Are Workers Over 50 Unemployable?

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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.


Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /


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  • Marilyn H
    Marilyn H
    This article should have a second half.  Like, after telling us not to use online applications, what do we do?  Telling employers you own a small business is more impressive than saying you're unemployed, but you're still over 50.  More and more companies only accept applications that are submitted online.  And some only go through headhunters.  How about some advice as to where to find these temporary contract jobs?  How well researched is this article?How about one more paragraph with advice as to what we should be doing?
  • paul b
    paul b
    that sounds good but what if you are a truck driver that was let go because you we're put on insulin for diabetes.You cant drive a truck while you are taking insulin.What thin you have bills so you cant go back to school.
  • Janet B.
    Janet B.
    Thank-you for this article. I recently took a 1 week seminar on job hunting and was told that they did not think age discrimination was out there. Another one looked at me and asked me "What is wrong with you?" I have had short term jobs but nothing to last until retirement at 62. My background in technical theater does not help. It is changing fast and older workers are to easily subject to injury.(yes, I have a permanent back injury) SUGGESTIONS would be helpful. I LIKE to go to work!
  • Bernard J
    Bernard J
    Every article is spot on in varying degrees. Several places I've been I have realize one trait that some employers share...  they want the younger worker, so some will be sneaky and try to get the older worker to train the young ones...I have work hard and financially providedfor my continued  education I refuse to lay down.
  • Sherry  A.
    Sherry  A.
    Workers over 50 are the most employable.  Qualified, committed, dependable, less training required, adaptable, health conscience, flexible, experienced, etc.  Why do they want the over 50 group to be the age at which the retirement cycle starts and yet we have at most 30 more good years of work potential left in us.  The way of this economy is now to hire the young inexperience and toss the old knowledge.  Just like the electronics that are changing almost every six months, the job market is too.  Pretty soon 25 will be too old and they will be hiring straight out of high school.  Presently, we get to pick through the bones because what the younger generation doesn’t get goes overseas still.  I see that the only bites that I have gotten on applications is selling insurance for chicken feed, and those that want me to pay them to get hired.  I got so depressed that I even joined one of those surveys and was glad when I got a .75 cent credit for 30 minutes worth of time.  What ever happened to respect your elders and give them the seat up front?  Shoot, I don’t mind standing as long as I can get on the bus!  Over 20 years of continuous, uninterrupted employment then the owner died, the business was closed and I am not getting any respect for my acquired level of professionalism , book of skills  and enough hands on experience to of gotten 5 degrees.   I can only say that whoever wrote this article must either be under 50 or owns the company that published it because it “just is not hitting the facts”.  Don’t suggest what to stop doing when there is basically no other way to go.  How about a job site that is for seekers 50 and over.  Basically like the “pre-owned” car dealers.  That is where the majority of the car sales are, and should be for the “pre-worked” (over 50) job seekers as well.  I would gladly start it but I don’t have any startup funds.  Enough said I have to finish my goal of applications to send out for today and anxiously await my rejects tomorrow.
  • William S
    William S
    Excellent! Thanks for the stats and the last three highlighted items. I like the “reality” approach to real life problems. Sadly, the perception that age can be both physically and/or mentally debilitating is often correct. And, just as sadly for many of us, it’s often incorrect . . . or at least we “think” the perception is incorrect.The hard reality is that businesses don’t take risks – unless they’re necessary. In fact, they shouldn't take unnecessary risks. Bottom line, it's not what I think, or whatever the reality is, it's what the potential employer thinks. The good thing about getting older is that we get a chance to see what skills we have developed that are useful in today’s world. As the article suggests, we should be thinking about the future all the time. Again, I think the article is on target. I was also pleased to see that a lot of other older “potential employees” took personal responsibility for their employment status. I’m guessing that I’m the oldest person who has responded to this article. Anyone older than I am has long since died. (smiley face)? Happily, I hope.
  • Leonard B
    Leonard B
    I'm 57 and have been IT professional for 30+ yrs unemployed for 6 months spending about 2 hours daily searching for a position. I put together a job tracker and to date I have applied for 43 positions that my resume fits the job description but my age as stated in this article doesn't fit the hiring decision maker. Plan ‘B’ was to have a recruiter do the work for me but that doesn’t seem to be working well either because there is so much competition due to high unemployment numbers. A good take away from this article for me is letting potential employer know that I’m a small business owner and economy has impacted me and considering an opportunity with their company.
  • Mark H
    Mark H
    Typical of these free advice columns - they tell you things like, "forget online applications," but they don't offer an alternative.
  • Jacob E
    Jacob E
    Older workers, besides having skill and experience, also have a sense of loyalty to their employers.  Why HR and management don't value these attributes is confounding.  These practices will bite them in the butt sooner than later.  Also, while age discrimination is against the law of the land, it is not at all enforced.  Therefore, it must also be the policy of the US Gov't to downgrade workers in their 50's and 60's.  What does that say about loyalty to employer and country?
  • Douglas P
    Douglas P
    Very True!!!!
  •  Ken B
    Ken B
