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Over 50 And Changing Careers? You'd Better Have a Plan

By Kent Johnson

Like it or not, if you're over 50 and changing careers, you're going to face some challenges that younger workers aren't accustomed to. There's an unspoken bias out there against older workers - at least in many companies - and unless you plan ahead and are prepared to meet that bias head on, you could be in for a long and frustrating job search.

For many employers, "older workers mean trouble. The perception is that workers over 50 will have more health problems, will miss more work days, will be more forgetful and make more mistakes on the job, and will cost more to insure. There's also the belief that an employer will have to pay an older worker more, and that they"ll get less for their investment when the worker retires or moves on.

And perhaps the worst bias that older job seekers have to face is the idea that they're "dinosaurs, or some kind of museum relic that's out of touch with the needs of modern business. And what's surprising is that many of the employers who feel this way are over 50 themselves!

Now an employer isn't going to come out and tell you that you're too old for the job - that kind of discrimination is illegal, after all. You're more likely to hear something like "Your overqualified for the position, or "We're looking for an entry-level worker to fill this post."

And this comes at a time when people are living longer, more productive lives than ever before. A man or woman in good health today can expect to live to be 76 years old. And with the elimination of pension plans in most corporations, and the fall back of the stock market in recent years, many employees will have to work well beyond the traditional retirement age of 65.

So what are older job seekers supposed to do? Well first off, you need to acknowledge the challenge but don't let it discourage you. Many companies are hiring workers over 50, and some of them actually prefer "mature employees because of their experience and dependability. So you can still find a job, but it will probably a little longer than you were expecting.

And many older workers are skipping the job search all together in favor of starting their own businesses or moving into freelancing opportunities. Some are turning long-time hobbies into full-time businesses. In fact, a lot of these folks see a career change late in life as an opportunity to explore their passions and do things they"ve always wanted to do.

No matter which path you choose to take, you'll need to sit down and formulate a plan of action. If you decide that you want to seek a new job instead of starting your own business, here are some tips to help you get started:

- Seek out companies that are actively hiring older workers. One good place to start is on the AARP website -- www.AARP.org --which has links to companies who are seeking workers over 50.

- Look for openings at smaller companies. Smaller firms tend to be more open to hiring older workers, and your experience may be more valuable here than in a larger corporation.

- Network. This is just as important for older job- seekers as it is for younger ones. Spread the word that you're looking to change jobs or careers. Tell family and friends. And search on the Internet for companies in your area that look promising.

- Work your resume to your advantage. If you have college degrees, list them, but don't give the date when they were awarded. You only need to go back 15 or 20 years when listing past jobs, and it's best to only include experience that pertains to the job you're seeking.

- Be positive during your interview. Highlight your experience and positive attributes. Be sure to tell the interviewer about your past accomplishments. Project an air of youthfulness, and make it clear that you intend to work for the company for a long time.

And most of all, don't get discouraged. Just remember that Colonel Sanders didn't launch his fried chicken empire until he was 65 years old, and George Burns re-invented himself as a movie actor at age 80. There are lots of opportunities for older workers, you just have to stay positive and keep trying.


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