THE BLOG

Looking for Work Over 50 - Knocking Down Obstacles

02/10/2015 04:07 pm ET | Updated Apr 12, 2015

Looking for work can be one of life's truly daunting experiences. Looking for work when you're older can be a particularly distasteful, even humiliating, exercise.

Some people seem to have no trouble landing new jobs. CEOs, pro football head coaches, movie studio executives, seem to fall upwards almost regardless of how they have performed.

For the rest of us, as our years of "seniorhood" accumulate, it is a tough battle to convince those doing the hiring - almost always younger and very often more "successful" - that we have accomplished worthwhile things, and more importantly, that we still have a quiver full of accomplishments primed to dazzle and amaze.

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Subtle age discrimination in the technology era is abundant, and most of the hiring, even in non-technical areas, is done by folks who make assumptions about us because of the grayness of our hair (what we have left), the wrinkles in the forehead and the number of joints we have that are made out of titanium (two and counting...)

I'm not one of those people who believes that because I've inhabited the planet for a lot of years, it should be assumed I have wisdom others don't. Plenty of the older people I know have barely advanced a millimeter in emotional intelligence since their 20s.

I also know that for all the wonderful things older people can do, for all the accurate claims that this generation at 55 plus is more energetic, fit, productive and inventive than generations past, for all the times we look in the mirror and say, "I may not look 30 but I sure feel it," the rest of the population doesn't necessarily share that rosy view of us.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the job search process.

A lot of the "evidence" of subtle ageism is anecdotal. There may be studies about this, but it's hard to imagine that subtle discrimination is quantifiable (hence the word subtle.) So this is based primarily on the experience of many people I've talked to and my own.

Subtle ageist assumptions made by others about you in the job search may include:

1) You're probably not tech savvy (even though the numbers of folks over 50 who use social media regularly and otherwise navigate the tech world comfortably are high)
2) You're probably looking to retire and therefore unlikely to work very hard or stay very long (which can of course be said about people of any age)
3) If you're not retired, why not? Haven't you made enough money to retire? And if you haven't, what does that say about you as someone we should want to hire?
4) You're most likely not a good fit for a younger workplace environment
5) No matter how energetic you say you are, you're not!

Like most assumptions, these may not be entirely accurate, but may have a kernel of truth. Odds are the over 50 set isn't as tech savvy as their children. We may in fact not fit in perfectly in a young workplace.

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The question is: in a world of resume keyword searches and hashtags, how do you come across as hip and savvy and a desirable hire without looking silly or desperate? How do we look like senior level people of wisdom and knowledge without looking just like, well, seniors?

1) First, over a certain age (45? 50?) you're unlikely to get work, or even a serious look, by "applying" for jobs. Stop applying for jobs. Either you will find something by networking, or by "doing it yourself," which means creating something that relies as little as possible on other people's good graces and as much as possible on your wits and building on what you already have accomplished. If you have illusions that those online jobs boards are useful, they aren't. In fact, they're worse than useless - they take valuable time away from more effective ways of finding work.
2) Be somewhat tech savvy. You should know something about social media, networking sites, how they work, why they are important. Someone once complained to me about Twitter that it is sad people are communicating now in a 140 character badly written format. I replied that people always did that; now it just happens to be acceptable
3) Don't disparage tech things, either to others or in your own head. If you come off as someone who thinks all this tech stuff is ruining society, or brag that you still prefer the feel of a newspaper in your hands to reading online, you'll sound like some old fart in the 50s saying Elvis was a sign that civilization was over.
4) At the same time, don't be the 55 year old wearing the low-riding pants. Knowing something about tech isn't the same as desperately attempting to appear more "techie" than you are
5) There are in fact still jobs and careers where your accomplishments and energy and wisdom matter more than Facebook friends and Twitter followers. If possible, concentrate your efforts there.
6) Most of all, as hinted at above, create something you can call your own. Inventing a job is always better than finding a job. It isn't easy, but almost everyone can create something on his or her own. And if you can, that makes you more desirable to those hiring down however much of the road you have left.

If all that fails, become a CEO or NFL head coach. You'll always find work.