    I have over 28 years experience as a software engineer working on the front line, as well as being a lead and a lower-level manager. I have mostly worked in the DoD world during my career, on military/aerospace projects but I have some experience on commercial projects as well. For the last 11 years I've been working contracts as a Senior Software Engineering Consultant. Back in the old days, these contracts would state that they were to be of a short 6 month duration, but you could count on them to stretch out to 2 years or more. But, nowadays in this economy (and using California, where I live as an example) contract work is sporatic and is usually either stated to be only 3 months in duration (but you could expect them to stretch out to 4-5 months), or 6 months (with a definite cutoff point at 6 months). With this, in a fairly stable economy, I could usually count on gainful employment for about 6-7 months out of the year on average. So, if you are interested in being a consultant and working contract work, be aware that in your case, this could be a realistic possibility.Now, I just turned 60, and as of this date, I've been without any kind of IT/high-tech work, contract or otherwise for almost 2 years. I know we are in a bad economy; that it's a "Buyer's Market" out there, and that there are plenty of younger candidates competing for work. I don't know if there is proverbially "any light at the end of the tunnel," and there will be greater opportunities for work, or if we are just looking at what we will come to know of, as the "New America."From my perspective, there definitely is age discrimination. I have accepted this as my (new) reality. I know logically that I need to make a career change, but emotionally I still hope that I can work in high tech. I probably will end up pursuing a job selling insurance to make ends meet. My 2 cents: I don't think it is possible to gain anything by fighting it beyond pushing to end H-1B.
  • Kevin K
    Kevin K
    This is the most useless information for us over 55. Don't apply online, don't try headhunters, just " 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"And HOW pray do we do that? HOW do we get these wonderful jobs?
  • Francois P
    Francois P
    Weak article.  you should have the backbone to say there is age discrimination.  Over 50 is chronological not expertise so one needs to write the resume for the position sought and make it short.  If a mature worker lists every position held in the resume, anyone can give a "ball park" on age.  BTW, skills such as programming or networking or security all have commercial certifications that are often required for the position, think DOD 8570.  You toss out mature IT and medical conditions at one point, as if maturity and medical as synonymous. Remember it is the "younger" generations who have the Higher prevalence of ADHD!  I think a mature IT Pro, with academic and commercial credentials who has kept themselves in shape is at least the equal of your "younger hot-shot" job seeker.  I say this because I am. I'll see your ,long office hours, rapidly changing project needs, unexpected network outages, server crashes, security incident, off hour IA security patches, and raise you a half marathon to raise funds to fight cancer on any weekend.  Better bring your game if you work with me.  R/a mature IT Professional
  • Joseph S
    Joseph S
    This has been my exactly experience so I am ready to jettison all the Job Board sites and go with older worker sites. I have had very few responses to my applications (at least 50 different apps over 19 months) unless I want to work in positions offering only 100% commission. I am not yet ready to perform volunteer work with no remuneration. Therefore, I will preserve for now offering my vast experiences and many transferable skill sets across several industries of interest to me. When available I do indicate that the starting salary is negotiable. Maybe that also another barrier or "non-starter"? Onward and upward I say.
  • Elaine L
    Elaine L
    This has been my life since Dec 2009. I even went to the time and trouble to finish my CS degree and graduated in May 2011. So far, all I have to show for that is a bill to the Fed for $26K that I cannot pay. I am 56 years old now. I've done hundreds of online applications. Like the rest of you, I am being ignored. Seriously, what do they (Gov and employers) think we are supposed to do?
  • Phil B
    Phil B
    Any suggestions as I'm a very successful IT Operations specialist working with production print operations and batch processing.
  • Gretchel H
    Gretchel H
    An employee over 50 can work, but being flexible is a must.  I worked out of country for over 16 months and have worked short term positions for a couple of years.  The pay is good and I am seldom out of work for over a few months.  I am retired, so I do not require medical insurance and I receive straight pay with no benefits.  It may not work for everyone, but it works for me.
  • Barnett F
    Barnett F
    This article was a bit less than useless.  Rather then tell us what we already know, an article detailing things we can do and give us actual contacts would have been more helpful.
  • Robert P
    Robert P
    In the recent 2013 JOB MARKET INTELLIGENCE REPORTAt What Point Does Gray Matter? How Recruiters View Age, recruiters today consider age 55 a significant negative factor in hiring decisions. The advice for seeking alternative kinds of employment is correct, but it would be helpful if the employers would advertise for such help, creating a definite win-win for us who are technically savvy, but otherwise potentially lost in this market.
  • Eileen S
    Eileen S
    I am 54 and have been unemployed for almost a year. this article is the truth.i have been looking feverishly with no results, i never thought this would happen to me.
  • Stephen G
    Stephen G
    Carlos - they also add in a large amount of stereotyping which does not help. In a recent TV drama the script carried the line - don't worry about him he is over 40 and now knows nothing about IT.  Sadly we have produced a generation who undervalue age and over value youth.  Plus we spent their childhood telling them they could do and be anything they wanted and now they want and expect to be top dog.  This means older and wiser is a threat.
  • Stephen G
    Stephen G
    My challenge was I had a plan B which was great - just like the Dot Com period was great.  The issue is I really liked Plan A but because I jumped to Plan B recruiters have written that option off.  Having different Plans is great but it seems that as you choose options you burn bridges and leave your well respected foundation knowledge on the floor as far as recruiters are concerned.  There appears to be no way back.
  • Thomas P
    Thomas P
    Age discrimination is alive & well.  Consulting is the way to go.  The money is not as good, but the satisfaction is great.
  • Cheryl P
    Cheryl P
    I think this is a great article.  It certainly reflects the reality for the older candidate in the job market.  Offering solutions is a valuable wrap- up for this piece.  Thanks for validating the fact that I am on the right track.
  • DarrylS
    I am one of those over 50s that has been seeking full time employment for more than a year.I graduated in December/2011 with a bachelors in IT and still to this day have not found full time employment. It would be nice to have full time employment with benefits.I am working 2 part time jobs and an as needed position which between them equals 40 + hours and that helps, but still full time employment would be a great thing to have.

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