Career Advice for People Over 50

Looking for a job? Want to change careers? We've got the answers to all your questions.

By Andrea Atkins

The economy is staggering back to life, but for those over 50 looking for a job, it may feel like the economy is still lying in a hospital bed. The most recent Department of Labor monthly jobs report says that people over age 55 spent an average of 54.2 weeks unemployed in May, compared with April, when the average was 50.2 weeks. (For people under 55, the average was about 36 weeks.)

But, according to Kerry Hannon, author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy And Healthy…And Pays the Bills, there is good news: In May, the unemployment rate for workers 55 and older was 5.3 percent, down from 5.8 percent in February. Considering it was 6.2 percent in March 2012, that is a positive trend. 

If you're looking for a job or switching careers, you've come to the right place. We took your job questions to Hannon, a career transition and retirement expert. Here’s what she had to say: 

Q: Are there jobs that are more open to people over 50?

Hannon says: "Part-time jobs, consulting, and contract jobs are always good bets for experienced workers. Before you worry that those jobs won't pay your bills, keep in mind that it’s not unusual for these part-time projects or consulting gigs to grow into a full-time position once both parties have had a chance to vet one another. Other good fields are healthcare, nonprofit organizations, and small businesses. If you're skillled in math and science, education is a field worth looking in to.

Some industries—especially retail, health care, and information technology—report high numbers of job vacancies. In fact, for the period 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care and social assistance programs are projected to generate about 28 percent of all new jobs produced in the U.S. economy.

If you are tech savvy—that’s good news because employment in computer systems design and related services is expected to jump by 47 percent, spurred by growing demand for computer network and mobile technologies. Management, scientific, and technical consulting services are anticipated to increase by a whopping 58 percent.

And if you’re interested in non-profit work, go for it. Forty-four percent of nonprofit groups plan to hire more workers this year, up from only a third two years ago, according to a new survey of more than 580 organizations by Nonprofit HR Solutions, a human resources consulting firm."

Q. I want to go back to school to expand my experience. If I could take one or two classes, or get some kind of certification, what would be an important or helpful path to pursue?

Hannon says: "Pick your preferred career first, then research the skills or certifications required. Then add those essential skills and degrees before you make the leap. Check out offerings at community colleges for retraining, and consider taking one class at a time.

If possible, take some classes while your current employer is still offering tuition reimbursement. Under federal law, employers can offer up to $5,250 a year in tax-free education-assistance benefits for undergraduate or graduate courses. You don’t need to be working toward a degree. But learning new skills and adding to your kit, while you’re gainfully employed, will prepare you for your transition.

If you're looking to open a business, SBA.gov and Score.org, groups that provides small business assistance, are top resources for seminars and other help getting you off the ground."

Q: What kind of jobs are available to people living in rural areas?

Hannon says: "If you have computer skills, there is a variety of work-from-home possibilities. These might include translator-interpreter, writer-editor, grant-proposal writer, customer service representative, online tutor, crafter, direct sales, bookkeeping for local small businesses."

Q: What characteristics do you think older people should emphasize when approaching employers? Is it better to not mention age--or to say what is obvious?

Hannon says: "Don't mention age, but do tell any interviewer that you have experience, dependability, leadership, willingness to be flexible, and a willingness to learn new things. All these things go a long way with potential employers."

Q: Just finding job openings seems to be a challenge. And those offered on the Internet seem to be filled by the time you find them. What job-hunting strategies would you recommend?

Hannon says:

Research. Look for jobs and opportunities that leverage experience. Check out job web sites like encore.org, retiredbrains.com, and workforce50.com to get a flavor for what others are doing and what jobs are out there now. Investigate fields like health care, the clergy, elder care, sustainability or “green” arenas, and education, which have a growing demand for workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook is a good reference for researching the fastest growing occupations.

Network. In this era of online resumes, it’s all about whom you know that can get you in the chair for a face-to-face meeting. People want to hire someone who comes with the blessing of an existing employee or colleague. Networking is about building relationships. One way you can do that is to join a networking group.

I’m a member of The Transition Network, a nonprofit networking group for women over 50. It’s based in New York, but the group has a chapter with 600 members in Washington, D.C., where I live. There are also chapters in cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, and Santa Fe. New chapters are forming in Phoenix, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Portland, Oregon and Dayton, Ohio. Memberships costs $70 to $135 a year, $40 if you live outside one of the chapter cities.

You also might consider joining a peer group associated with your profession or your alma mater. For instance, my alma mater, Duke University, has Women’s Forums in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, Seattle, Denver, and even London.

There are also a growing number of online networking organizations. Join Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It’s great way to pull together your professional network. But don’t ignore networking in unlikely places. You might find the mother of your son’s friend can help. 

Volunteer. I recommend this to everyone. Sometimes, volunteer jobs become paid ones. And you’ll meet people who can help you. If you don’t know what you want to do or should be doing, or your stomach is in knots because no one is calling you back for a job interview, then get up, get out, and do something for someone else. Nearly half of all Americans age 55 and over volunteered at least once in the past year, according to Encore.org.

Q: If there is one thing people in the job market who are 50 and older should know, what is it?

Hannon says: "When midlife career switchers ask me for advice on how to succeed, I always say, “Get a fitness program.” You need to be physically fit and that doesn't mean running a super fast mile or pressing heavyweights. An overall fitness program will pay off for you, by providing the strength and mental sharpness to deal with stress, especially when changing jobs or making big decisions. It sounds superficial, but an in-shape and energetic appearance is a bonus in the work world."

Want to find a job you can do from home? Check out the 10 best work-from-home options right now >>

Comments

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my grandkids6 on 2013-07-30 11:24:59