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Resumes for 50+ Job Seekers

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Some resume advice given to those of us over 50 is misguided-and wrong.

At an AARP job fair I volunteered at yesterday, several job seekers told me stories of situations where they had ideal qualifications for work they were applying for, but they didn’t include it, because it was more than ten years ago.    They were under the impression that hiring supervisors were death on seeing anything but their most recent experience.

This is ridiculous.  The strongest thing someone over 50 has to offer an employer is the breadth and depth of their experience.  It means they know how to show up for work on time, solve a problem without creating a new one, soothe an irate customer, and so on.  Negating that by limiting what you can talk about to the last ten years is lunacy.

This suggested strategy is probably stemming from a misunderstanding of advice that you include only the last ten years of experience on your resume to reduce the chances of ageism.    There is some legitimacy to that.  But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mention relevant experience  at all.  It just means you don’t need to list every job you ever had.  (Remember when we didn’t have experience and we were desperate to list anything that looked like a job?)

If you are looking for work and have been in the workforce for a while, you need to be both creative and attentive in what you tell a prospective employer about what you can do.  A key piece of a good resume writing strategy is to separate your achievements and strengths from the chronology of your work experience in how your format your information.  That way, you can mention that you successfully owned and operated a car repair shop, even if it was twenty years ago, for example.

The most important thing to do with your resume is to give the person to whom you are sending it a clear idea of your experience at solving the problems they are trying to address.  When you learned that skill isn’t anywhere near as important as that you have it.

Experience is GOOD.  But knowing what part of the vast amount you have applies to the job you’re seeking is critical.  Telling everybody everything won’t work.  But neither does not telling the person who needs to know, simply because you did it more than ten years ago.  Use your head on this and stop  following arbitrary rules that well-meaning but misguided unemployment counselors offer.

**** Mary Lloyd is CEO of Mining Silver and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, visit her website at http://www.mining-silver.com

Are You Throwing Away Valuable Experience?

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

By Mary Lloyd, CEO, Mining Silver

Getting the most out of what you have is definitely in vogue right now.When it comes to how you use your employees to get the work done, it should be on the top of the list all year every year.There’s more to effective use of human resources than just making sure everybody is working on something.If you pay attention to who can do what best, you can mentor, model, and cross pollinate at the same time you are making sure the work gets done.

This is particularly true in terms of the people who’ve been around for a while.As you get used to what people can do, it’s easy to take it for granted and have them keep doing that same thing all by themselves.For years.For decades.

Four bad things can happen when you use that approach:

  • New hires who need to learn how to do the job miss the chance to model that effective performance.
  • You miss the rest of what that employee is good at because you kept them doing something you already know they were good at.
  • Tough job challenges become tougher because you are not applying the most thoroughly seasoned experience in your toolkit to the problem.
  • The experienced employee begins to feel “taken for granted” and isn’t motivated to perform at a peak level.Even worse, he or she may elect to leave for to find a more exciting opportunity.

Assigning everyone work exactly the same way is kind of like using a power saw without turning it on.It works a lot better if you see all of what they can do in the role as you assign work.If you have experienced employees and are not using them at least informally as coaches, mentors, and problem solving resources for workers with less experience, you’re literally wasting company payroll dollars.

And do more if you can.Consider redesigning the work so that you can get your experienced workers involved in addressing the tougher challenges more of the time.Get their input on new programs.A lot of what fails has failed before and could have succeeded with a more complete team.In some instances, it will be simple project involvement.But in others, actual job design changes might be warranted.Use that knowledge base and experience as fully as you can.

In a similar vein, it’s easy to assume that older workers are just waiting to retire and don’t want new challenges.And that they will want nothing to do with the company once they can start living “the Golden Years.”Over 70% of the 3000 baby boomers surveyed in 2005 (BEFORE the economic meltdown we are now facing) wanted to be able to work as part of their retirement.But the vast majority favored “cycling in and out of work.”Can you design some of the work that way?You might get it done more effectively if you do.

It may involve getting a retired professional involved on a project from time to time.It may mean enlisting experienced customer service retirees to sign on just for the peak season.It may mean letting an employee who’s a proven self-starter handle a specialized set of responsibilities from the road.I know a guy in Arizona who dispatches trucks for an outfit in Minnesota—from his extra bedroom.

