Workers in their 50s are about 20% less likely than workers ages 25 to 34 to become re-employed, says a 2012 Urban Institute study. Nearly two-thirds of unemployed workers age 55 and up say they’ve been actively looking for work for over a year, according to a recent survey by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.
"When there's a large supply of unemployed workers, employers can afford to be choosier, and they're opting for workers they think are less expensive or more recently trained," said Sara Rix, senior strategic policy advisor for AARP's Public Policy Institute.
Is age discrimination alive and well? To some degree, yes. But according to Patricia Smith, senior VP at the career-coaching firm, New Directions, it's now just an obstacle, not a barrier. "You don't want to work for a company that doesn't want to embrace you because of your age anyway," says Smith.
So what can 55 and 60 year olds do to find a decent IT job? Smith advises senior job seekers to consider more flexible work arrangements—things like consulting, interim work, long-term project work, or joining a "flex work" company that offers project or contract work on a freelance basis. These arrangements allow you to learn new skills, and try new career areas without a big commitment. The same holds true for employers, who may be reluctant in these times to take on a new, older employee. A flex work or consulting arrangement is a win-win for both sides: employees get a paycheck and employers get decades of experience and expertise without the burdened costs associated with a full-time employee.
IT workers heading toward 50 should begin thinking about job options, alternative job paths and career goals, especially in these tough economic times. “Shame on you if you’re not thinking every single year, ‘What’s my next step?’” says Pamela Mitchell a career coach and author. “It’s magical thinking not to do this.” That cushy paper-pushing job packed with perks won’t last forever. Which is why it’s so important to have a plan B or even a plan C ready to roll.
Some additional tactics for finding work if you’re over 50 include:
- Forget Online Applications. These impersonal app trees take an hour to fill out and are set up to reject you if one “square-peg” answer doesn’t fit their screening program. Your application never gets read by humans.
- Forget Headhunters. More square-pegs screening, especially on the tech side. They want to bring their corporate clients young hotshots at half your asking salary and no medical issues.
- Forget Unemployed Stigma. In your cover letter and interview, let the prospective employer know that you’re a successful IT consultant or have your own small business. Show them your business cards (have some printed up for $5). Tell them the economy has impacted your business and you’re considering a plan B with their firm. Never let them think you’re desperate for a job.
Land a decent job when you’re over 50? It can be done. But you’ll have to start thinking of a Plan B early.
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