Technology, different work styles and management structures, and a whole new way of searching for jobs have all led to a changed work place for the older worker. In fact, even our perception of who that “older worker” is has changed.
“It often depends on the industry you are in,” says career coach and engaged retirement specialist Carol King. “For people in IT, old can be anyone over 30. In many other industries, you can have problems searching for a new job if you are over 40.”
King will give a seminar on “The Job Search for Older Workers,” on Tuesday May 1, 7 p.m., at the Princeton Senior Resource Center, 45 Stockton Street. Cost: free, and no reservations are required. The program is sponsored by the Engaged Retirement and Encore Careers Center, a program of the Princeton Senior Resource Center.
It will include information on strategies for competing in the new work place, updating skills, networking, dealing with ageism, and avoiding job scams. While the program is part of the Senior Resource Center, she makes it clear that you don’t have to be retirement age to take advantage of it. “I often see participants as young as 40 in my workshops,” she says.
King graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in restaurant management and worked in the hospitality industry for many years. She originally moved to New Jersey with Stouffer’s to open what was at the time Meadow Lakes Villages in Hightstown. She obtained an MBA and a PhD from New York University and later became a professor at Temple University, teaching tourism and hospitality management, organizational behavior, management and leadership, and also taught online courses through Thomas Edison State College.
Retirement has led her to a new career, as director of the Engaged Retirement program at the PSRC. The program is designed to help boomer generation employees plan for a rewarding lifestyle in retirement. But one retirement “career” has not been enough for King. She also keeps the books for PSRC and runs opera video programs there, volunteers at Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit fair trade store, is treasurer of a local opera group, occasionally coaches computer classes for seniors, helps out at a local music festival, and is a member of the Mercer County Community College Advisory Commission on Aging. She is also a Certified Retirement Coach.
“Retirement is not the end, but rather the beginning of a new stage of life, and also may be the beginning of a whole new career, particularly if the person feels he or she has been forced to retire through a company downsizing,” says King.
The days of the Golden Parachute, where workers who faced early retirement with a large compensation package, are long gone. Today, early retirement usually means not having saving as much money as planned — and as this is the healthiest generation of workers to retire, it can also mean looking at 30 to 40 years of life as a retiree.
Because of this, many so-called retirees are really searching for new careers, and they often face misconception and discrimination — not just by employers and co-workers, but their own misconceptions as well.
Perception of the older worker. Many employers and managers view older workers as having obsolete skills, particularly in the technology area, are physically limited and more likely to need time off for doctor’s visits or illness, are unwilling to work as hard as younger workers, and expecting a higher salary.
“Some of these perceptions are valid, and others are not,” says King. And of course, as with any stereotype, it is never equally true for individuals. That means that the first thing the older job worker must do is convince potential an employer that he or she does not fit that stereotype.
Upgrade your skills. Are you computer savvy? Some older workers may have trouble with simple tasks such as sending E-mails, for others, it may be the need to know the latest version of a particular software program. Find out what software and technology is used in your industry and make sure you are up-to-date on your skills, recommends King.
A different style of office. In most offices today there is less “face time” between employees and managers, or even other employees. Communication takes place via E-mail or text messaging. Be ready for this change. “As an employee, you must fit into the culture of the workplace, not the other way around,” says King.
Be realistic about salaries. For many people who have been downsized, the reality is that they will not find a job at their previous salary level. For some, their industry just no longer exists. For others, outsourcing, technology changes, and the recession mean that there is more competition for fewer jobs — and that means that employers can pay less to get good workers.
“Be realistic about the salaries in your field,” says King. “Do some research, not only on what those salaries are, but on what you really need to live. Can you afford to take a smaller salary? Then get over the salary you used to make, and take what is being offered today.”
There are fewer full-time jobs with benefits available today than there were 10 or 15 years ago. We are moving to a “free-agent economy” says King. Older workers who have a retirement package may be more financially able to step into a temporary or independent contracting positions because they do have retirement benefits. Be open to new ways of thinking about your employment.
Fitting In While Acting Your Age. It can be difficult for an older worker to feel comfortable in an office filled with 20 and 30-somethings, so how do you fit in with a younger group while still acting your age? Fitting in is about working with the culture of the organization, explains King. If the preferred method of communication is a text message, learn how.
Don’t spend a lot of time telling people how you did it in the old days. “They don’t care,” says King. “Business is about what we do today and tomorrow, not what we did yesterday.” If you do have an idea for a different or better way to do something, try to couch it in different terms.
Acting and dressing your age is also important. Many people attempt to dress “too young” and end up just looking silly or inappropriate. Another big question that now affects both men and women, mentions King is “to dye or not to dye.” While some recruiters and career counselors will go so far as to suggest this for men and women with significant grey hair, King has a different view. “Go with what you are comfortable with. Just make sure that whatever you do you look professional.”
No matter what your age, transitions are easier if some thought and planning is done before hand. While that might not be possible in the case of a layoff, for the person who is a few years from retirement, taking the time before it happens will make that transition easier. Work provides benefits beyond just a salary: it brings structure to daily life, status and identity, a sense of usefulness and social interaction.