Myth-busting: Finding Work after 40

Maybe you were laid-off. It could be that your position was eliminated. Or maybe you are just craving something new and different. If you have crossed the 40-year-old threshold, just the thought of looking for work may have you quaking in your shoes. Immediately, you’re thinking:

“Ageism is real. No one will hire me.”

“My salary requirements are too high.”

“Better start networking. That’s the only way to find work.”

“My coworkers and my boss will be younger than me and that is weird.”

Before I start myth-busting, let me share my story. At 40, I loved my job. I saw myself being there for a while. Then they decided to move my job function to San Antonio and I found myself out of work for about seven months. Now, this was during the recession but I found work. I enjoyed my work and, for the most part, my coworkers. I was there almost four years. Three years under one manager and the final year under a new manager who wanted to clean house in our department. I was one of the ones swept out of the door and unemployed for the second time.

This time, I was 47 and it took just about a year to find work, I came very close several times but ultimately, the job didn’t materialize. By the end of spring, I ended up having multiple interviews with three major companies. Then one Tuesday in June, I received two job offers! Both companies really wanted me. Me!

I weighed my options. I got advice from trusted friends and family members. I prayed. And, finally, I made my decision. Seven months later, I am sure I made the right one. I enjoy my work and my coworkers. We truly are a team and I feel like a valued member.

Did I mention that my boss and most of my coworkers are younger than me? I can say, unequivocally, that it hasn’t mattered. And the coworker, I work most closely with is five years older than me.  She was hired two years ago, after the age of 50. Oh, and I got the salary I wanted. Now, I have a job with the responsibility I desired, the salary I wanted and people I enjoy working with.

The moral of this story: You can find work, work that reflects what you want, over the age of 40 or even 50 or even older than that.

So let’s bust some myths and get rid of that stinkin’ thinking.

Myth #1: Ageism will prevent me from getting a job.

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You are right, sort of, anyway. In youth-oriented industries – technology, fashion, advertising … ageism is an unfortunate reality (t get started on combatting ageism, start here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-krauss-whitbourne/combat-ageism_b_9720708.html). And even outside of those industries, ageism can and will raise its ugly head. There will always be some narrow-minded, assumption-making people who will see your age as a liability. But, so what?

I can’t say I’ve experienced ageism directly, but I have experienced racism in the workplace directly. How I responded, I feel, can apply to ageism as well. When I lived in Los Angeles, I had several phone interviews and submitted several samples of work for one position. The hiring manager seemed to really like me and my work. In fact, she spoke as if I already had the job. The only thing left to do was meet in person.

I came for the interview and waited in an empty waiting room. The hiring manager came out, looked at me and then around the room, as if someone else should be there. She was clearly not expecting an African-American. Then she walked away. She came back two minutes later, and asked, incredulously, if I was Karyn Beach. Our interview lasted ten minutes and all the warmth and humor she showed over the phone was gone. As she swiftly walked me out, I pretty much knew it was done.

I also knew that she, not me, was the one missing out. She spoke with me and saw the quality of the work I produced. Then, she let something as silly as race prevent her from hiring a great employee. So, I took myself out to lunch, vented to a few friends, and went back to job searching. Eventually, I found a much better opportunity.

There will always be stupid people (and amazingly, they often rise to positions of authority). But those people aren’t in the majority. Ageism is real and it does happen but it will only stop you if you let it. So, don’t!

Myth #2: “My salary requirements are too high.”

paycheckYou deserve more money. You have worked for it. You have an impressive track record and a wealth of experience. Your salary requirements aren’t high, they are just realistic. Remember your 20’s when you were getting the lay of the land, your feet wet and earning that much lauded experience? Remember that paycheck? It, like your experience, was a lot less.

If you are changing careers and starting over in a new field, your salary requirements could be too high. However, if you have the requisite experience and the position that you are applying for is looking for that level of experience (and education), consider your salary requirements competitive and not excessive.

Myth #3: Jobs are most often found through Networking.

networkingYes, you can find work by networking and letting the people in your circle know you are in the job market. This can work, but, you know what else can work? Applying for jobs through job sites (like indeed.com and careerbuilder.com), directly through company websites, and working with recruiters who have a track record of placing professionals in your field.

When I was between jobs, I used recruiters extensively to find contract opportunities. For some contractors, those positions turned into full time positions. Depending on the field, recruiters could focus on contract, full-time or contract-to-full-time positions. Make sure to find a recruiter that works in your field. Believe me, they’re out there.

While Indeed and Career Builder are great sources for job leads (I’ve found most of my jobs that way) many companies prefer to only list their openings on their website or list them there first before going out to a standard job site. Make a point of checking (at least weekly), the companies you want to potentially work for. Cover all your bases.

Myth #4: “My coworkers and my boss will be younger than me and that’s weird.”

generations-at-workGenerational differences are real but they shouldn’t be barriers to success. Remember, this is work, not a social gathering. There is normally a cross-section of age, gender, race, at work. And everyone has the same goal – to get the job done. Are there differences between Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials? Of course there are. However, they balance themselves out. While Millennials might have a better command of software, social media and trends, the GenXers and Baby Boomers have knowledge and the perspective.

The answer to the generation gap is always communication. Talk to your coworkers. Ask questions. Be open. Don’t walk into a situation with prejudices and preconceived notions and address these things directly when they are applied to you.

Finally, relax. Take a deep breath. Smile. Your professional opportunities haven’t disappeared. They are still there and can be stronger than ever.

 

 

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