You’ve spent a lot getting these people to the level of experience they currently claim.Just watching them walk out the door is nonsense.Letting them languish in less than challenging tasks when you have problems to solve is equally unenlightened.Explore what might work for them AND the Company.Think hard about just what—of the work they do now–HAS to be shaped they way it currently is.Make the effort to see if you can keep these people doing what they are good at in ways that both get the work done timely and prepare the next generation of workers in those slots as effectively as you can.

We need to change the prevailing yet disastrous assumption that older workers can’t work very well and aren’t interested in excelling.It’s a big fat lie.  But there is truth to the notion that  people perform to level expected of them.When you assume older workers are inept, disinterested and disengaged, they will comply with that expectation.  And you will lose big time in how well you can get the work done.

Top 10 Reasons to Ditch Ageist Thinking

Monday, May 18th, 2009

By Mary Lloyd, CEO, Mining Silver

As a culture, we are doing an amazingly stupid thing.So with a nod of appreciation to David Letterman here are the Top 10 Reasons to Stop Thinking “Old” is a Problem.His “top ten” lists go from the last to the first so here, in ascending order, are ten reasons to ditch the idea that advancing age means inevitable decline.

10.IT’S NOT FAIR TO ASSUME PEOPLE WHO ARE “OLD” ARE WORN OUT AND USELESS.Or, to put it more bluntly, it’s not legal—at least if you live a developed country.Inthe United States, denying someone over 40 fair treatment on “any aspect of employment” because of the year he was born might put you on the losing side of a federal lawsuit that involves both compensatory AND punitive damages.

9.AGE = DECLINE IS A LIE.There are no scientific studies that confirm people automatically lose their ability to think and learn as they age.Studies reporting such findings were done on compromised groups who do not represent the general population of this age range.

8.ASSUMING OLDER WORKERS NEED TO “GET OUT OF THE WAY” SO THAT YOUNGER WORKERS CAN HAVE THOSE JOBS IS SHORT-SIGHTED.Isn’t that a bit like expecting Dad to throw the checkers game when you were 10?Asking competent people to step aside so someone else who can’t do the job as well can step up is like throwing away the candy and eating the wrapper.

7.WE NEED THESE WORKERS.Yes, we are currently dealing with the mother of all recessions, but when it ends, this need will be glaring.There are 78 million baby boomers.Gen X, which follows them, only has 40 million.We are going to need some of those 78 million to stick around longer than “average retirement age” to get the same work done, even with the 70 million Gen Y’ers moving into the workforce.

6.WE NEED OLDER WORKERS’ EXPERIENCE.To compete in a global economy, developed nations need to do more than put bodies at machines.We need people with well-developed problem solving skills.Book knowledge helps, but practical knowledge trumps it.Employees who have “been there and done that” knowhow to avoid the pitfalls and get the job done right—the first time.

5.WE NEED THEIR WISDOM.Come on, folks. There is no way the wunderkind grad from the most prestigious tech mecca is going to get the people parts and contextual stuff right from the get-go.We need both tech savvy and experienced leadership, leading-edge conceptualizing and seasoned veteran decision-making prowess to get this right.When we choose only “new,” we have nothing to anchor it to.

4.THINKING OLD PEOPLE ARE INEPT IS SOOOONINETEENTH CENTURY.Yes.Nineteenth century.This nonsense of refusing to marry innovation WITH wisdom began in the 1790’s.Employers from then until the 1950’s used the philosophy as justification for requiring workers to retire at a specific age.Brawn was more of an issue then.Thinking that way was wrongheaded in the Industrial Age.But now we’re in the Information Age, where KNOWLEDGE is critical. It’s corporate suicide.In a knowledge-intensive economy, it makes zero sense to send 40 years’ worth of it out the door so you can bring in someone with none.

3.THEY CAN LEAD THE WAY TO WHAT WE ALL WANT. When people old enough to retire choose not to, they pursue work arrangements the rest of us would love to have as well.Let them craft the new shapes for work that would give us all much needed flexibility so we can live the rest of our lives and work, too.

