U.S. Air Force, Public Domain
Source: U.S. Air Force, Public Domain

Finding good work can be difficult for older, not-technical people who’d rather retire. Here's my best advice.

Which jobs?

Older applicants may fare better and be more motivated in these niches:

  • Companies whose products are aimed at older people, for example, senior housing or durable medical equipment. Less obvious, sell or otherwise work for a company that makes or sells luxury products such as high-end cars, boats, personal aircraft, or architectural services. Mainly older people have accumulated enough income to afford those.
  • Firms that serve a broader clientele but have a niche serving older people. For example, if you want to sell residential real estate, specialize in senior housing. If you’re a travel planner, specialize in senior travel: group excursions, low-physicality adventures, etc. Some construction firms specialize in making homes senior-friendly and if they don’t, perhaps you should suggest they do and hire you for a significant role.
  • Firms in which owners are older. We may claim to celebrate diversity but when we watch people in situations in which they have unfettered choice—for example, we see who their close friends are—it’s clear that birds of a feather tend to flock together. You’re more likely to find older-friendly workplaces in long-established fields such as education or the construction trades than, for example, software development. You may get a sense of a specific organization’s openness to older employees by searching on its name on LinkedIn—Most people’s profiles have a headshot. Also check a firm’s website, which also may display employee photos.
  • Government. Many government agencies are more open to hiring older people than are private companies.
  • Geriatric research. Even if you don’t have a Ph.D. in gerontology, government, nonprofits, and companies (for example, medical wearable firms) are trying to figure out how best to serve the aging population. They may employ data collectors, project managers, fundraisers, administrative assistants, the full assortment of positions that exist in organizations.
  • Any job in which experience is important. For example, even some startups eventually decide to hire at least one voice of experience.

Landing it

After having identified your job target, of course, the next step is a solid job search.

Most of what’s needed to land a good job is applicable to people of all ages:

  • You need a thoughtful, candid, cliché-free resume and cover letter written with the target employer in mind.  
  • If you’re a solid fit for in-demand jobs, much of your job search could focus on getting in through the front door: answering ads and using external recruiters.
  • More often, the successful job search requires focusing on the back door: getting referred in by your network, or if it’s skimpy, building it. It may also require emailing, LinkedIn in-mailing, and phoning employers whether or not they’re advertising an appropriate opening.

Here are tips for older job-seekers:

  • Sell rather than hide your age in your resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letters, and interviews. For example, perhaps your target employer would be impressed by your wealth of experience, the connections you’ve made over the years, or the wisdom that may come with age.
  • Don’t use age-hiding tactics like saying “10+ years experience” when you have 25, listing only your last 10 years on your resume, or posting an old or grainy photo of yourself on LinkedIn. Before hiring you, you’ll be interviewed whereupon the employer will see that you’re not as young as you’ve implied. Employers are already skeptical of job seekers’ veracity. Using such deceptions or even salesy self-descriptors as “seasoned” or “mature” will likely make you seem untrustworthy and so, ethics aside, will hurt your job prospects.

More aggressive tactics

Only some people find the following approaches doable. If you're reticent, you may be better off not using them. Such people generally fail at them or procrastinate and beat themselves up so much over it that it’s better to stay with the standard approaches above. Many people, including older ones, do land jobs that way. But if you’re curious, read on:

  • Walk in. If a stranger phoned and asked if he could drop an orphan off at your place so you can help it find a home, if you’re like most people, you’d probably decline. But if the doorbell rang, you opened the door, and there was the orphan, you’d more likely take the child in and make a few phone calls. Same with many job seekers, and I’m not just talking about retail. No, you won’t land a CEO position by walking into a dozen places for employment, but a number of my clients have gotten leads to good jobs that way. Just tell your honest story: what you bring to the table, and how getting in by answering ads usually results in no response. Do bring copies of that solid but not hypey resume of yours.
  • Do a one-day job search. Job hunting isn’t fun, certainly less fun than other things you could be doing. So in the morning, call 20 people in your network. Leave voicemail if necessary. Just describe the range of work you’d accept and what you bring to the table. That afternoon, call your 10 top-choice employers. To find the names of people to pitch at each organization, use LinkedIn or the employer’s website. Even if it’s not the person who’d ultimately employ you, if you often enough tell your story humanly but impressively, it can work, and fast.
  • Write an aggressive letter. Instead of the standard milquetoasty missive, you might try unabashedly touting your strengths and even make an offer that’s hard to refuse: an unpaid trial period.

Self-employment

Many older people are unable to get hired for something decent, so they figure their best option is self-employment. But people nearing the end of their work span and who haven’t been successfully self-employed are at risk of running one of the many new businesses that quickly go out of business. So it’s usually wise for them to use these filters for choosing a business:

  • Simple: a single product or service—fewer things to go wrong.
  • Low-investment:  Of course, a low-investment business means you risk less money. As important, you’ll need a cash reserve because it usually takes time for a business to get sufficiently profitable, and you'll make beginner’s mistakes, which adds to the outlay. So choose a low-investment business, for example, a service or a product that doesn’t require large inventory and one you can run from home or a coffee shop.
  • Don’t innovate; replicate. The leading edge too often bleeds. So take a proven formula and do it better or in another location.

A few examples of businesses that follow those three principles:

  • Medical advocate: Help people get needed physician appointments promptly. Accompany them to doctors’ visits, take notes, and ask questions. Visit the patient in the hospital, checking in with nurses. Fight with insurance companies or Medicare to get care paid for.
  • Psychotherapist, counselor, or coach specializing in one or more elder issues: from senior sex to coping with decline.
  • An accountant specializing in retirement.
  • An insurance salesperson specializing in older people’s issues, for example, long-term care insurance and life insurance for people in poor health.
  • A real-estate agent specializing in senior housing, including assisted living and memory care.

The takeaway

As I reread this, I feel a little sad, that after having survived a workspan's later years and having probably contributed a lot, many people still need to make more money, and under constraints. I hope that, whether you’re working for the money, to add meaning to your life, or both, this article helps.

Dr. Nemko’s nine books are available on Amazon. He is a career and personal coach. You can reach him at mnemko@comcast.net.

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