Fiona Smith Columnist

Fiona writes on workplace issues, including management, psychology, workplace design, human resources and recruitment. She is a former Work Space editor at The Australian Financial Review and has also covered property, technology, architecture and general news.

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Over-50s resort to extreme job hunting

Published 08 July 2013 11:55, Updated 18 July 2013 00:46

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Over-50s resort to extreme job hunting

We may be expected to live for 80 years, but we are only worth hiring for 20 of them. The rest of the time, we are either too young or too old.

That appears to be the rule of thumb in the job market, where people over the age of 50 take an average 73 weeks to find employment and 11.6 per cent of young people are looking for work.

So, from the age of about 25, we have just two decades to capitalise on our education, health and energy to build our careers and wealth before we start to be tossed aside at about the age of 45.

It is no wonder that taking a couple of years out to have children has such a massive impact on women’s ability to earn and save for retirement.

The managing director of recruitment agency Adage, Heidi Holmes, says older workers have to be relentlessly inventive to overcome the bias stacked against them in the job market.

She lists five of the “extreme job-seeking” tactics now being used by the over-50s:

1. Buy a job

When an acquaintance, who I will call Bob, was retrenched from a senior position in the financial services industry, he used his savings to buy his way into a small company so that he could install himself as CEO. It worked for a couple of years but ended unhappily, and he was left holding equity in the company when he resigned.

Holmes says other use their redundancy payouts to buy into a franchise, hoping that an established brand will give them some security.

“If people are looking at buying themselves a job, [franchising] is generally where it happens,” she says.

But if people have been unemployed for six to 12 months, they are less likely to risk putting their savings into a business, she says.

Buying a job is not usually an option for young unemployed people – unless their parents are able to fund them into it.

2. Reinvention

Cora, a journalist, knows her job is unlikely to survive the restructuring of the industry and has spent the last couple of years studying to become a psychologist.

Holmes says it is better to start studying before you lose your existing job, when you have the resources to do so.

“Mature-age people have had to learn and adapt to change throughout their lives,” she says.

People in this age group can present themselves as “current” and “innovative” by doing online courses, many of which are free.Unpaid internships are commonplace in the youth market, but older people find it difficult to get employers to let them come in for some work experience. Holmes says older people may have the resources and experience to launch successful start-ups. “If a 20 year old can bootstrap it, an older one can do it as well.”

However Holmes warns that if people study things they are interested in, rather than looking for areas of employment demand, their study may be no use to them in the job market.

3. Working for free

Timothy Gleeson was a 38-year-old Sydney taxi driver who had devoted all his free hours to studying accounting, when he approached a local firm and offered to do some work for free. If they liked him after six months, they could hire him.

The company was impressed enough to pay him for his internship, and offered him a job six months before he had finished university.

Holmes says people offering their services for free should ensure there is a genuine chance of employment, rather than an employer who is happy to exploit them.

“If you are unemployed, you are better off showing that you are still engaged in the community in some capacity, maybe through mentoring or volunteering,” she says.

4. Consultancy

Becoming a consultant might be the new way of plugging an awkward gap in your resume, but Holmes says older people can be enthusiastic entrepreneurs.

A recent article in Forbes calls them “encore entrepreneurs”: “A 2010 survey by the Kauffman Foundation found that Americans aged 55 to 64 start new business ventures at a higher rate than any other age group, including 20-somethings.

“Fully 23 per cent of new entrepreneurs were aged 55 to 64, up from 14 per cent in 1996.”

5. Forgetting

A common tactic of older jobseekers is to experience amnesia when it comes to declaring their qualifications and experience.

“People think they will be too expensive,” says Holmes, who suggests only detailing the past five to 10 years on a resume, and tailoring it specifically for each job that is applied for.

”If you put everything down, back to 1975, chances are the person interviewing you wasn’t even born then.”

“You have got to get to the most important stuff very quickly. Otherwise, the good things get missed in the noise of it all.”

6. Reality TV

Despite the fact that their generation may have invented the internet, older job seekers still have to prove that they understand modern uses of technology.

Holmes says the use of video in an online resume or application can prove to a younger hiring manager that you are not, in fact, ancient or “past it”.

“Video can overcome bias in the recruitment process. One of the biggest biases is that older people are reluctant to change and adapt to new technology,” says Holmes.

“When we talk about mature age, the average age of our job seekers is 51, and they still want full-time work.”

Adage is holding webinar on Thursday, July 25, 12pm for mature jobseekers interested in learning about creating an online brand video. Free resources will be available with the support of Talentbox.

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