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Having recently gone through an employment change at 55, I battled my own demons as I thought about the possibility that somebody would actually hire me, versus the options a potential employer has to fill their openings with someone younger and cheaper.

It wasn’t just about finding a job. It was about finding a job I wanted. It was about taking whatever steps necessary to “stand out” among the candidates being considered for the role I was interested in. Preparing myself to compete in a tight job market required me to take stock of the factors that were motivating me to action.

The first was reflecting on the question, “Why am I still looking to be gainfully employed at my age?”  My dad retired at 59, and he’s enjoyed his retirement to this very day (he turns 84 this year). In the generation of my parents, with life expectancy a decade less than it is today, retiring between 60 and 65 years of age was the norm. Looking at my generation, many of us “Baby Boomers” lead healthier lives than our parents did. We eat better, exercise more, smoke less, and take better care of ourselves. We can expect to live longer. Given this, why not extend our professional careers at least a decade beyond that of our parents?

Another factor influencing people to remain employed longer is a financial one. Not being children of the Depression Era, our spending and saving habits were not as rigorous as our parents, and many of us extended ourselves, having taken on bigger mortgages, and paid to put our children through private high schools and college. Additionally, we may have gone overboard with the wedding plans for our children. The list of financial commitments made over the years is staggering.

Whether by choice or necessity, many of us who may have wanted to retire at the age our parents did could be facing another 10 years of employment, with retirement more likely closer to 70 years of age versus 60, particularly if we want to live comfortably in our “Golden Years”. There are many things you can do to strengthen your candidacy when you are faced with finding employment in your fifties or later. Here are four areas to focus on:

1) Research the market rates for the positions that you plan to apply for

You need to understand what the market is willing to pay for a person with your background and experience.  Know that your most recent total compensation package may not represent what the market is willing to pay. This is particularly true if you were released from a company that employed you for many years, providing you with annual increases that brought your total income to a level that is no longer “marked to market”.  This is important. While you may feel you deserve every dollar that you made, you need to understand that if your goal is to earn “not a penny less” in your next job, you may be searching for a job for a long time. Make an effort to understand what the market is willing to pay for a person with your experience, and prepare yourself to be willing to accept this level of compensation.

2) Maintain your professional networks

It may be overstating the obvious to remind you that who you know is more important than what you know. Don’t confuse this point, because what you know is in fact important, it’s just that who you know is more important first.

Today, the internet is an easy and effective way to identify employment opportunities (Monster, Dice, CareerBuilder, Indeed, etc). Research the companies offering the jobs by perusing their websites. Find out who is employed at those companies by scouring a source like LinkedIn and research what is being said about the quality of those firms as an employer (Glassdoor is a good site for gathering this intelligence.) Once you have done your research submit your resume and cover letter. Sounds easy, right? It is not.

If everybody is looking for a job in this manner, you need to differentiate yourself from everyone else. How can you do so? Use your social networks! Do you know anybody who is employed at the company where you are a candidate? Would they recommend you? Have you worked with them in the past? Have you kept up with them, so they would be comfortable recommending you? If you’re not great about keeping up with current and former work colleagues, professional acquaintances, fraternity or sorority brothers and sisters, etc., then make a renewed effort at this, as it will most likely pay off for you when you most need it.

3) Don’t become obsolete

As you age, you must embrace technology and its rapid daily evolvement. I know you have no idea what makes a “smart phone” smart, and for the life of you, you don’t understand why your daughter keeps insisting on installing something called a “router” in your house.

Here’s the best advice that I can give you: Don’t become your father. Remember how after they stopped making vinyl records, he stopped having an interest in music? Think about how every time he comes to your house, he pushes every button on your remote controls, to the point it takes you an hour to get everything back to normal. It’s safe to say that at some point, he made a decision to stop embracing technological change, and now he’s become an outlier when it comes to understanding how the advances in technology enable and empower the world in which we live and work. It is imperative you keep up with technological change and embrace it. Don’t allow yourself to become the equivalent of a “technology dinosaur.” Today’s companies embrace technology and use it to their advantage when competing for business. Don’t allow yourself to be eliminated from consideration for a job you desire because you have lost touch with technology.

4) Preparation, preparation, preparation!

The great basketball coach John Wooden said, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. I couldn’t agree more, nor could I give better advice. Here are several key components to being prepared:

  • Have your resume professionally done for you – There are dozens of companies willing to help you with this, many of whom will do it for free. Most employment companies have a “resume production” team or capability, and can work with you to create a resume that is germane to your experience and highlights your greatest competencies.
  • Check your wardrobe – Have you been working in a “business casual” environment for years? Does your suit or blouse no longer fit the way it did when you purchased it? Is the style of your clothing representative of a different time? Spend a little money to make certain the first impression you make is a quality one.
  • Have you researched the company you will be interviewing with – Do you know what their annual revenue is? Do you know what their primary product and service offerings are? Are they a public company? If so, what is their stock trading at? Do you know where their primary offices are? Do you know who their main competitors are? Have you read their website? Do you know who the members of the leadership team are? Take the time to learn this information, as it may distinguish you from your competitors during your interview.
  • Interview your interviewer - This is a must! When the interviewer finally asks you if you have any questions, it is not ok to say, “No, not at this time.” Be prepared to ask your interviewer two or three questions. Asking questions expresses genuine interest on your part. Here are a few you can ask:
  • “What are the strategic plans for growth for the company over the next three years?”
  • “Who are your main competitors, and how do you go about beating them, in the markets where you compete with them directly?”
  • “What is the company’s commitment to community service?”
  • “Does your company have a Mission Statement or Core Values statement?”
  • “How would you describe the culture of your organization?”

Conclusion

While the “Baby Boomer generation” is more inclined to seek permanent employment, the workplace has evolved to a point where most companies now employ a mix of consultants and contractors as a strategic component to their workforce. Many staffing companies work with their clients to place both permanent and temporary workers with them, and can be a terrific resource in helping you find that next great job. These tips are equally useful should you desire to pursue contract work instead of permanent employment. Hopefully I have given you enough information to encourage you to tackle the employment marketplace with confidence. Great luck and success in landing your next big role, even though you’ve moved well through your 50s and your 60s are fast approaching!

Author: Thomas Hart joined Eliassen Group as its Staffing Business Development Leader and CMO in October 2012. He also served as the senior executive for Fidelity’s HR Access Solutions in Paris, France, from 2004 through 2006.

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