As a baby boomer myself, I can’t help but be sensitive to continuing reports or complaints about age discrimination for job seekers over 50. But in talking to technical recruiters and reading recent reports on boomer job search and unemployment woes, I’m not completely convinced that a single-factor explanation of “age discrimination” is sufficient to explain the genuine phenomenon that older workers take longer and have to work harder to find new jobs. According to the AARP (as quoted in this MSNBC careers story) the average length of unemployment for workers 55 and over is almost 30 weeks, while it’s under 22 weeks for their younger counterparts.
Here’s what other factors I believe may be involved, thanks in part to my research and thanks in part to a conversation with local technical recruiter Steely Dipuccio of Accountability Resources I had last week:
- Boomers have been in the work force for a long time (even those who, like myself, have changed careers in their 30s or 40s) and thus also tend to earn (and want to keep earning) higher salaries. It’s well documented that those who make more money also tend to take longer to find work (the old pre-recession maxim that “it takes a month of search for each $10K you wish to earn when looking for a new position” has certainly increased, perhaps even doubling). Some lowering of expectations can offset this phenomenon to some extent, but be warned: Dipuccio notes that hiring managers are wary of seasoned professionals who accept serious pay cuts to find work, because they expect them to bolt as soon as something better (or higher paying) comes along, for good reason.
- The longer IT professionals stay in the same job, the more likely it is that they’ll find their skills and knowledge outdated or irrelevant when they go seeking new work. This is age independent, but does affect older workers more, because they’re more likely to have been in positions for more years by virtue of age. The best counter for this phenomenon is a cover letter and resume that focus on recent and relevant learning, training, skills, knowledge, and experience, backed up by talking the talk, and walking the walk if and when you get into an interview situation.
- As workers get older, they become more set in their ways and less flexible in what they’re willing to accept. Dipuccio observed in our discussions about job search that “flexibility is the most important characteristic a prospective employee can bring to the search process and the interview these days.” We older folks may have to work more at being flexible than younger folks, but awareness and attention to this need can help to remedy this defect.
If you’re in the over-50 category and looking for IT employment (or thinking about changing jobs) you’d do very well to keep these things in mind as you work through the job search process. Don’t rely too much on Web 2.0 to lead you to your next position, either: Dipuccio reports (and I concur) that the best jobs still get filled by word of mouth and personal relationships, often without ever being posted online or advertised in print. Though online social networks can help with the job search process, the old-fashioned personal network remains the best pathway to a good job, even for tech-heavy IT in this always-on Internet age.