Boris Pasternak wrote his first novel, Dr. Zhivago, when he was 55.
Madeleine Albright became U.S. Secretary of State when she was 60.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim Museum at the age of 80.
What did they all have in common?
Age. With all its wisdom, life experiences, and broader perspectives.
Plus a great deal of talent and creativity, and the broader thinking that we over-50 types are blessed with in abundance.
Wonder what would happen today in America’s youth-oriented society if one of these successful people tried to get a position with a major company…interviewed by a 20-something who instead of seeing the wealth of talent and experience, only saw the gray hair, glasses, and (gasp) a few well-earned wrinkles?
In other countries of the world, the interview would probably go a lot better. But here in the good ‘ole USA, we seem to be addicted to being young. Which, when you consider the almost priceless value brought by someone who actually knows what they’re doing, is very very sad. And very very bad for business.
But there are still a lot of us out there who want to keep contributing.
I wanted to get some advice from someone who’s been putting potential employees and employers together for a long time. So I called Pam Witzig, whose firm, Witzig, primarily concentrates on marketing and advertising, filling both agency and client-side assignments. She’s an experienced boomer who knows too well how challenging it is for anyone over 50 to find employment. (I’ve stayed in contact with Pam for years, and always found her to be intelligent, friendly, and helpful….and her regular email newsletter is a delight to read. Check out her website to learn more.)
Pam is quick to respond when asked why employers should consider people over 50 for the workplace.
“Older workers want to contribute. They are more apt to think outside the box. Studies show we become more creative as we age…and we are more able to look at different aspects of a problem and make fresh associations. We also are not as concerned about climbing the corporate ladder or insisting on greater salaries with each employment change. ”
In addition, Pam points out the value of a 50+ person over a millennial in terms of logistics. “Older workers usually don’t have the pressures of a growing family…soccer games, schedules, etc. They are much freer and can focus all their energy on their job. Plus, I think we don’t take ourselves as seriously. We enjoy our work, and take a more relaxed approach to things, which really benefits our coworkers and customers as well.
“There’s an unfortunate mindset that once you reach a certain age, and you are not a senior VP, or a head of a department, you’re out. What a waste of experience and talent! The idea that everyone who comes into the workforce is eventually going to become CEO is ludicrous. There can be only so many chiefs. You need good people to do the work.”
And maybe the best reason of all? Employees over 50 are more relevant.
Our segment of the population is the biggest and fastest growing. We are the ones out there making the cash registers ring, choosing new residences or communities in which to retire, traveling, buying cars, and so on. According to the U.S. News & World Report, Americans over 50 control 77 percent of the total net worth.
So how can a 50+ person re-enter the workforce, or change jobs, or hope to relocate and keep contributing?
- Be confident. Go into the interview or phone call strong. Do not let a lack of confidence show.
- Be honest. Put the dates on your résumé. Do not leave them off. Not having dates just creates a mystery and actually makes you appear even older than you are. Use it your advantage; talk depth of experience.
- Don’t oversell. There’s a fine line between confident and desperate. Talk about your strengths and the value of your experience. And do not use words like “seasoned.” Just tell them what they’re missing!
- Be current. What are you doing now? For example, if you’re trying for a position in an advertising agency’s creative department, do not show samples that are 10 years old. Your potential employer wants to know what you are doing now. So even if that means doing some pro bono projects, it’s worth it.
- Be creative. If you’ve been out of the workplace for an extended period, do your best to connect the dots to your potential employer. Maybe it’s the hobbies you’ve been pursuing. Or there’s something in your background that connects you to the industry. Look at your whole life experience—can you find something that could benefit your employer?
Pam Witzig knows what older job candidates are facing. Her firm has made a sound reputation of matching people and positions in marketing and advertising. Yet she admits that these days, re-entering the workforce after 50 is challenging, because so many times it comes down to appearance. She speaks of a friend over 80 who is more active than ever, while many people in their 30s are “some of the oldest people I know.”
It’s true, isn’t it? We’re individuals, and we should be judged that way. Yet in the land of “younger is better,” it’s an uphill climb. I can only speak for myself, but I know I’m doing much better work in these years. I’m much more relaxed about all of it. I have so much more to draw from these days.
And I still have that classic work ethic—the one instilled in me by parents who survived the Depression—that I think makes one heck of a difference when it comes to the bottom line.
But yes, there are gray hairs. And a few wrinkles.
But there’s also experience. Wisdom. Empathy. Honesty. Persistence.
So as long as we can contribute, we should. As my wise friend Pam says, tell them what they’re missing!
“The years teach much which the days never knew.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson