Careers for aging adults
Last week, Robin Ryan wrote an article for Forbes called How To Overcome Age Discrimination In A Job Interview. A 63-year-old woman named Jane wanted a new career in technology, and feared that she would face age discrimination.
Let’s take a look at her work and analyze it:
Jane had been working part-time in her own business but she wasn’t earning much money for all the hours she worked as a videographer. She knew that she needed a new career path. That meant getting fresh training if she was going to land a new job, one that would pay well, and provide her with medical insurance from. She elected to go to the community college and take a program on technology involving servers and networking and obtain some Cisco certifications in the process. Sounds like a great plan because many employers are looking for new technology people and they are quite hard to find in today’s marketplace. The only problem was Jane is 63 years old. She said she plans to work for another 10 years. That may sound okay, but in the tech world, many companies are trying to eliminate older workers whereas she’s trying to break into that field. A friend referred her to me and we met for a career counseling session to discuss her job search and specifically review her answers to interview questions.
Age discrimination after 60
Age discrimination is certainly alive and well and living in America. And no place is it more prevalent than in the technology industry. Many of the Fortune 500 companies and larger tech organizations have worked hard to eliminate older workers by encouraging them to retire. Either they would retire voluntarily or be pushed out (read my column “How Workers Can Overcome Layoff In Light Of The IBM Age Discrimination Lawsuit“). Since there was no way to hide her age when she got to the job interview, I advised her to deal with it in the very opening question if possible.
Yes and no; there are old 60-year-olds and young ones. I know a woman who retired at 70, but everyone who knew her, including me, thought she was retiring early, not late. She is definitely young in spirit and energy for her age. She still mows her large lawn at 73.
It’s common for many employers to start out with the question, Tell me about yourself. With this question, I suggested that Jane bring up the fact that she was a mature worker.
Never use the word mature; that is just a fancy word replacement for ‘old.’ Use ‘experienced’ or ‘been around the block’ or something equally invigoratingly positive.
Talk about the advantages that her age offers, such as a strong work ethic, her excellent communication skills between technical and non-technical people, and her ability to meet tight deadlines. Also, she should mention the fact that she’s done exceptionally well in her high tech training program where she’s been Cisco certified. To craft a good answer to the open question she needed to get the information out there right away.
Very true; if you say it first, it shows that you truly understand their needs, and challenges. They feel understood. You are then in a far better position to present your argument (or your case to be hired).
We both knew they may not mention her age but they sure were thinking about it. We feared that they were thinking that this woman is too old to be hired for their tech job.
Sadly, many people over the age of 45 look tired and older than they need to. If getting a job in a young persons world is a necessity/critical/urgent, more value can be gained from looking and acting young. Get a new shorter haircut or fun glasses. Buy new clothes in young colors but great style. Walk fast. Sit tall. Talk faster. Even consider getting a quick face-lift. My husband’s business partner is 10 years older and shorter than another partner, but her hair is short and spiky, her glasses are bright, and her eyelids were tucked. I recently told new friends who met them both at a function, and they thought it was the other way around.
I advised her to deal with it in the very opening question if possible. It’s common for many employers to start out with the question, Tell me about yourself. With this question, I suggested that Jane bring up the fact that she was a mature worker. Talk about the advantages that her age offers, such as a strong work ethic, her excellent communication skills between technical and non-technical people, and her ability to meet tight deadlines. Also, she should mention the fact that she’s done exceptionally well in her high tech training program where she’s been Cisco certified. To craft a good answer to the open question she needed to get the information out there right away.
Find employers who hire mature workers
We talked about the kind of employers that might be more receptive to hiring her in the IT area. We talked about city, state, county, and federal government positions.
Great list of industries in which to search for jobs with benefits, though small companies are often the best places for seasoned and experienced workers. They need persons with multiple skill sets. While it is often easier to get a job in smaller companies because of this fact, there are two drawbacks: more searching to locate such jobs, and they do not always offer the pay or benefits provided by large ones. As an older worker, you need to consider the cost benefit ratio of search time versus benefit package. I often recommend a person get a desirable job as quickly as possible, and use it to get another one that is even more desirable.
