Straight Talk for Employees 50+

What works for people in their workilfe's final years.

Posted May 16, 2017

American Advisors Group, CC 2.0
Source: American Advisors Group, CC 2.0

Too often, advice for older workers is perky Pollyannism. The following may be more helpful:

Making the case for wrinkles

A case can be made that it’s wiser, on average, to hire an older person:

Experience counts. Older people are more likely to have seen what works and doesn’t in a given situation. And they’re more likely to have the perspective that comes (sometimes) with age. Inexperienced people often overreact.

A better network. Older people have had longer to build a network. That can provide warm-lead customers, advisors willing to offer free advice, and sources of collaborations across organizations.

Greater likelihood of retention. Older workers are less likely to job-hop.

The reality

That all said, those arguments work only sometimes. And it’s not that most employers are biased against wrinkles and gray hair. They’re biased against the frequent concomitants among older job-seekers: burnout, being technologically not-current, resistance to being managed by a much younger person, back pain, or the energy and cognitive decline caused by, for example, cardiovascular disease, cancer/chemotherapy, diabetes, or pre-Alzheimer's.To boot, despite those liabilities, many older job seekers expect a salary higher than many 25-year-olds would happily accept.

Beating the odds

Making your case. In job applications and in networking, make clear, if true, that you’re technologically current, are healthy enough to do a good job, and that you’d welcome the opportunity to work for that employer, including having a younger boss. When interviewed, shallow though it is, you convey energy and motivation with good posture and by striding, not trudging.

Older job seekers need do a little extra. In applying for a job, it can help to do a little extra. For example, your application might include a short white paper (like those papers you wrote in college) that would convey current knowledge of the job you’re applying for. For example, if applying for a job as a psychotherapist for a health-care system, you might write: “Five New Keys to Effective Short-Term Therapy.” Your little extra might even just be a post-interview note that describes how you might address a workplace challenge the employer mentioned in the interview.

Go bottom-up. Most older job seekers first try for a position at or above their previous level. If that fails, they usually consider jobs one level lower. Sometimes, it’s wise to drop many levels—making the employer an offer s/he can’t refuse: a low-level or even volunteer job. You may well be able to work your way up, or realize you're happy with a less demanding job.

Cutting expenses

After being fired, it’s tempting to, paradoxically, increase spending—anesthetizing the pain with pecuniary pleasures: a vacation, eating out more, etc. That’s understandable but should you be pulling on ropes of restraint and considering ways to significantly cut spending so you won’t be so desperate that you'd take a job you’d hate?

The biggest expense is housing. Should you take a roommate or move to less tony digs? Don’t just look at ads. The best deals rarely get to the open market. So ask everyone in your network if they know of someone who might want to rent a nice place to you at a good rent.

Many people 50+ have kids in or about to enter college. So, another potent way to cut expenses is to recognize that your kids will likely not do worse and perhaps do better at a low-cost state university or starting out at a low-cost community college and living at home. Yes, we live in a designer-label society, in which a brand-name on the diploma opens additional doors, but the cost and increased pressure and theory-centric instruction at prestigious universities, for many students, makes them inferior to no-name colleges, which tend to be more practical and student- rather than than research-centered. Plenty of graduates of no-name colleges do fine.

Silver lining

It’s tempting to view a decline in income and status as unmitigated negatives. In fact, some of my clients who were forced to take a low-level, part-time job or to retire, end up feeling it was for the best.

When being honest with themselves, those clients acknowledge that they were “done,” ready to step back or leave the work force. Taking easier work enabled them to go out with wins rather than skulking away with poor performance, like the former all-star baseball player who’d rather hit a feeble .200 than retire.

And of course, with the new-found time from pulling back to part-time work,  consulting, or retirement, the person has time to scratch a long-foregone creative itch, desire to volunteer, or to create or strengthen relationships.

Here are some retirement and semi-retirement activities that many people find rewarding:

  • Writing a blog, perhaps with video, a memoir, short stories, or a fiction or non-fiction book.
  • Mentoring young people, for example, students from your alma mater or volunteering for SCORE, which helps would-be entrepreneurs.
  • One-on-one friend-raising or fundraising with donors to a favorite charity.
  • Joining the board of a local nonprofit.
  • Running a simple, small business, for example, buying and selling collectibles on eBay or making and selling jewelry on Etsy.
  • Taking a photography course and then specializing in for example, naturalistic portraits of children, the realities of the urban landscape, or the surreal.
  • Getting involved in community theatre as an actor, set designer, costumer, usher, or light/sound person. Community theaters often welcome such volunteers.
  • Spending extended time with current or past friends, perhaps a get-away to a beautiful nature spot.

The takeaway

No honest observer can claim the silver years to be golden but there can be a silver lining.

The 2nd edition of The Best of Marty Nemko is now available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at