What “they” don’t want you to know about finding a job…
Silicon Valley corporate executives make a big to-do about bigotry while creating all-white zipcodes, importing HB workers, and flagrantly expelling older ones from their companies. Bloomberg writes a typical “jobs-concern” essay about hapless older workers being shut out from tech industry jobs. I am glad to see this getting attention but some of the advice to these folks is laughable.
My book Employment Game was borne out of similar experience in the tech industry. The antidote is to accept the reality that younger people are turned off by older workers and develop workarounds to getting re-hired. Youthful disdain for wrinkle-necked greybeards is not going to change in any near millenia so you better rebait your hook and find another fishing hole. There are feeding zones that will bite on your expertise, wisdom, and work ethic.
The Black Comedy of the Over-50 Job Search
Look, I know it’s hard and I don’t want to demoralize you with a snarky-toned essay. I have struggled with it and developed the workarounds that led to my book. My 55 year-old sister went through a lot of it but managed recently to land a decent government job. Older workers can still kick ass if they develop employment opportunities through backchannel approaches.
I got canned on my 50th birthday. For many years prior to that job I had worked as both contractor and employee and knew the basics of scratching up employment. But it was harder this time around. Over and over I got a demeaning attitude when I answered traditional job queries. It was especially insufferable coming from the women, who seemed to have grown even more entrenched in the echelons of corporate recruiting. Women have become the gatekeepers to just about everything in our culture. And they just love to reject you, for the good of the company you know. For me it became a given that if a woman was involved in the hiring process I not only lost but my dignity got seriously impaled by their gleeful and passive-aggressive job-blocking.
After sitting through a group interview led by women I had enough and vowed “no more”. Having contracted as a sole proprietor in the past I put together a business card and letterhead and hit the pavement as a consultant. This simple act turned the denigrating torment of job interviewing into a doable sales process. Rejections were a simple matter of no business need instead of me falling short of the scrutiny of some feminized hiring procedure. It wasn’t long before I picked up a full-time job using that approach. It turned out that my “career” in my 50s was more satisfying and productive than it had been the 10 years before when I hung on to my corporate gig along with all my other wonderful co-workers.
Avoid Big Companies
The problem those over-40 job seekers may be encountering is the hide-bound intransigence of large companies. If you are over 40, trying to get a corporate job through traditional channels is a complete waste of your time and energy. No amount of resume-submitting or youth culture aping is going to make a difference. I am not saying you will never get a job with them. But it would likely only happen if you get a toehold with them as a contractor or consultant first, which is exactly what happened with me after getting laid off from a big defense contractor.
It’s the smaller startup sized outfits that you have the best chance of getting an audience with. In fact, the guys running them may be very interested in your skill base and how it can fill the experience and maturity gap his company probably has. Startups are prone to costly operating mistakes while they work hard to develop a prototype or product. It costs money to develop capability such as simple parts inventory. Say for example the startup president was an academic flush with cash for some innovation he created. He won’t have the shop-floor experience that was routine in your career and neither will his young bucks, smart as they are. When you put together your sales pitch think about how that background translates to him saving money. You need to get the message across that you will help his business grow or operate more efficiently, not that you are another person looking to be told what to do and getting a comfortable paycheck.
Avoid Former Co-Workers
It won’t go well for you to reach out to former co-workers. When you see them in public try to get away unnoticed. No good will come of talking to them. Do not debase yourself with a LinkedIn connection campaign or God forbid, hanging around after you get canned to collect their contact info.
And yet I won a government contract when I approached former colleagues as part of a sales initiative with a company I had found work with. You can talk to former co-workers after you are succeeding again. They will treat you like a pariah otherwise.
Target Older Managers and Business Owners
Employment Game describes how to identify key men in your target industry, find their contact info, contact them, and sell yourself towards a job. The good news for geezers on the work search is that those players are very often in the 40-60+ demographic and will appreciate what you have to offer. You must aggressively seek them out and eschew snot-nosed punks from your marketing campaign. They are not rejecting you, you are rejecting them, got it?
How to Find Him
I explain in How to Crack HR the basics for digging up good prospect info. If there is a sizeable industry in your target location that supports large companies then there are likely numerous small outfits that have spun off or are servicing the same industry. That is who you need to flush out of the internet.
Another point in your favor is that they don’t often need new people and don’t have a process for recruiting them. The owner may be very receptive to hearing from you because finding qualified people can be a time-consuming nuisance for small companies and why they often turn to contract shops to do it for them. If you show up at the right time or they have talked to you before the need arises you may get first consideration.
When web searching for prospective employers as described in How to Crack HR avoid the maddening hell of career portals. If they have a careers page that is anything more than “send your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org” then you should probably not waste your time with it. With a little more effort you can find the email addresses of key players and send your resume directly to them.
Don’t Play The HR Game
If the HR gauntlet is a pain for younger people it is utter humiliation for older workers. The whole contrivance of HR is to put you in passive beta mode so you will jump through a lot of hoops for their amusement. The fact that HR is dominated by women ensures that you will get their inimitable disdain and rejection that they love to inflict on just about everybody. Middle-aged HR women harbor a special scorn for older gentlemen that has to be experienced to be believed. Younger ones are infuriating for their adherence to rules and their innate capability to demean you with them.
The key is to not play any adversary’s game, and job interviewing is an adversarial situation. You must take control of the interview and turn into a sales presentation where YOU are in control, not them. That starts by contacting men in your target industry directly instead of awaiting instructions from HR.
Workaround : Contracting and Consulting
There are a couple paths to breaking through with contracting or consulting. The simplest is to work through a contract shop. They often have good connections with larger companies that are prone to hiring contract staff instead of risking direct hires.
“Consulting” just means offering your contract services directly to a company and getting paid through a IRS 1099 arrangement. Don’t call yourself a consultant though because it sounds like big bucks. When people ask about your arrangement tell them you are a “contractor” and provide no other details or they will try to ruin it for you.
You need to get a state tax I.D. number and you can begin. Quarterly and estimated tax payments are important and you need to be aware of them. In addition you must charge your customer a gross receipts tax on your services, so be sure to consider it when setting a rate.
To offer this to a prospect just act like you know the ropes and they may be willing to give you a gig.
If you have enjoyed long term employment there will be some shock in having to hustle to earn your daily bread and enduring rejection. Salesmanship is not about fast-talking but informing potential clients of your services. They need you too. The pros will treat you ok on this simple offering.
Still Young? Better Prepare Now…
It’s never too late in this digital age to acquire new marketable skills or even change careers. I learned 3D CAD when I was 55 and am making money at it now.
If you have a corporate career and everything seems fine it would help your future circumstances to develop public speaking, professional attire, and salesmanship. It’s all a game and you can acquire these skills slowly over time instead of scrambling when you get the axe.
Getting canned when you are over 40 is tough but not some bitter end. Most people manage to get back in the work force after dealing with the tough realities of the over-40 job search. You can make it easier on yourself by understanding the true situation and developing the workarounds described in my book and blog essays. Keep your attitude up and purposely avoid job interview designed to smash your self-esteem. Salesmanship is the key to having the upper hand here. Good luck to you.