Up there in age and looking for work? Here’s how to do it

When I look in the mirror, for the first five seconds I still see a 20-year-old. Then the visible wrinkles around my eyes and jowls provide a friendly reminder that I’m not 20 any more. At that moment in the mirror, I challenge myself physically, as I don’t feel like I’m over 40, and the face I’m looking at cannot be accurate, but according to my birth certificate it is.

I mean, I still feel young, so how can I look so different? Simply put, I’m just a 20-year-old that now has 25 years of work experience, a family, and has journeyed through the ups and downs of life.

Even though this is what I believe, I now know others don’t feel the same, especially when it comes to the workplace. Here is my recent reality check: Last year I left my corporate job of 14 years. I was in a space where I had the opportunity to find a new job with a new company. I felt fresh, excited and limitless. Although it had been a while since I last interviewed, I thought, “No problem. I’ve got this. I used to any get any job I wanted, so finding a new one should pretty be easy.” After a few interviews (good interviews, I thought), I wasn’t getting hired. Frustration set in because I could not figure out what was so different this time around. After all, my resume was stronger and more accomplished than my younger years.

But something had changed. I aged.

Call me naive, but I did not think that my age would be an obstacle in the workplace. I had heard this from other women over the years, but I chose not to believe them because certainly it would never happen to me.

Here is a true story: A sales recruiter was helping a sales manager fill an open position. The recruiter sent her a resume of a female candidate with a college graduation date of 1998. The sales manager abruptly turned down the resume. In addition, she let the recruiter know that she didn’t want to see any resumes with college graduation dates prior to 2003. This was the sales manager’s criterion for what she deemed to be a viable candidate. Not experience, not achievements, not abilities. Simply age.

This true story was painful for me to hear. Here was a woman selling out other women and contributing to the stigma that we fight every day, and sadly her perspective is a harsh reality. However, let this statistic give you another reality check and perspective: In 2024, women over 65 will make up roughly the same percentage of the female workforce as older men do of the male workforce. Additionally, twice as many women over 55 will be in the labor force as women ages 16 to 24.

Knowing the stigma, knowing the numbers and the reality, what is the best way to approach finding a new job later in life? Here are five tips when looking for a new job over the age of 40:

1.    Use your network.

Sending our resumes to career websites will do nothing for us. We get pushed aside as we are categorized. The tip here is to use our network of colleagues, former business associates and friends to find companies that are hiring and will have a genuine interest in what we can do for their organizations. This method does work. Finding like-minded individuals with the same goals of working smart and getting stuff done will provide the best platform for finding a new working environment.

2.    Show off your skills.

At this point in our careers, we have a proven list of accomplishments and skillsets. We have navigated some of our toughest times and have already been through the learning. Because of this, we require less training and possess the right skills, because yeah, we know how to do it. We need to show off our confidence and accolades to a potential employer. They need to know that our leadership skills and experience will fit in flawlessly with their company.

3. Be bold.

We can ask harder questions in the interview process and as an employee. Perhaps questions that challenge company methods or goals. If anything as women, unfortunately, we have been taught to be compliant and agreeable to get through the stepping-stones of our careers. We don’t have to do that any more. We have arrived. Work experience has taught us to think quickly, make decisions and share opinions. We have a lot to teach, and hiring companies need to appreciate this. 

4.    Seek a mentor, be a mentor.

In recent weeks, I have had great women mentor me. Women of a certain age. Women who are drama-free, make things happen, and don’t sweat the small stuff. I appreciate them, have learned from them, and have committed to do the same for others. This is important, as this will help us change the tide and break the stigma.

5.    We are already tech-savvy.

Much to the disbelief of others, age doesn’t stifle our tech knowledge. It’s who we are as a society.  Most of us already use work-related apps like Zoom, Slack, Dropbox and others. The point is, our tech knowledge isn’t lacking, so that is no excuse for hiring companies or managers. We are already there. This is not a hindrance.

The battle continues. In my earlier years as a woman in the corporate world, I fought to make a mark. Now I’m fighting the same female battle in addition to 20-plus years of life and work experience. This should get easier, shouldn’t it? It doesn’t, so it is up to us to change it. We have to change the mindset by challenging the current stigma. Because we have arrived and we aren’t going anywhere.

Holly Caplan is a workplace issues expert, career coach and author. Her website is www.hollycaplan.com.