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Career Advice

From Marc Cenedella
Marc Cenedella

One of the things I was most surprised by when I got into the jobs business over a decade ago was the prevalence and practice of age discrimination in hiring right here in the USA. Oh, sure... we're not like some overseas markets where job ads explicitly demand youth, or a particular gender, or beauty(!), in the applicant, but there it is...

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Job Search

Job Search in Your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s

As you age, you will want to change the types of jobs you seek, the personal brand you introduce, even the way you present your resume.

By Debra Donston-Miller
Job Search

Whether you are 22 or 62, a job search may be in your future. But the 20-something's job search strategy should look very different than the 60-something's — and so should everyone's in between.

Especially in this economy, people of all ages are in the market for a new job. Some people are looking to improve their pay or title, some want to change their career paths and some have been involuntarily plunged into a job search due to downsizing. No matter what the catalyst, a job search should be carefully calculated and cultivated, with a great many factors taken into account. One of the most important, but often overlooked, is the impact the job seeker's age can and should have on the process.

20s: Getting a Foot in the Door

Job seekers in their 20s are long on enthusiasm and education but short on experience. Family and financial responsibilities tend to be limited, so it's a good time to take chances. It's also a period during which you can take some time to figure out the ways in which your talents and skills can best be applied.

"Seek out positions where you can learn from others, but be a valuable resource through your fresh perspective, youthful exuberance and the fact you have minimal responsibilities to tie you down," said Yolanda M. Owens, author of "How to Score a Date With Your Potential Employer."

Joanie Natalizio, author of "Fast Track Guide to a Professional Job Search," said one of the biggest mistakes 20-somethings make is waiting to start their job search until after they have graduated from college. "A job search should start once they have declared their major," she said. "This is when they should begin to build a professional network in the way of professional societies, relationships with key professors and with possible employment opportunities through internships."

In the end, there are few things that trump experience, and younger job searchers may have the luxury of being able to gain that experience by working for less or even no pay — at least for a while.

"Having your college degree is great, but experience gets your foot in the door," said Don Burrows, author of "Resumes that Resume Careers" and a former human resources executive. "Do volunteer work within your field. Seek internships, paid or unpaid, if you have to."

30s: Shaping Up

In your 30s, you need to be thinking long-term. At this point, each job is shaping your career.

"Think about the next job on your resume," said Elizabeth Lions, a human resources consultant and career coach. "Does it make sense in your career path? If it doesn't, don't make that move. Your resume tells a story."

You also may have started a family at this point, so benefits and the demands of the job — not just wages — will be more of a consideration.

Unlike your 20s experience is less important than demonstrating your skills, but there’s still room to take risks, she said.

"In your 30s, you've built up confidence in your skills and should look for roles that showcase your abilities and allow you to take some professional risks," said Owens. "At the same time, however, you'll want to scrutinize your work/life balance since you probably have more personal responsibilities in your 30s. You may also want to consider the kind of work you'll be doing and how your contributions will make a difference with the employer. The benchmark at this stage is to establish respect in your abilities and begin branding yourself as an expert."

40s: What Does Your Career Story Say?

In your 40s, you have laid a firm career foundation. Now is the time to think about your impact and legacy.

A key driver for a voluntary job search in your 40s is often the degree of job satisfaction and personal and professional recognition coming from your current position, said Burrows. "For the 40s and beyond, I think you start looking for a job that has impact," he added. "By 40, you start defining yourself not just by who you are but also by what you do. This increases as you get older."

At this point in your career, you need to be able to show potential employers that you have effectively managed your career.

"Look at the arc of your career over 20 years, and hopefully you see a forward progression of accomplishment and bigger roles," said Caroline Ceniza-Levine, co-founder of SixFigureStart, which offers HR consulting and leadership development. "Companies have 20 years of data on you, so they will be looking at this arc, as well. You are getting more expensive; are you worth the cost?"

At this point in your career you need to invest more in your job search tools — your resume, personal brand and interviewing skills — to ensure all tell the correct story of your career progression and demonstrate you are worth the price you request.

50s: Find Meaning

As many can attest, looking for a new job in your 50s is not easy.

Job seekers in their 50s may be seen as too expensive. Going for a lower-titled, lower-paying position may be seen as a way to get their foot in the door, but employers often hesitate to hire overqualified candidates for fear that their hearts won't be in the job or that they will leave the company the minute something better comes along.

Even with these challenges, there are several strategies that can be used to counteract some of the bias against older workers, said Natalizio. "First and foremost, emphasize accomplishments and experience while de-emphasizing age," she said. "Leave the year you graduated from college off your resume and, unless relevant to the job you're applying for, only show an employment history for the last 15 to 20 years.

Burrows agreed that, for job seekers in their 50s, "first-hand experience with age discrimination moves from potential and theoretical to real and immediate." With that said, added Burrows, the 50-something job seeker has a professional lifetime of experience to offer a potential employer. And, if circumstances allow, this is the time to be thinking about taking on a position that has real meaning.

"Fifty-plus is a time when … what you do has to have meaning — not necessarily a big title but actual ‘meaning,’ " said Burrows. "[A new job] should be interesting enough so that you learn something and challenging enough so that it calls on all the skills and experience you've acquired. By this time, the rewards are more in the work than in the paycheck."

60s: Be Flexible

"Baby boomers who thought they were going to retire at 59½ to 62 are now dealing with the aftermath of the collapse of their job security and the collapse of their retirement funds and are saying, 'Now I have to work 'til 68 or maybe 70,' ” said Laurence J. Stybel, co-founder of Stybel, Peabody & Associates Inc., and executive in residence at the Sawyer School of Business at Suffolk University in Boston. “But employers aren't interested in that."

When it comes to 60-somethings, employers have fears related to potential length of service, technological obsolescence and skyrocketing insurance costs.

At this stage in your career you must use your personal brand to combat those perceptions, but be flexible to different working arrangements like consulting and part-time work. Career experts say job seekers in this age category should be proactive, emphasizing the experience and work ethic that come with age, while demonstrating the flexibility and hunger to succeed that are often attributed more to younger workers.

Speaking of flexibility, experts add that 60-somethings should have it in spades and should demonstrate their willingness to be flexible in their personal brand and resume. Consider consulting, part-time work or freelancing, as opposed to a traditional full-time, benefited position. Pursue consulting work now, and adding those titles and positions to your resume will help.

"In your 60s, it's a whole different ballgame," said Lions. "This may be about part-time work more than full-time work. You've been there and done that."

Experts added that it's key for older job seekers to emphasize the experience, wisdom and dependability that (usually) come with age.

"Companies value institutional knowledge and deep industry expertise. Do you have this?" asked Ceniza-Levine.

Added Lions: "Use the gray-hair factor as a selling point."

Debra Donston-Miller covers work-life issues and difficult job-search situations for TheLadders.

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