She has a strong interest in working at a hospital so we put that on the top of the list. I suggested she could also add medical clinics and large insurance companies such as Blue Cross or Blue Shield. The companies we didn’t put on her list are all the magnet tech ones that young people want to apply for, like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, or the IPO’s such as Uber, which just came to market. We both agreed that she wouldn’t likely be offered a position in one of these high tech firms. Instead, I directed her to look at large organizations that might need her skills and that weren’t as popular with younger applicants. This included utilities and energy companies.
Prepare savvy answers to the interview questions
We role-played and worked on good answers to the tough questions she’d likely be asked. Jane needed to convince the employer she would be a very good applicant and that she was going to stay long enough that it’s worth it for them to train her. Jane plans to work 10 years but even if she only ends up working six or seven years that is still long enough for an employer to be satisfied, considering most millennials leave within 2-3 years. It is not very effective to say I only plan on working a few years and then I’m going to leave. So one of the answers we crafted was to a typical question, where do you see yourself five years from now?
This is how Jane was coached to answer. “I plan to work hard to advance my technical skills on the job.
‘Plan to’ ‘want to’ and ‘continue’ all lack power. They convey intention not demonstrated past action. I prefer people to say something like ‘As demonstrated in my past work I have always advanced my technical skills through on-going learning that has been valuable to my companies. I expect to do the same for your company.’
“I know that I want to continue to learn and be valuable to my company. But as to what I can do five years from now that’s going to depend on the training I received and also on the fact that I’m continuously learning. So many new jobs haven’t even been thought of yet, nor have they even been invented, so I try to keep my eye on where the company needs to be going and make sure that I’m working towards that goal.
I love this one; I hadn’t thought of it before, but all the skills, demands and knowledge of any technical jobs change so rapidly that this is a tremendous thing to mention.
“I know that I’ll be making a major contribution because I’m a very hard worker.”
If possible without lying, I’d rephrase this to include “I’m not just a hard worker, but a smart one as I have developed efficiencies out of my experiences.”
Another key question we covered was why should I hire you? This gives Jane the chance to use the technique I call the “60 Second Sell.” Some of you may think of it as an elevator speech but it is so much more than that. It’s really your personal branding and brings forth the top five selling points that you have for that particular job.
The top five selling points could also be redefined in terms of categories – Education, Experiences (paid and unpaid), Traits that make the case that you are the best person for the job. I like to have people create a Spiel (short version often the elevator version) and Story (the long version to share in a visit or interview).
Here’s how we decided that Jane should answer the question. “For the last two years I’ve been working on a high-tech associate degree and Cisco certifications I think that along with my technical skills, I have excellent communication skills and those skills allow me to work with people that are technical as well as those that are not technical. I have my own business doing videography and that taught me the importance of meeting deadlines and customer service. I’m very good at technical troubleshooting and problem solving and when you’re dealing with tech issues there’s a lot of problem-solving that needs to take place. Finally, I bring a very strong work ethic. I know the importance of being on the job every day and putting in any extra time necessary to get the work done. You could count on me to be a very reliable, and excellent employee.”
Lastly, I advised Jane to write out answers to typical questions that she might get asked and practice saying the answers. We talked about creating stories of her past work experience whether they were at school, in her part-time job or volunteer work. Stories of past work performance always are influential and they should be used in answers whenever possible.
Too often when people think of stories they ramble on without ensuring the story will have its hoped for effect. The best way to ensure a story is effective this is to fill in a form called a STAR: situation, tasks and techniques needed, actions taken, results. I prefer a more concise version called the PAR: problem, actions and result.
Jane’s now ready to face employers. She’s convinced that she will be able to get a great job and I think she definitely will. She has found the right way to overcome her age and make herself appealing to a hiring manager and company. That is essential for her to land a tech job at age 63.