Looking for a Job When the Rules, and You, Have Changed

J.D. O’Gara
50+ Job Seekers Networking Group at Franklin Senior Center Offers Useful Tools
Issue Date: 
February, 2020
Article Body: 

It’s not just recent college graduates looking for a job these days. An analysis of figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics by TLRanalytics found that although Americans 55+ make up slightly less than a quarter of the nation’s labor force, they filled the biggest share (49%) of the 2.9 million jobs gained in 2018 (AARP, 1/17/19). Plenty of people over 50 are looking for work, but they face some hurdles the younger set doesn’t.
To help them along, the Franklin Senior Center took advantage of a grant opportunity for the 50+ Job Seekers Networking Group from the Massachusetts Council on Aging (MCOA), funded by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs, and supported by AARP.
“They started a couple groups and found a lot of success with it,” Erin Rogers, Franklin Senior Center Social Coordinator, who became involved with the program when certain senior center clients would come in for help applying for different programs.
“Financially, they were needing a job, but not being able to find one,” she says. The MCOA’s idea, she says, “was to build groups all across the state. The idea is basically that across the nation, higher and higher numbers of older adults are looking for employment. I think people are frustrated about how to find these jobs,” says Rogers. “Typically, you’re not going to see a job posting, apply, and get it.”
Nearly 150 people, an average age of 55-65 years old, have attended the bi-monthly sessions, with an average of about 18 per meeting. “We’ve heard such positive feedback from those who came weekly,” says Rogers.
Job coach Ed Lawrence, founder and principal of Getstarted LLC (www.getstart-ed.com), comes in to teach the class in Franklin on the second and fourth Fridays of the month. The session runs for 16 classes, with eight topics. Although the program takes a pause after eight weeks and runs through the topics a second time around, Lawrence says group leaders are allowed leeway to change things up.
“I bring in different guest speakers, different employers. This always helps people who did not attend the first time.”
Attendees will benefit from dropping in on one, or by taking all of the classes, and topics cover such skills as self-assessment, developing a resume, creating an elevator speech, working with LinkedIn, interview preparation and strategy, developing a marketing plan for your job search, and what Edwards says this demographic needs most, networking.
Many attendees of the program are pointing to ageism as a huge stumbling block in their job searches.
“I think people feel like employers don’t necessarily want to invest in someone who’s older and have them go through all this training,” says Rogers.
“Ageism (among employers) is real. It is documented. Companies are just very good at manipulating the stats,” says Edwards. Although there is an Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), he says, a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in 2009, Gross v. FBL Financial Services, ruled that claimants must prove that age discrimination was the primary factor behind a bias claim. “This case made it pretty difficult, if not next to impossible, for people to prove age discrimination,” says Edwards. These days, he says, applicant tracking software (ATS), that looks for key words, makes discriminating by potential employers “very easy,” says Edwards. Filtering can say applicants “must have 3 to 7 years of experience, and an as older person, you’re taught to say you have 7-10, never over 20,” says Edwards.
Edwards’ older clients recant tales of great telephone interviews that fell flat when they were seen in person. Older applicants often hear that they are “overqualified.” In fact, many companies, says Edwards, most notably hub spots, boast of having a youthful work force with an average age of employees in their 20s.
In a casual kitchen table discussion, Edwards remembers, a bank officer he knew nonchalantly stated he’d never hire anybody over 40, because he wanted to hire “people who will show up on time, don’t get sick and can learn new tasks,” says Edwards. “That’s the attitude some people still have, and it’s totally wrong.”
Another big obstacle to the job search, for older employees, is outdated skills, says Edwards. “This is particularly notable in the New England area, because of our emphasis on high tech,” he says. “You get a lot of older high tech workers who want to leave on their resumes or talk about Cobalt or Windows NT … you’ve got to get training or updating.”
The third biggest challenge, says Edwards, applies to those who have been at one company for decades.
“As a result, they’re not ready for the job search,” he says. Where, in a different era you could walk into a company and introduce yourself and get a job, “things have changed. Networking is how you get the job. A lot of places, they don’t want walk-ins; they want referrals.” And that’s where networking comes into play.
“Most people misunderstand the concept of networking, but it’s how most jobs are found,” says Edwards. “They think it’s begging or asking, ‘do you know anyone?’ It’s relationship building.” Edwards even found in his own experience that one of his networking contacts helped him land a job, overruling human resources.
Older job seekers, says the advisor, should also be prepared for a lengthy job search, which can take a toll mentally. “Self-care is critical,” he says.
Edwards says that many older job seekers come in with an objective of seeking a full-time position, and “we must tell them the truth. Last I heard, or read, 40% of jobs are now contract and part-time,” says Edwards. “It does appear that outside of the government, for the most part, that more and more jobs are going to be gig-based. I think (employers) want out of the benefit business.”
So far, Edwards’ attendees have seen success.
“In my two groups alone, something like 17 people have gotten jobs since they’ve started attending. The program definitely has an impact,” he says.
This month, the Franklin 50+ Job Seekers Networking Group will cover “Creating an Elevator Speech,” on Friday, February 14th, and “Creating a LinkedIn Profile” on Friday, February 28th. The group meets from 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. To register, call Erin Rogers at (508) 520-4945 or email: [email protected]
Sessions at all 17 locations for this Mass Council on Aging program are open to all participants. To see meeting times in other towns, visit https://mcoaonline.com/employment/50-plus-job-seeker-networking-groups/ .