In the last few months, countless well-qualified and experienced candidates have called me in despair. Having held down jobs for years, they are finding themselves unemployed and unemployable, because their age is counting against them.
It isn’t that there aren’t jobs. There are fewer openings and the competition is fiercer, but despite the laws in place to safeguard against discrimination, one of the criteria employers are using is age – neatly packaged as ‘lacking drive’ or missing ‘hunger to do well’.
The typical sufferer
I have seen ‘recessionitis’ hit a number of – usually male – clients. The typical scenario is this:
After having a well-paid and successful career, they find themselves out of work and with heavy financial and family commitments to meet. For the first three months, they talk of freelancing, setting up as a limited company and taking on some consultancy work. There is a lot of networking to be done, including catching up with previous clients and colleagues. These are people who have worked 50-60 hour weeks, and now, for the first time in their lives, are enjoying a little bit of time off. Usually, after six months, finances begin to grip harder. Working alone much of the time – coupled with a fair amount of rejection – means the situation starts to hit home. Unfortunately, I have met people who have stayed in this position for 18 months or longer.
When you find yourself in this situation it is imperative to prepare a plan and work that plan on a daily basis. It will give you a sense of purpose and help with your self-esteem.
Age discrimination is not fair, but accept how things are and adapt to a changing job market. Prepare for battle and treat your job search as a job in itself.
Your CV is a marketing tool. Bear the following in mind:
- You no longer have to specify age (although recruiters will count forwards from your academic qualifications)
- Don’t list every single job you have done – instead, limit yourself to recent and relevant
- De-age your CV by taking out mentions of children at university, for example
- Ensure it is in the latest accepted format, with an up-to-date font, clear language and no more than two pages in length
- Use action words and relate all activities to the bottom line
- If possible, get professional help with the presentation
- Competency-based CVs do not work well in this tighter market – you need a sharp, focused and immaculately presented document
- Tailor your CV for every job and apply for fewer roles with more focus on these
- Compose well written, focused cover letters to accompany your applications. The key thing to remember is that they should relate specifically and concisely to how you meet the job specification.
Put a lot of thought into your personal presentation. Knock out ageist prejudices of how you might look. Consider teeth whitening, a new outfit (perhaps using free personal shopper services), or a more modern hairstyle.
I am seeing a lot of high performers who are literally having their energy ground down by the interview process. I’ve known one or two people lose out at second interview stage because they have given off a tinge of disillusionment that I am certain would not have been there pre-recession.
Think very carefully about how you answer interview questions. Practice and prepare, ideally on camera, so you can see for yourself how you come across. Take yourself back to the time when you were at your most successful. Mentally run yourself through a typical day and remember the person you were, how you felt, thought and moved. Anchor this in your mind and use it as a place to hook into when you are at interview.
Another useful exercise is to sit down and brainstorm alternative careers for yourself, using your current skills but in a different context. I recently held a Linkedin discussion on this topic. I got some very positive responses from people who had found themselves out of work in middle age and used the experience to start a whole new chapter in their lives. As one of them wrote:
‘Keep in mind that people don’t become redundant, the job does’.
You might have to consider some major life changes, but it’s important to know that there is a Plan B. Talk to those around you and keep yourself open to possibilities. Remember that the skills and abilities that took you up the career ladder remain with you, you just have to find a new place to use them.
I wish your every success in your search.