If you are over 45 and suddenly find yourself made redundant or seeking a career change, the thought of having to hit the job trail and compete against people years younger than yourself can be downright scary. It may have been years since you’ve had to update your resume or attend a job interview, and you may be feeling more than a little rusty.
But take heart – as a mature-age job seeker you have plenty to offer, and employers are increasingly valuing your unique set of skills and experiences. And rightly so – the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that 85 per cent of new employment growth will come from those aged over 45 by 2016. Now more than ever, it is imperative for both job-seekers and employers to get with the times and recognise the value that mature workers offer.
‘There are many ingrained prejudices associated with employing older workers. These barriers need to be overcome – whether they are real or perhaps perceived. Diversity of skills and experience in a workforce can provide competitive advantages. Organisations need to free themselves of such biases in order to obtain and retain the best talent from the available pool of potential workers,’ writes Robert Critchley in his paper The Ageing Workforce – to Rewire or Rust.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has found that mature-age employees can save costs to employers by staying in their jobs longer – in contrast to sometimes fickle Gen Y workers. Workers aged over 55 are five times less likely to change jobs compared with workers aged 20 to 24, and this directly reduces ongoing recruitment and training costs.
And contrary to the perception that older workers are less healthy, ABS data has also found that mature-age workers were the least likely group to take days off due to illness, thereby reducing costs and negative impacts on productivity.
One of the most common myths about older workers is that they are less technologically savvy than their younger colleagues – but older people are, in fact, the fastest-growing users of technology.
Critchley enumerates the many assets that older workers bring to the table. These include a wider skills base and broader experience, greater wisdom and maturity, a solid work ethic, ability to speak their mind and take action, reliability, dependability and loyalty to their employer.
Mature-age workers could also be key to businesses in hard economic times. Mercer’s Workplace 2012 states that ‘Older employees can be a very valuable resource, offering much needed experience and corporate memory, which may be critical to successfully re-building a business outside of the economic crisis… The experience and guidance of older workers who have been in the organisation for some time can be invaluable in developing younger staff.’
Marketplace perceptions of mature-age workers can vary a lot depending on the market segment, says Phil Hatchard of Adage, a website which caters to mature-age job seekers and mature age-friendly employers. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) tend to be extremely receptive to mature-age candidates, valuing their versatility and breadth and depth of experience, which can be invaluable to small and medium-sized businesses.
Recruiters, on the other hand, can present more of a challenge as their age profile tends to be more youthful. Larger and higher-volume recruitment agencies find it hard to educate their consultants about the value of hiring maturity. ‘They tend to perceive older workers as being harder to place in roles due to misconceptions that they are less productive, won’t fit in with the “dynamic” culture or may be too expensive. Of course this is not grounded in fact. That said, smaller niche agencies are usually owned and operated by more experienced recruiters and they have a higher level of understanding and commitment to mature age hires,’ says Hatchard.
Perceptions of older workers in the corporate world depend on the industry, but in the last five years there has been a huge shift towards the diversity agenda. ‘Many HR directors are realising the impact of the ageing population and making a commitment to hire mature workers, particularly in the banking and finance sector,’ says Hatchard. Indeed, AMP, ANZ, Westpac, Commonwealth Bank and St George Bank were all short-listed for Adage’s mature-age friendly employer awards because of their commitment to hiring and supporting mature-age workers.
According to Hatchard, government and not-for-profit organisations are the leaders in best practice when it comes to equal employment opportunities and diversity principles, valuing mature workers for their loyalty, stability and experience. So if you are a mature-age job seeker, these might be good sectors to target in your job search.
The mature worker’s tendency to stay for longer periods of time with one employer means that many are at a loss when they suddenly find themselves looking for work. ‘Many older workers haven’t had to write a resume, develop their interview technique or know how to effectively market themselves via online technologies,’ says Phil Hatchard. But luckily, it's never too late to learn.
‘Approach every job with enthusiasm and energy,’ says Steve Gunther of 2discover, a recruitment firm which demonstrates a strong commitment to placing mature-age workers.
‘The reality is that you have more experience, the same desire to do a good job and succeed as anyone in the marketplace, young or old. Technology may be the only thing between you and someone from another generation. Bring yourself up to speed in using the Internet, computer skills, and resume and cover letter presentation and content.’
‘Firstly, take some time to map out your key skills, strengths and passions, and be clear about the value that you bring to an organisation. In the current market, experience and knowledge is vital to help companies who may be struggling through tougher times,’ advises Hatchard.
It is important to recognise that even if you have worked in one industry for a long time, your skills are transferable – and this is something you need to emphasise to potential employers.
Do whatever you can to make contacts, network, keep in the loop and keep updated. This could mean attending networking events, using social events and your kids’ school events to make contacts, joining professional bodies or attending professional development courses. Bring your business cards with you wherever you go.
And don’t be afraid to call on old contacts. ‘Utilise the rolodex of contacts that you’ve built up over the years and contact those who you feel may be able to help point you in the right direction. You’d be surprised at how helpful some people can be if you just ask!’ says Hatchard.
He also suggests that you select a reputable executive search or recruitment firm to provide you with advice and guidance on who may be hiring in your space, as well as keeping up on industry news via online newsletters or business trade magazines to find out where the activity is, what projects are underway and which companies are currently flourishing in the market.
While job hunting can be disheartening at times, it’s important to be resilient and stay positive. When you walk into an interview, you have to create the right impression almost instantaneously – because ‘employers can spot frustration and despondency a mile off,’ warns Hatchard. ‘Presentation is vital once you have a foot in the door so stay fit and healthy and keep the energy levels up.’
‘The thing to remember is self-value and self-worth. Mature-age workers have just as much (if not more) to offer an employer as younger workers. The trick is ensuring that you present and articulate your key strengths in a manner that represents you as a person and as a professional,’ stresses Gunther.
So walk tall and hold your head up high, knowing that you have plenty to offer a future employer. It’s only a matter of time before you find the right one who will value your experience and allow you to keep growing and developing in your professional life.