2.AGEIST THINKING IS EXPENSIVE.We want to pretend that if we don’t see them, those millions of older people we’ve marginalized aren’t there.But they ARE there…tapping the healthcare system far more than they would be with meaningful challenges in their lives, collecting Social Security,and relying on society and the government for things they could be doing for themselves given the chance and the encouragement.

1.WE ARE ALL GOING THERE.The weirdest thing about this form of discrimination is that we are all going to live it—short of dying young.But we think of OTHER people getting old and are blind to what we’re setting up for ourselves.Life expectancy right now is about 80.As knowledge workers, we are very likely to beat that.Do we really want to be invisible and irrelevant for twenty or more years of our lives just because some preacher back in 1790 decided youth and progress was better than age and wisdom?

It’s time to git rid of ageism.  It’s wrong, costs money, and sets us all up for a hard time when we get that far.

Veterans in the Talent War – Using Older Workers Well

Monday, April 13th, 2009

By Mary Lloyd, CEO. Mining Silver

There’s an old story about a farmer in South Africa who sold his farm so he could become a diamond prospector.He never did find his mother load.But the guy who bought the farm, who was paying more attention to what was going on around him, did—in the creek bed that the would-be prospector had crossed every day he’d owned the farm.If you’re not paying attention, you can miss seeing treasure that you already have.

For many companies and the culture in general, this is true of older workers.They are a gold mine of experience, knowledge, and well-honed skills, yet we politely move them to the sidelines—and then out of the picture entirely and into “retirement” simply because they’ve reached a certain age.Why do we keep doing that?

I can hear the clamor of defense already.Older workers don’t want to work as hard.Older workers want to retire and are just treading water until they can leave.Older workers get sick more often.None of these things are true across the board.What’s even more important to realize is that even if they are true for your company, you may be causing them.

If senior employees aren’t offered new challenges, if their experience isn’t appreciated and relied on, if they aren’t given effective opportunities to learn new technology, you’re stacking the deck against the company—and them.Without positive challenges, appreciation, and a viable chance to learn, it’s hard to enjoy your work no matter how old you are.And when you don’t like your work, you think about leaving, especially if you can retire.

You may be applauding this exodus.It “makes room for fresh blood.”You’re reducing salary and benefits expenses.But that’s like using a gold mine for cold storage.You’re not really getting the best use out of what you have.And when you “throw them away” for younger workers, you lose a lot that the company needs to know.

Why not be smarter about how you use them?

LEVERAGE WHAT OLDER WORKERS KNOW AND CAN DO.The “old pro” who can calm the most irate customer should be the role model for new hires.She might make a great mentor or even a trainer.Even if she doesn’t want those roles, concrete examples of how she handles things make it much easier for younger workers to learn how to do the job right.And she just might perform even better for being noticed.

ADD A SEASONED PERSPECTIVE TO DEVELOPMENT TEAMS.Get your older talent involved with projects that will be enhanced by their viewpoint.What are you trying to do that might run into trouble for lack of a reality check?What needs to be linked carefully to what you are already doing to be a success? Cross-generational teams should be our “secret weapon” for business success.We think of them as battle grounds.Yes, there are generational differences.There always have been.Effective managers—both of companies and projects–capitalize on them.

USE WHAT SENIOR EMPLOYEES KNOW STRATEGICALLY.Too often, we tell older workers how valuable they are and then relegate them to work that doesn’t take advantage of it.This isn’t a matter of “making them feel good.”This is about getting the most bang for your payroll buck.Even so, higher motivation is a usual side effect.And that, in turn, leads to even better performance.From them.From the company.

TEACH TECH IN WAYS NON-GEEKS CAN LEARN.All too often, technical training for older workers is a geek speaking Greek and a jumbled effort to remember stuff that never did make sense.This is not the learner’s fault.This is bad teaching.But older workers are quick to belittle themselves about their inability to learn this stuff.So poorly designed training stays in place and needed skills remain unlearned.If you were teaching your Russian subsidiary how make widgets, would you do it in French?

STOP THINKING “40-HOUR WORKWEEK”.If a senior worker wants to throttle back, explore whether they can get the essential work done on a less-than-fulltime basis.Thinking of full retirement as the only alternative to a fulltime position makes as much sense as thinking the only place you can get to from Chicago is Cleveland.Explore the possibilities. If your company has a defined pension plan especially, include HR. You may create a part-time or project-based slot that gives you more than you would get from a fulltime new hire for less money.

