Age discrimination is against the law, but highly qualified people in their 50s and 60s still get passed over for jobs they might have landed easily if they were 20 years younger. Jeannette Woodward, 65, a former university library director who wrote Finding A Job After 50 (Career Press), says you must get interviewers to look past the crow's-feet and appreciate why your experience and maturity make you the best person to hire. From her home in Lander, Wyo., Woodward spoke to Associate Editor Amy Dunkin about strategies for doing just that.
How is finding a job different when you're not far from retirement age?
This isn't a time to do it the same way you always have. You don't want to end up in the same rut. Make sure it's a job you want. You need to start over and think about what's really important to you.
How do you do that?
Think about how much money you need. Are you burned out? Do you want a major change in occupation or where you live? Many people would be happier if they changed direction. Someone in my book did a total turnaround when he was 57. He went back to school and got a PhD in English. He wanted to do that in his 20s but people told him that he wouldn't be able to make a living. He wound up working for many years in city government in a very responsible job, and when some newcomers came in, he was pushed into a corner and realized that he was terribly unhappy. He's now teaching English at a university and he really enjoys being in the classroom again.
Is there an unspoken bias against over-50 workers?
Oh, yes. I'm not sure that when managers are hiring they intend to discriminate. But when an older person comes along, that's not the person who comes to mind. They may think about older people like their parents, and many managers would rather not supervise their parents.
How do you overcome that bias?
The attitude an applicant takes into a job interview is important. You don't want to treat a manager as "sonny boy" or talk about the last 26 jobs you've had. You need to focus on your skills, to make it clear you have just the right ones for this particular job.
Does how old you look matter?
Yes. As you hit your 50s, one day you can look 40, the next day you can look 70. During your interview you want that to be the day you're looking as close to 40 as possible. Get a good night's sleep. Make sure your outfit and hair are up to date. Try not to lumber around when you walk or look arthritic when you sit in a chair. You need a quick, energetic step.
How else can you deemphasize age?
Make your résumé as neutral as possible. Don't put down dates for your education or go back more than 15 years on jobs. You don't want to call attention to the fact that you were in the work world in 1966. Once you establish a relationship with the interviewer, you'll have less difficulty with age prejudice.
Is there an upside to job hunting when you're over 50?
What's happening in most industries is, as baby boomers retire, they're leaving a hole in the workforce. If managers can't fill the jobs because they can't find the type of people they're looking for, they might be open to older people. Even if salaries aren't great, you may be able to negotiate things that are more important to you: flextime, more vacation time. If you're looking for the job of your dreams, sometimes you can help structure it.