It’s not just your imagination. Sadly, it really is harder to get hired when you’re over 50. A 2005 study conducted by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found that workers under 50 were more than 40 percent more likely to be selected for an interview than those over 50, and most professional career counselors agree that the economic downturn has exacerbated the age bias. This means that if you are making a transition mid-career, it’s crucial to be strategic in how you approach your job search and to understand how and why people get hired. Here are some steps that will help you make a successful transition.
CREATE YOUR TRANSITION TEAM
Who are the few people closest to you whose advice you value and who always “have your back” when things get tough? Let those individuals know you’re undertaking a transition and will need their support and counsel; thank them frequently and help them feel invested in your success.
With them, you can howl at the moon when you encounter a setback; with anyone else, though, always speak positively about the good things you’re encountering and the excitement of your exploration. Consider pulling together a small group of five to eight women doing the same thing you are and meeting once or twice a month to share ideas, introduce accountability, laugh and keep spirits up.
IDENTIFY YOUR CAREER FOUNDATION
A woman using her favorite skills, thinking about the subjects that fascinate her and doing work that aligns with her values is a woman who is happy and fulfilled in her work. She is also more likely to be successful. Get ready to be that woman by conducting a self-assessment.
Create a Venn diagram (like the example below) with intersecting circles to see where your interests, skills and values overlap. Do it on paper or on a whiteboard for a visual that will stimulate creative thinking.
Now look at the overlap of your three circles and brainstorm with a friend or family member to arrive at how that could translate to a job or career or business. If you get stalled, here’s a tip: Once you’ve completed your three circles, type “careers in [something in your Thinking circle]” into Google and you will be directed to the professional associations that support career development and often have remarkable online resources for career changers in your area of interest.
GET STRATEGIC — DO A REALITY CHECK
Once you identify what your “ideal” job, work or career might be, it’s time for a reality check. Study these three areas:
CREATE YOUR MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS
You are a product being introduced to the hiring landscape, and you have a set of marketing communications tools at your disposal. Chief among them are your résumé and LinkedIn profile. In Seattle, LinkedIn is a must — not only so that recruiters can find you, but so that you can connect with people who will lead you to opportunities.
Develop a personal narrative that concisely explains your career up to this point, being sure to include what led to your transition and your interest in the field you’re exploring.
Know your strengths so that you can describe yourself effectively and can match your strengths and experience to job requirements when you write cover letters. In preparation for interviews, practice your narrative and prepare stories of previous work situations that showcase your unique skills, qualities and problem-solving abilities. Remember: Never say anything negative about a former boss or employment situation. And always be honest. An oversight, exaggeration or error can be seriously harmful.
Think of yourself as a “brand,” and make sure that it is visible in all the places a company will encounter you. Record a dynamic- and professional-sounding phone greeting, and answer your phone as if you were in an office. Use an e-mail address that includes your entire name, e.g., Gwen.Iglesias@gmail.com, and add a signature to your e-mail that lets everyone know your positioning, e.g., Gwen Iglesias, Experienced Sales Manager.
Develop a one-page summary of references that explains which characteristics and areas of expertise each reference can comment on. Consider coaching your references and former colleagues on how to describe and position you.
GET OUT THERE AND TALK TO PEOPLE!
Ask any career coach and they will tell you that the vast majority of jobs are landed through networking and informational interviewing. What does that mean for you? For starters, during a transition you must accept every invitation that comes your way; you never know whom you might meet who knows someone in your target field. Join trade associations in your target field and attend their conferences and professional development events; you’ll meet people and expand your knowledge. Connect with alumni groups of your alma mater who live in the Puget Sound area and ask the alumni office for names of alums in your target field; contact them to set up informational interviews.
Don’t sit at your computer and simply apply for jobs online — instead, send e-mails requesting short, 20-minute informational meetings. Offering to bring a latte can be an effective way to set up an appointment! In an informational interview, remember that you ask the questions. Ask what that person’s path was to their current job, what they love about their work and what the challenges and trends are in the field. Keep your professional network expanding by asking who else you should meet in the field.
Track your contacts in a spreadsheet so you’ll remember who referred you to whom. And remember the well-proven rule that people don’t feel truly thanked until they have been thanked seven times. Find as many opportunities as possible to thank everyone who refers you to someone, who meets with you and who gives you any helpful advice.
BE WHERE YOU WANT TO WORK
Prior to 2008, career experts advised against volunteering at a place where you wanted to land a job. Now, however, those who find a way to “be where they want to work” have the edge when a position opens up. Offer to do a pro bono consulting project for that company you’d love to work for, or volunteer one day a week at that nonprofit whose mission inspires you. They’ll get to know you, and when a position opens, you’re much more likely to be in the interview pool and to have a shot at the job.
CONSIDER DOING YOUR OWN THING
Many midlife women find that they have the skills and the motivation to do their own thing — to open a small business or practice, to do freelance consulting or grant writing, to teach or coach. Not surprisingly, wisdom and experience prepare midlifers very well to take on the challenges of self-determinism and entrepreneurship!
10 TIPS TO COMBAT HIRING AGEISM
1. If your computer skills aren’t sharp, do
something about it! Take online tutorials, register for a class or hire
a private computer coach.
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