Labor Department statistic. What has been glossed over in these stats is the fact that workers in their fifties are about 20% less likely than workers ages 25 to 34 to become re-employed, according to an Urban Institute study published last year.

So boomers more than any other groups are haunted by an inner voice, whispering, "Will I ever be hired again?" This makes them hungrier and more vulnerable in their search than younger job seekers. As someone active in the employment search, I recently received an email that tugged at those vulnerabilities stating: "Candidate demand is at a five-year high, causing us to need more high caliber candidates like you in our system." (Like me? Really?)

You have been selected for our Special Invitation. You are just the type
of candidate our recruiters are looking for. Now is the time to make sure you
get as much exposure with our recruiters as possible as they gear up for the
new year. Your skills and background match what our recruiters demand, but they are having
trouble finding you through the crowd. Last month was a very good month for our
recruiter directory, we added hundreds of new top-tier recruiters whose job it is to source top-tier candidates like you. I am personally inviting you to take advantage of our no-risk trial and to start networking with recruiters who seek out candidates like you.
Send your resume directly to people, not job postings!

Another seductive site offers a costlier fee than their basic fees, stating that their Premier level also automatically grows your LinkedIn network of Career Influencers, a larger network with greater access to recruiters and more visibility for your skills and background: "We also provide software that make you more productive and effective in your job search. Taking advantage of our career software will give you an unfair advantage, thousands are already successfully using it."

So, if you pay them, they'll cheat your way into a job? But what if you are over 50?

Meanwhile (for a fee), another site will compare my resume side-by-side with a half-dozen other candidates who went to better schools, worked at greater companies and possibly had better careers than I did. It's so depressing; I'd rather watch my own colonoscopy -- polyps and all -- again.

Receiving daily solicitations via email and phone, from head hunters and recruiters who all want a monthly fee to help me find a job, aren't they thoughtful? In previous eras, those fees were paid exclusively by the employer. If I joined the 4-6 recruitment firms who contact me, they'd eat up the majority of my unemployment check. I'd still be out of work, like the many over 50 who have exhausted their benefits and extended benefits and are invisible in the unemployment statistics.

Some recruiters promise monthly membership comes with a 30-Day 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. How does one define satisfaction? Getting leads? Getting hired? Then the monthly sum is equal to your hourly rate at your new executive level job. Sounds like a bargain.

Susan Sipprelle, producer of the website overfiftyandoutofwork.com and the documentary Set for Life about the older jobless, said she stopped posting articles like "Five Easy Steps to get a New Job." The reality is that the problem of the older unemployed "was acute during the Great Recession, and is now chronic," Ms. Sipprelle said.

People's lives have been upended by the great forces of history in a way that's never happened before, and there's no other example for older workers to look at. Some can't recoup, though not through their own fault. They're the wrong age at the wrong time. It's cold comfort, but better than suggesting that if you just dye your hair, you'll get that job.

"Once you leave the job market, trying to get back in it is a monster," said Mary Matthews, 57, who has teetered between bouts of unemployment and short temp jobs for the last five years. Applying for jobs every week, most of her applications hit a brick wall. Older workers also have the longest bouts of unemployment. The average duration of unemployment for workers ages 55 to 64 was 11 months as recently as last year, according to the Labor Department. That's three months longer than the average for 25- to 36-year-olds.

Additionally, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute, when workers ages 55 and older do find jobs, they often suffer the greatest salary loss, because most were at peak salary before being laid off. Numerous studies show that beyond a sharp drop in income, long-term unemployment is associated with higher rates of suicide, cancer (especially among men) and divorce. Economists agree that the stigma of long-term joblessness is, by itself, causing persistent joblessness. Compounding this, researchers discovered that the length of time candidates had been out of work mattered more to employers than their job experience.

Without buying into their programs, recruiters will still send job descriptions for your consideration, but they're usually less than stellar and less than appropriate for the experienced boomer.

Things that scream young/not you, boomer job hunter:
  • Two to three years experience coupled with enthusiasm for new opportunities
  • Great sense of humor! (Think Wedding Crashers, Hangover, Conan, etc...)
  • Please have fun with your cover letter. Standard boilerplate notes will be fed to the office jabberwocky. No but seriously. Do. Not. Send. Boring. Cover letters. We have to, you know, read these.
  • A great student mentality!
Things to do to maintain your own mental, physical and financial stamina while job hunting:
  • Hang in. Despite your troubles, many have it worse than you.
  • Hope that people who you mentored over the years remember you kindly in their new successful roles. Set up informational meetings with them.
  • Find a form of exercise that you like: walking, biking, weight lifting, yoga, etc. Staying active helps keep mind and body fit, helps fight weight gain and depression.
  • Hope that friends and neighbors invite you to dinner, frequently.
  • Practice a serious facial expression for when you learn that the person who terminated you has experienced a "reorg" resulting in their termination too.