If you are making a career transition in your 50s, you are facing an unfortunate combination of biased and fact-based challenges. Prior to the economic revolution of the last couple of decades, ageism existed. This was ageism based on over-generalizations about older people. As such, it was plain and simple prejudice. There was some thought that older people would not be energetic; willing to go the extra mile; or receptive to taking direction from younger supervisors. Since there were plenty of older people who did not fit into any of those categories, these job seekers faced unfair bias.
But, today there are some fact based challenges as well. Most significantly, sweeping technological changes of the last decade have often passed by older workers. I cringe when I hear older workers tell me that they do not like computers. Phrases like “I don’t use e-mail much” sound to young people like “I don’t use the telephone”.
Moreover, those in their 50s were cultured in a work world that only had full-time jobs with full benefits. They often chafe at the changing nature of many employment contracts in the new world of work. Employers are now in the position of trying out workers before they commit to full time job offers. Many jobs are part-time, or temporary with the possibility of being hired, or simply as projects given to independent contractors.
Similarly, many older workers were cultured in the days of compensation structures that are now dramatically different. While full salary, benefits, and bonus remain the status quo at old guard corporations, many smaller businesses and new companies have much smaller salaries and benefits but also have the potential to make-up for those shortcomings with commissions, incentives or performance-based bonuses.
So what to do? Learn new technologies related to your industry and indicate that you have mastered whatever is cutting edge for your potential job. Demonstrate a willingness to prove your value to a new employer by taking less than full time work or work that has an unusual compensation package.
Whatever you do, don’t pretend that it’s 1999.
Now for some genuine hope: the new world of work is all about creating value and not about old world of work stereotypes. Specifically, there has never been a better time to create a business or a free lance job or to consult. Who is in the best position for each? Experienced workers.
In the last two years, we have helped over a dozen 50 somethings start businesses in Connecticut. With the exception of one or two, each did not think they were entrepreneurial. But, each had marketable skills. They simply did not know how to build a business around the skills. We helped and they are happy.