Finding Work after a Long Absence When You’re Over 50

The 2014 census estimates that of roughly 244M people in the US who are 16 and older, 59.4% or ~145M are presenting working, which leaves us with 99M who are 16 and older who are not working in the US. Even if we subtract all of those who are 65 and older (~44M), we are left 55M adults between the ages of 16 and 65 who are not working.

To be sure, many are in school, stay-at-home-moms, in career transition and so forth. But for some, they want to work and cannot find gainful employment.

I met today with an impressive professional who is in her early 50’s. She’s tried to find work for over 18 months and has been unsuccessful. She keeps bumping into the “you’re too qualified” or “you’re going to need too much money” scenarios when she applied for jobs that she is capable of performing.

Privately, she feels there is age discrimination going on, but proving that is an entirely different matter. So she wonders what she should do. Especially given the fact that she’s been unemployed for 18 months, some potential employers are wondering what’s wrong with her – why can she not find a job?

There are millions of decent, hard-working folks who are over 50 and would love to work, but cannot find a job. They apply, interview and are turned away time after time. It’s frustrating and it’s demoralizing. One’s dignity can go down the drain over time. “What’s wrong with me?” people ask themselves. Depression, apathy and financial stress can kick in over time. It’s a difficult situation to be in. But it is a situation that can be turned around.

Over lunch, my friend and I talked. Here was my advice, in no uncertain terms, to turn her situation around.

Value Your Experience

Believe it or not, the younger folks need the experience of older people. So while they may not come ask for it, they still need it and when delivered through a good relationship, they will listen and absorb. Will they pay for it? Perhaps. It depends on who you’re marketing to. In my friend’s experience, I suggested that she market her experience to small business owners, given that she had serious depth in operations and human resources. There are over 5.8M small businesses in the United States. There are bound to be some businesses that would highly value her experience.

Network. Network. Network.

The best way to find a great job is to network. Get out and drink coffee after coffee (be sure to be a perks member of one of the big chains) and tell people the value and experience you can bring to bear within a business. I’ve heard that you’ll need to network for one month for every $10K you want in your salary. So if you’re looking for a job that pays $100K/year, you’ll need to plan on networking for at least 10 months. Whether this is accurate or not, try to meet as many people as possible and stay in touch with them. Call them every so often and check up on them to see how they’re doing. Find out if there is anything you can do for them and let them know how your job search is coming along. A 5-7 minute call is all that’s needed. Don’t pester them – but don’t be silent either. This is the toughest part – networking and calling and staying in front of people. Every fiber in your being will fight it. You’ll hear voices telling you that “so-and-so doesn’t care about you” or “they won’t have time for you” or “you’re just bothering them”. None of this will be true, mind you, so you’ll need to battle your internal thoughts and feelings and pick up the phone, every day.

You can also use LinkedIn to find new contacts that you’d like to meet. Pay the monthly fee for the premium service and introduce yourself to others through InMail. An example introductory InMail can go like this:

“John – I noticed through LinkedIn that you work in the small business area, helping businesses increase their sales. While I’m not in sales, I do want to find a small business who needs a solid CFO. I’m currently looking for such a position. Would you mind if we met for 30 minutes over a cup of coffee and become acquainted? I have no reason to think you know of any open positions, but you might bump into something in the future and if that happens, I’d like for you to think of referring me into that opportunity. I would enjoy become acquainted with you. Would Friday morning at 10AM work for you?”

I bet I’ve met over 100 people using this tactic – just pinging them and asking for 30 minutes to become acquainted. Since business is all about relationships, meeting more people in business is hardly a bad idea. And eventually, you will bump into some great situations that will combine your passion and skills into a single job.

Passion + Skill = GREAT Job

If you work in an area you’re passionate about, you’ll never work a day in your life. So if you’ve been unemployed for a while, take a look at the core structures of your life over the last 10+ years. What did you like? What would you keep? What should you change or jettison? Figure out what you’re passionate about and then see if you can utilize your skills in working within your area of passion.

Consider Starting Your Own Business

Many people in their 50’s and 60’s start their own businesses due to the market’s favor for younger talent that costs less. While difficult, starting and owning your own business can be very rewarding. If you don’t know how to do this, talk with some seasoned business professionals who have worked in small businesses. Don’t talk to people who run Fortune 500 companies. The skills to run a small business and those needed to run a Fortune 500 company are distinct and disparate. Network with those who run small businesses. If you have resources, consider working with a firm like Platinum to help you find a business that you can buy and own. Understanding that you can do more than just pound your head against the corporate brick walls while they hire younger people will give you power and freedom to pursue your passion in life.

If you would like to join a group that focuses on business startups, use our contact information to get ahold of us here at the Bible and Business.

Get Your MOJO Back

If you’re lacking confidence, then go to the Lord and ask Him what skills and experiences you can bring to bear in a given scenario and then network with those who have reach into that scenario. Lack of confidence in valuing our experience and skills is, I believe, a lie that the enemy gives us. He doesn’t want us to be effective in the marketplace, so one of his tactics is to make us feel less worthy or valuable than we are.

I’m not talking about becoming arrogant or cocky. But I am suggesting that if you lack confidence, you’ll need to replace with some appropriate swagger. I call it “getting your mojo back”. In order to do this, you’ll need to:

  • Change the negative self-talk you hear in your head to something truthful and positive
  • Value your experience and expertise
  • Consider that you have, perhaps, another 20 years to work, so this is, in effect, a career change
  • Pay it forward” a bit with some to prove your worth
  • Ask the Lord to give you new connections in business whom you can bless in some way
  • Depend on the Lord to find the right position and work

Re-engaging after a long absence from the marketplace when you’re over 50 can be rather difficult. I hope my advice is helpful. Either way, feel free to post back about your experiences and ideas for those who are struggling to find new work and purpose in our difficult economy.

Bill English, MA, MDiv., LP, CPBPM
Associate, the Platinum Group
Founder, the Bible and Business