I hear this question from my clients all of the time. It is an honest question haloed by fear, uncertainty, and panic. Who asks me this question the most?
Women over 50 years old.
When I was 35 fighting my way to the top of a medical sales organization, I felt unstoppable. I was consumed by proving myself, hyper-focused on my goals, and in constant growth mode. I thought all of my accomplishments would count and be relevant to my future, so I stacked my resume with achievements and wins thinking they mattered, and they would stand the test of time. As I aged past 40, and then 45, my arsenal of knowledge and expertise continued to grow. On top of the knowledge, I gained more life experience, wisdom, and honed my leadership skills. I had become a well-rounded professional and was proud of my work and a consistent drive to succeed. However, over 45, whenever I felt the urge to submit my resume for a role that appeared interesting, I noticed that I wasn’t getting the same warm reception I got in my mid 30’s. Previously, getting an interview had never been a problem – and suddenly it was.
According to research by the Urban Institute, when personal and job characteristics are held constant, jobless women are 18 percent less likely to find new work at age 50 to 61 than at age 25 to 34. At 62 or older, they are 50 percent less likely to be rehired.
I reached out to my colleagues, with the question “What the hell is happening? I’ve built my career, have the accolades to prove it, and employers are not responding.” The common thread in these conversations with colleagues was that they were experiencing the same. The no-brainer moves now, to preserve the appearance of youth, were to take college graduation dates off of the resume as well as the first 10 years of work experience. Poof. Get rid of it. Gone. I think one of the hardest things to come to terms with is that my experience and career tenure didn’t matter anymore. My birthdate did.
Let me say that I know there are industries that do revere years of work and wisdom. Let me also say that men experience the same issues over the age of 50. This is not isolated to just women.
So, what do we do fellow AARP members? What resources or reinvention tactics do we consider in finding a new job or starting our own hustle?
1. Grow Your Network:
Networking is a skill I had lost in Corporate America. I was insulated by the corporate culture around me and didn’t need to create my own infrastructure of contacts and customers. Because of this, I neglected the importance and growth of my own personal Rolodex. When I decided to go out on my own, I had to start from scratch. Don’t wait as long as I did to build your network. Start now. Make the commitment to yourself that you will attend 3 networking events per month to begin to gain momentum. Ask friends what networking groups they recommend, join your local chamber, or volunteer at an event that lies in your area of interest. You will find that you will meet new friends and create new business partnerships. These people will be essential to finding the right job or your next steps simply because they like you and want to help you.
2. Consider Entrepreneurship:
If you have been working for over 25 years, you most likely know how to run a business and have had the idea of becoming an entrepreneur. Now is your time. You have enough business acumen, experience, and knowledge to start doing your own thing.
If this idea seems appealing, yet overwhelming as you are not sure where to start, you are normal. Grab a glass of wine, sit down, and make a list of all of the businesses you see as something you could do on your own. This is your personal brainstorming session. Do not leave any idea off the table. Just get started. As you go through this process you will naturally identify what will work best for you professionally and financially.
3. Find a support system:
Your support system is essential to your encouragement and confidence. As we grow older in the workplace, we must realize we are not alone and that there are plenty of us dealing with ageism. I encourage you to find 3 to 5 like-minded individuals that you can confide in, share ideas with, and provide a safe place with each other. This support system will be your backbone in getting that new role, career, or finding the conviction to start your own business.
4. Get a coach:
When I realized I was hitting a wall with my age and questioning what I really wanted to do with the rest of my career, I felt stuck. I knew I wanted to create change for myself but wasn’t sure how. How was I to break out of my “old” mindset and comfort zone? I knew I needed assistance, accountability, and courage. So, I hired a coach. I needed her to help me navigate the uncharted waters ahead of me. She provided me direction, love, and support to help me grow into my second act. Hiring a coach will do the same for you.
It has taken me a while to accept that what transpired in my last 25 years of my work life will not mirror the next 25. I encourage everyone to take inventory of where you are at 50, consider what is important to you and take charge of your destiny. You have earned it and you deserve it.