What we are doing with older workers is a senseless waste—to the culture, the company, the person.Grab the competitive advantage by using them to their fullest potential.You will probably be amazed.

*******

Mary Lloyd is the author of Supercharged Retirement:Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. She offers seminars on how you can create a meaningful retirement for yourself and consults to help your business attract and use retired talent well.She is also available as a speaker.For more insights on how to better use the talent of those in the last third of their lives go to =>http://www.mining-silver.com.

Why We Need to Recalibrate Our Sense of “Old”

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

By Mary Lloyd, CEO Mining Silver

On his 80th birthday, Hugh Hefner said “80 is the new 40.”   In an article last summer, Sunset magazine proclaimed “100 is the new 70.”   Author and CEO Bill Byham titled a 2007 business book  70: The New 50. The numbers are fun, but so far, it seems in terms of the way we see it as a culture, 50 is still “old.”  We need to revisit that.  We are shooting ourselves in the collective foot big time.

Webster’s lists nine different definitions of the word “old.”  When we talk about “old” people, are we talking about “worn” or “experienced?”   Our continued success as a society hinges on which we choose.  Because 50 is not “worn” so much as polished.   We are throwing away really good stuff–and then paying to keep it somewhere else.

Seventy percent of the physical problems we blame on aging are actually the result of lifestyle choices.  It’s not your age that’s keeping you from doing that bike ride.  It’s that you haven’t walked farther than from the couch to the refrigerator in the last five years.  Excusing our bad habits with our birthdays is a downpayment on a long gloomy death spiral.   Most of us are going to live to 80.  Thirty years of assuming we can’t do what we want because we’re “old” is pretty tragic.

Businesses who assume 50 is “old” are squandering some of their best talent, too.  Instead of helping  the experienced workforce get comfortable with new technology, they look for ways to usher them out the door.  Instead of building multi-generational teams that capitalize on the full range of talents and skills available, they shove the experience in some corner where the younger workers can’t learn from it.  They literally watch needed expertise walk out the door into retirement without ever asking, “Any way we can get you to work for us on a more flexible basis?”

Wired magazine’s April issue includes an article about taking your job on the road–in your RV.  It wasnt written for “old” people.    But it sure looks like a good marriage of “retirement” and staunching the experience drain.  The irony of the current business mindset is that while companies continue to assume that experienced workers want traditional retirement, they are creating flexible work arrangements to attract Gen Y workers as their replacements.  The “new kids” want  to work when they want wherever they want,  responsible only for the end result rather than showing up every day.  It’s called ROWE–results only work environment.    To offer such options to new, inexperienced workers–who probably won’t reach the level of productivity the older workers have for ten years or maybe much longer–and NOT offer it as an alternative to retirement is painfully short-sighted.

As a business, there may also be room to retain the experience you already paid to develop in creative ways that take less than a full time salary to accomplish.   This is a tight labor market, yes.   But it’s also the perfect opportunity to try some things while the pace is a little slower.    How can you marry new technology with old savvy to get the best bang for your labor buck?

And then there is the little matter of government entitlements.  When someone retires, they go on everybody else’s payroll, via FICA taxes.  Social Security comes out of our collective wallets, not “the government’s.”   So when we expect people to be “old” and to retire around 62,  we buy in on taking care of them, in terms of Social Security checks, for an average of about 18 years.

Most  people retire in good health.  They are still capable of doing great work on something in which they believe, particularly if it’s a customized arrangement.  Instead, the invisible wall of ageism goes up around them.  The culture assumes they are washed up, worn out, and useless.   We pay them to “get out of the way” when they weren’t in the way in the first place.  And once they’ve retired, we make re-entry into the labor market, even if highly qualified, damn near impossible.  It’s like we are afraid “old” is contagious.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Once people start being “old,” they buy in on the stereotype.  They need more medical attention.  Much of it wouldn’t be necessary if these capable people could remain engaged.  But when the only person who’ll talk to you is your doctor, you talk to your doctor.  Once Medicare is part of that person’s setup, we are all pay the bill.

