Finding a job after 50: how to get your strategy right


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With youth unemployment so highly-publicised right now, it's easy to overlook the plight of older workers. But the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the over-50s are actually more likely than the young to be long-term unemployed.

While only 4.4 percent of the over-50s are unemployed, compared with 19.1 percent of young people, almost half of these people have been out of work for over a year. The problem, according to Age UK, is that older workers are both more likely to be made redundant and less likely to find a new job quickly. Fewer than a quarter make it back into employment within three months, compared with 40 percent of 25-34-year-olds.

"The combination of the difficult economic climate and age discrimination in the workplace is hitting older workers particularly hard," says Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK. "This is more proof that unemployed older workers find it tougher than people in any other age group to get back into work."

It's often suggested that older people should try and disguise their age on their CV. Certainly, it makes sense to focus on more recent work, but trying to hide your age altogether is a bad idea, says Dianne Bown-Wilson, co-founder of specialist consultancy In My Prime.

"You don't legally have to put your age on your CV, but people can work out very easily from your qualifications and the time you've spent in other jobs how old you are," she points out.

"But it's important not to make your decades of work your primary feature. You need to be up-to-date - certainly, technically up-to-date - and definitely show that you are up for change, and that you're very adaptable."

Many people who haven't job-hunted for a while may be unaware of the ways in which technology can help. As well as the many online job sites out there, LinkedIn, a work-focused social networking site, is particularly useful. An impressive profile here can be a big plus point - as can the larger network of work acquaintances that most older people have built up over the years. An enormous number of jobs are never advertised: a long list of connections on LinkedIn means you're that much more likely to hear about them.

Appearing up-to-date also means looking the part. There's no point trying to masquerade as a 20-year-old, but it is important to try and fit in.

"I do think it's important for people to make the best of themselves - check their hair style and their clothing to make sure that it's the right sort of thing," says Bown-Wilson. "Look at what everybody else is wearing. Good grooming matters: if you give the impression that you're slow and that life is an effort, that's not what employers want."

To this end, it can be worth enrolling in short courses to brush up computer skills; many job centres offer these free. But, says Bown-Wilson, don't commit to any large-scale retraining unless you're certain there'll be work in it at the end.

"There are sectors crying out for people and that will take people of any age, but to go along having put in all that time and effort and find out there's no work for you because you're inexperienced would be heartbreaking," she says.

Similarly, older workers should think carefully before setting up their own business - something many are tempted to do, with funds from a redundancy payment, a remortgage or a pension pot. But this isn't the universal panacea it's sometimes made out to be. And for older workers, anything with high start-up costs needs considering particularly carefully: will you be working for long enough to earn your investment back?

But if self-employment may not be the answer, contract work just might be. Many older workers are in a position to take on temporary or project-based work, which is often more widely available than a full-time job. Similarly, both temp agencies and their clients are far more concerned with skills and experience than they are with a person's age. And, once in, there's always the chance of converting that experience into permanent employment.

Age discrimination is more widely recognised these days, and candidates are unlikely to be told outright that they're too old for a job. It's not unusual, though, to hear that you're 'overqualified' or similar. Ultimately, combating such attitudes is a question of doing your research, keeping an open mind and playing to your strengths.

"Age is a problem, there's no two ways about it, and people have to be realistic in their expectations," says Bown-Wilson. "It's a case of not really looking for the job you want, but the job you're going to be able to get. But if you can be adaptable, well, many older people do walk into extremely good jobs."