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How to grab a job if you're 50-plus

Updated: May 20, 2020

I hear many stories of people who are over 50 going for job interviews or wanting to forge a new career. Usually, they are unsuccessful at the job interviews. Again and again I hear the same story. A job is advertised for which he/she applies. The person feels perfectly qualified but fail to even be offered an interview. More often than not the HR department makes the recruiting decisions, or an outside recruiter does. The people in these roles are often younger and less experienced than the person who is applying for a particular position.

In these cases, ageism is at play, that is undeniable. But also people may not have updated their skills. The article below from New Zealand’s Sunday-Star Times (dated 1 March) explains these problems.

Writing's on the wall for job seekers over 50

By Samesh Mohanlall Mar 01 2020

Gail Wilson forged a successful career as a writer and advisor for the Government for 30 years.

But since turning 50 in November she has woken up to smell the coffee about New Zealand's job market, and is retraining as a barista.

After a three-month trip to the United States "expecting to have an epiphany about a new career", Wilson returned home to face a stark reality.

Applying for several jobs has brought her no joy, and worse still no feedback.

"Since I got back from the US I've applying for all sorts of writing jobs like the ones I've done for the past 30 years. I've also been applying for jobs in a customer service role.

"No-one has contacted me at all. I haven't even been offered an interview, which is quite unusual because I think I'm really good at what I do."

Wilson believes her age and experience has been off-putting for employers, who prefer younger candidates.

"I think I have not received any feedback from potential employers because at least another 150 people are applying for the same job and maybe they've worked out my age and the ages of everyone else and discriminated against me.

."They want younger people that they can train in future careers."

Given the lack of success in finding a job as a writer, she gave work as a funeral director a try, but found herself too emotional to take it on as a career.

Wilson then turned her attention to the service industry.

"I thought if I can't get a job in government I could get a job at a cafe on the weekends just to supplement my income.

"I thought then there is this coffee course that costs $100 and takes two hours and I'll do it."

Does she have any regrets for her chosen career path?

"If I could turn the clock back I would have done a trade. I would have been a hairdresser."

"When I was in school if you were to do a trade job you were considered not as clever as someone who went to university.

"I think there's a lot of work out there for people in the trade, caring, aged than there are jobs for people like me."

She has one key message for potential employers.

"I wish people could just interview me then they would see who I am and can do everything that's on the job list and can pick it up in five minutes."

Career Development Association New Zealand president Jennie Miller said while ageism was a reality faced by older New Zealanders, job seekers also owed it to themselves to "get with the times".

"I do think there is ageism. I know of a particular man who was actually told by the recruiter: 'I think my client wants someone younger'.

"We don't know if it's that some recruiters are ageist or they could be under instruction from the employer."

Conversely, keeping up to speed with how the job market and your industry are evolving, and maintaining your industry networks, could make all the difference in finding employment, Miller said.

"It might be they don't have the skills required for the role, or it might be they are applying for roles in a very old-fashioned way - they are not helping themselves by not updating their marketing documentation.

"They may not be selling themselves the way they need to, which has changed from 20 years ago."

The 57-year-old suggested older job seekers could seek the help of a career professional for support to prepare for a job search, and for help with the application process.

"Keep learning. Don't depend on your employer to train you, it's your career; it's your life. You are your own responsibility.

"If you want to learn something new, spend some time, spend some money and go learn it. It's your job to develop your career and that's how you will develop and stay current in the skills you need."

It would be worth asking employers if they would provide financial support to fund a professional development plan, she said.

Having an online presence on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn would give job seekers some of the exposure they need, Miller said.

"We need to be on LinkedIn, be active and be seen.

"Many organisations find it hard to get the skilled people they need. LinkedIn is one of the tools being used to find people, and it's one of the ways employers are pre-screening applicants."

Geoff Pearman is a Dunedin-based organisational and workforce development consultant who wrote Doing It Differently - Life and Work after 50.

Pearman believes age discrimination affects all generations, not just the over-50s.

"The moment we talk about ageism we immediately think older workers, in actual fact younger people experience ageism in the work place as well as older people.

"If we take any form of discrimination, at the base of it is when we create a group of the other, attach to them negative stereotypes. We increasingly hear terms like Gen-X, Gen-Y and millennials, which is ageist."

Many stereotypes attached to older workers are not accurate, and figures from the Household Labour Force Survey back this up, Pearman said.

"In 1988 only 17 per cent of workers were over the age of 50. By 2018 it is exactly double - 34 per cent of workers were over 50.

"What we have is an ageing work force. The number of ageing workers has doubled in a 30-year period. This is a significant growth."

New Zealand has the second-highest number of people working over the age of 55 in the OECD; 44 per cent of people in the 65-69 age bracket are still working, 12 per cent over 70s are in employment.

"The issue our country and other countries face is increasingly that people want to stay in work longer through financial necessity. Part of that is driven by the fact that we're now living a lot longer.

"People are also wanting to stay at work because they're healthier but they're finding it difficult to get back into work."

"Looking to the future". Photo by Carole Railton (copyright)

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