We need to revisit when “old” starts.  I’m voting for somewhere around 95 or maybe 98.  Many of us can keep going all the way to the day we die if we just have the opportunity.  People over 50 have a lot left to offer and a lot left to do. As a culture, we need to give them the chance.

Four BIG Reasons to Hire Older Workers

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

By Mary Lloyd, CEO Mining Silver

Back in the 1970’s, I went to work for a company that grasped the advantage to tapping the female talent in the population.  They were aggressively recruiting qualified women into management and professional roles when their competitors in that male-dominated culture were still expecting them to stay in the kitchen.

My company was a good corporate citizen, but this was not about doing good.  By being an “early adopter,” they attracted the creme de la creme.  Having capable women in responsible positions made them far more competitive than their contemporaries who were still making do with half the talent–the male stuff.

We are to that same kind of place in 2009.  Only this time around, the competitive advantage is in hiring older workers.

Why?

Because they bring a lot more to the dance.  Here’s how:

YOU GET MUCH MORE THAN YOU PAY FOR.  It’s like getting a Ferrari for the price of a Miata.  Forget the foolish business about “overqualified.”  Many older workers are ready to throttle back but not ready to stop working.  They will step into a non-management job after years of running the whole show and be content with that.

A former neighbor, a retired Army colonel and high-end management consultant, is happy as a clam driving a bus for the local transit authority.   Do you think a 28-year-old who is “just trying to find a job” is going to handle to people part or the emergencies of being a bus driver as well?  And if they are willing to manage for you, the value of their experience is exponential.

OLDER WORKERS HAVE BETTER WORK HABITS   Inaccurate stereotypes lead hiring supervisors to assume that older workers  can’t perform the way younger workers do.  That they will miss work or not get as much done.  Assuming the superstar whose resume you’re about to toss will do that, when you have no idea of her personal work history, is absurd.   She may have missed two days in 20 years.  Don’t rely on unfounded assumptions to rule out older workers.

A recent study of the work habits of 3000 rank and file employees in 39 different organizations  found that those younger than 26 were substandard on all six categories:  work standards, safety awareness, reliability/follow-through, attendance, punctuality, and avoidance of disciplinary actions.  Workers age 26 to 45 were average on all six.  Workers age 46 to 55 were above average on four of the six categories.  And workers over 56 were twice as far above average on four of the six and above average on a fifth.  If your hiring needs lean heavily on work habits, you should be looking for people with gray hair.   Unless you’re selling body piercing or long boards, you shouldn’t be ruling them out in any case.

YOU BROADEN YOUR DEMOGRAPHIC APPEAL.  Unless you’re selling youth-exclusive products, having someone on staff who does NOT answer “Thank you” with “No problem” is a plus.  If you want to appeal to the full range of customers, you need a full range of ages to serve them.

Two weeks ago, I was checking out at the grocery store I’ve used for five years.  The checker, who was young, talked with the woman  behind me in line–a co-worker–the whole time she worked on my order.  Then part of the order never made it back into my basket–or to my car.  I had to go back to the store a second time for it.

The young checkers again barely acknowledged me.  Not “I’m so sorry this happened.”  Just “Well..uh… do this and this and this and then stand in that line.”  It was a very long line.

I solved the immediate problem after a bit of a wait.   I solved the rest when I walked out the door.  I will never go back there.  Lots of older customers vote with their feet.   Don’t let them walk out because you have the wrong people serving them.

THIS IS THE AGE GROUP WITH THE MONEY  The biggest irony in all this is that the over 50 crowd is the population that actually has money to spend.  They own upwards of 70 percent of the financial assets.   Their per capita discretionary spending is two and a half times the average of younger households.   They hold almost half of all the credit cards in the United States.

You need people who think like them on your team so you can capture that business.  THIS IS A GROWTH MARKET.  Leave your competitors to duke it out over the twenty-somethings whose credit has just dried up.  To curry this market, you need to have a connection to it.   Your marketing, strategic planning,  and customer service functions need people who can relate because they are over 50 as well.

There are other reasons to employ older workers.  Those are more in the realm of ethics and law.  We don’t need  to go there.  The competitive advantages of hiring highly qualified older workers are more than enough to justify doing it.