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Seeking Employment after the Age of 50 ~ by Steve Throckmorton
Logan’s Run, filmed in 1976 is set in the year 2274 when humanity is depicted as living an ideal existence under a protective dome with perfect weather and the need for labor has been eliminated, leaving man to pursue his desires without encumbrances. It seemed that mankind had achieved perfection until it is revealed that an artificial time limit is set on everyone’s lifespan. At age 30 all people are required to report for termination of life. The movie derives its title from a man named Logan who decides to run and then take his chances on life run rather than voluntarily facing death.
Today in the year 2012 we do not live in that idyllic world but neither do we have to run for our lives to survive past age 30. However those who reach age 50 face another time barrier. It is not a limitation on lifespan but a limitation on employability. This limitation is not written in law nor is it fixed at exactly age 50 but multitudes of workers have bumped into this invisible barrier at this approximate age. The irony is that laws actually prohibit age based discrimination but it exists all the same. It is unspoken and there is little danger of being called a derogatory age based name or receiving glances of disapproval. In fact as a consumer people past age 50 are welcomed with arms wide open. This all changes when it comes time to apply for a job.
I know a man with a B.S. in engineering and a MBA. He was never laid off in 30 years until he reached age 52. He found a replacement job within a month after that first layoff. He was employed with that firm for three years and then was laid off again during an economic downturn. At age 55 he found that it was much more difficult to get hired again. Yes it was in a time of economic downturn but it took 14 months to find his next job and he had to settle for a 35% reduction in income. He noticed during those months that his younger coworkers in their 30’s and 40’s recovered much more quickly. Some found employment immediately and most others within 3 to 4 months. These coworkers had equal or less education and much less experience. In many cases they found jobs paying more than my friend had to settle for.
During his search my friend began to notice patterns of behavior that he had never seen before. Many potential employers were very enthusiastic at the beginning of the hiring process when they saw his education and achievements but often in that first interview they asked detailed questions about when he graduated from school and when his career began. After that he would not hear from them again. They would simply vanish and never get back to him with a report of interest or disinterest. In one instance he managed to get past the phone interview to a series of face to face interviews. He thought the interviews went well and he knew that he fit the employer’s profile perfectly. A few days after the interview he received a call from the recruiter and was told that the employer felt he was “over qualified” for the position. When he asked what that meant he was told they were afraid that he would resign within a few months for something better after the economy got better. My friend offered to sign an employment agreement agreeing to stay for some minimum period of time because he desperately needed the income to make house payments and pay bills. The employer was unmoved by this offer. He was devastated by this news because by this time he was in danger of losing his home. He was also having a hard time paying utility bills to keep on his lights and heat.
My friend was discouraged and tempted to give up at this point in his search because he had been searching for a job as a full time vocation for nearly a year. Fortunately he did not give up because two months later he finally found the job that kept him from facing foreclosure. The reduction in income was very rough because he was unable to get caught up on past due bills but the new job did allow him to “tread water”.
The story just related about my friend is being repeated millions of times over in the United States. The question I have asked myself is why does this happen? If an older, experienced, educated worker is willing to take a reduction in income, perhaps even work below what his younger coworkers are being paid then why do employers not jump on the chance to have him or her? If I walk into a store and find a bottle of wine on sale that is a better quality and aged longer than another bottle of newer, cheaper wine then why wouldn’t I jump at the chance to get the bargain? I’ve thought and read a lot about this and I’ve come up with the following reasons to explain this.
- Employers fear that the older employer will take the job to fill an employment gap and then leave as soon as he/she finds a better situation. This is the very thing that happened to my friend as I described earlier. It is a valid concern because nobody wants to extend a downgrade in lifestyle longer than necessary.
- Older employees raise the cost of health insurance premiums. It is a sad reality that older workers require more medication and more hospitalization than younger workers. The one exception to this would be young women who plan to have a family. Companies know that a younger average age in the work force translates into lower group premiums. This cannot be a published as a written policy since age discrimination is illegal. However senior executives have ways of verbally communicating to HR their desire to reduce average employee age, even if unofficial.
- We live in a culture of youth worship. Let’s face it, young is physically attractive and many studies have been conducted demonstrating that physically attractive people are more likely to get a job over their less attractive counterparts.
- Employers sometimes fear that older employees will be “set in their ways” and inflexible, unwilling to adjust to a constantly changing competitive environment. Closely related to this is a fear that older workers will be unable to learn new concepts or learn them slowly, costing the company time and money.
- Hiring managers are sometimes insecure about hiring someone who may know more than they do. This can produce an array of concerns ranging from the possibility of the older employee as a threat to their own job to general intimidation over having someone report to them that might be the age of a parent or an uncle.
If you are over 50 I hope that my writing has not discouraged you. I would not do that. I am a firm believer in facing reality and looking at obstacles head on. Sugar coating the situation and pretending there is no challenge will not help any of my 50+ friends navigate Logan’s corporate run successfully. Can a military general win a war if he ignores enemy positions and strengths? No of course not! A good general sends reconnaissance patrols to assess the situation as it actually exists, not as he hopes it exists. He would rather have bad news than no news because it will help him formulate a strategy that yields the highest probability of success.
Future installments of this blog will include strategies and suggestions designed to help my 50+ friends build a road to employment success and navigate around some of the obstacles that I have pointed to in this blog. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you what is coming but I think you will be pleased. Stand by my friends.