Figure Out What's Next

How to Avoid the Most Common Midlife Job-Hunting Mistakes

career change mark miller Oct 30, 2009
older man and technology

by Mark Miller

photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

In a new report, an organizational behavior specialist explains how to improve your odds of getting hired

Baby boomers intend to work well past retirement age. Most were saying so even before the economy crashed last year, deflating retirement savings and real estate values. Now, working longer has become an imperative for many.

The question is, where? The jobless rate for adults age 55 to 64 has more than doubled since November 2007, months before the recession started. Many of those laid-off workers need to figure out how to get back into the labor force—a big challenge if you’re up against younger candidates and the unfortunate reality of employer age discrimination.


David DeLong, Ph.D., an expert in organizational behavior who has just finished a major study of the challenges aging boomers face in the job market. Called “Buddy, Can You Spare a Job,” the report was commissioned and published by the Metlife Mature Marketing Institute.

His report focuses on ways to make yourself a better candidate in the eyes of employers. One provocative section of the report distills the most common mistakes made by older job candidates.

 Of course I’m good with computers. “Our biggest finding is that it doesn’t matter if you are 25 or 65, you need to keep up your technology skills,” DeLong says. “The problem for the 55-year-old is that a gap in technology knowledge is a quick way for a hiring manager to screen you out. If you go into an interview and a 40-year-old manager comments that he couldn’t find you on LinkedIn, and you say ‘What’s LinkedIn?’ you’ve knocked yourself out of running.” DeLong recommends checking with friends or a friendly hiring manager to test your technology knowledge. Ask yourself what you need to do to be more fluent, and get additional training if necessary.

• I’ll just do what I was doing before. “The older you get, the harder it is to replicate the job you had, unless you have a very specific skill that is hard to find,” DeLong says. “The average 64-year-old will have a hard time finding a job doing what she did at age 50 full-time with benefits. There’s just been too much change in the business world, and employers likely will see her as obsolete.”

• My experience speaks for itself. “Older workers are likely to over-estimate the value of their experience,” he says. “They assume that since they’ve been doing something for years, the employer is lucky to have the opportunity to hire them. It’s a turn-off to younger hiring managers, so what boomers need to do is work hard to frame their past experience as something that can be put to work hiring the employer’s problems—show them how your past is a predictor of future success.”

• I just need a job. “Many older workers complain that they ‘don’t have time for this touchy-feely stuff about what work means to me,’ ” DeLong says. “What they should be doing is taking the time to understand how their skills can be linked to things they really care about to create a more satisfying employment opportunity. Instead, they rush headlong into the market ready to take anything available. They’re ignoring their own needs, and those of the market.”

• I know I’ll become a consultant! Often, people make unrealistic assumptions about the jobs that would be good for them. The one I hear all the time is people who plan to become consultants when they don’t have the discipline, marketing experience, the network—or the orientation to work on their own. At the other end of the spectrum, you have older, low-income folks who want to be security guards. They’re older and not always in good health, but think they could tolerate being on their feet and alone all night.”

• I’ll just use a recruiter for some career coaching. The instinct is correct—older job-seekers who try to go it alone have much more difficulty finding work. But the expectations often are far too high, with many who seek out help expecting instant results.”


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