How to Gain Meaningful Employment Over 50

First time I heard it, I was astonished. A friend (and an ex-client) was visiting Sydney with his wife, and we were sharing a dinner.

We had worked together more than a couple of decades ago, on some key projects, when I was still learning the art and craft of consulting.  He had gone on to build a great career, culminating at the C-Level in one of the blue chip companies.

And, that is when the disaster struck, and he was made redundant during a clean sweep, that happens from time to time is such organisations.

In passing, he confided that now that he was over 50, he did not expect to find a steady job because of how the odds were stacked against it.

He was only a few years older than I was, and got me thinking. And, he was not the only one who quietly voiced this thought.

On several different occasions, many career executives confided similar thoughts.

I feel the need to unpack the dynamics a bit more and see what is sitting inside.

Clearly it is illegal to discriminate on basis of age (as much as anything else). And, there are many ways to do a statistical analysis to prove such discrimination, if someone puts their mind to it.

Yet with so many people voicing similar thoughts, there might be some real underlying dynamics at play here. After all where there is smoke, there is fire.

Why do some people behave as if people above 50 are un-employable?

I was trying to think of possible reasons.

Besides the inflexibility, and the unwillingness to take a step backward from lofty heights already achieved in the careers, are there any other dynamics are play?

I had to relate it back to my personal experience in order to think through the situation.

I was reminded of this blog post titled Why Collaboration Is The NEW Advantage? that I wrote many years ago.

While the entire post is worth reading on its own merit, here is the most relevant extract:

Steamship Titanic sank when it hit an iceberg going full steam ahead in fog. Since that day, fog navigation is every Ship Captain’s worst nightmare. I still remember when I joined sea as a cadet, the moment the ship hit a fog bank – Captain would take over the navigation personally, station lookouts on Crows Nest, Monkey Island and many other exotic sounding places on the ship and try and listen to foghorns of other ships – all this despite the presence of 2 wholly functional radars.

Some captains were trained in the art of navigation long time ago – when radars did not exist. Many of these ‘navigate by feel commanders’ never got comfortable with radars – to their own peril and to the peril of their shipboard crew. As a result, shipping companies gradually eased these people out of command, making way for a newer generation of Masters who could make full use of available technology appropriately.

We stand on the cusp of a technological revolution in the corporate world.

Today, an ability to learn, adopt, adapt and optimise new technology – all the while running the ship in its steady state – will become paramount.

No doubt, irrespective of their age many executives can, and will make, the transition into the brave new world. Yet the wall street is not betting on it – for an example try and decipher the chart below, and think of the underlying causes:

But that is just one of the reasons I do not bet on the wall street at the moment.


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Vivek Sood

I write about "The Supply Chain CEOs", "The 5-STAR Business Networks", and, how to "Unchain Your Corporation". In my work, I help create extraordinary corporate results using several 'unique' supply chain methodologies. Contact me for interesting, high impact projects, or, to get access to my IP for creating transformations using these methodologies.

  • Keen O says:

    I will make the first comment –
    I think companies are making a grave error by missing out on all the experience and expertise. They could avoid such a lot of trouble if only they knew how to harness it. Their loss, I say!

  • Lin Giralt says:

    Challenge for over 50s is how to package and sell their skills…more likely on a part time advisor role than full time employee….many don’t get how to reposition and repackage themselves

  • Smith says:

    Those responsible for professional recruitment generally want a strong combination of skills, experience, and energy in the people they’re adding to their teams. While the hiring of older professionals may be understood as the investment in technical capability and innovation it can be, very often it is constrained by tight budgets and mistaken stereotypes of older workers as resistant to change, out-of-date with current technologies and a greater time-off risk due to ill-health. At worst, older workers can be seen as overqualified, not as tech-savvy as younger professionals and more expensive than their younger counterparts. As a consequence, professionals over 50 years old can face challenges getting their foot in the door when looking for work.

  • Davis says:

    Such a thought-provoking article Vivek. Older workers bring a broad-based skill set, usually multiple experiences of major workplace change to the workplace and, in fact, take fewer days off than younger staff. So while workplace analysts and futurists try to understand how millennials will transform the workplace in the next 20 years, demographic trends confirm that the workforce will continue to be made up of a significant proportion of older workers over this period. The trick for business, therefore, is to determine how to most effectively leverage the diverse capabilities of multigenerational teams to enhance their operations and bottom line. As well as harnessing the digital disruption brought by millennials into the workplace, the reality is that it’s in the interests of businesses to recruit, train, retrain and retain older workers to bring the high-level technical capability to their decision-maker roles and ensure that experience and measured risk-taking informs their innovation processes. Multigenerational teams can offer the best of all worlds with those of different ages and experiences bringing their diverse backgrounds and unique problem-solving expertise to their work.

  • Justin says:

    The key to employment for 50+ workers is anticipatory careering. This is defined as being mindful about if, how and when your skills might become obsolete, anticipating emerging jobs and careers you can transition into and using your time, money and energy to create a balanced working life that can span beyond traditional retirement. Many people over 50 will consider a second or encore career with the motivations ranging from wanting a more meaningful career, better opportunities for advancement, a better paying job or getting back to work following a redundancy. How do you do the preparation to put yourself in a position that you’re using your skill set and experience in a way that means you can make a valuable contribution in your current or a new field?

  • Karen says:

    Very good article Vivek Sood. A top concern for older workers is having a job that provides meaning. Retirement hits and while it was fun playing golf for a while, people, want that sense of purpose. Counseling is a field that lets older workers share their wisdom while helping others. What they like best is feeling like they are making a difference. Many counselors provide emotional support to individuals and families dealing with a variety of personal issues. However, there are also financial counselors and business coaches, which can be an option for those with experience in those areas and fields.

  • Theodore says:

    Perhaps the best time to change up your career is when you’re near its end. Indeed, older employees may continue working because they need to strengthen their finances. If there’s a kind of work that you want to move toward when you retire, it’s important to give yourself time to try things out, get the skills and do the job first to see if it’s something that will catch you on fire. There’s no denying that a longer career will keep you from tapping your retirement accounts and will extend your access to workplace health benefits. However, there are also psychological benefits for older people who continue to live a 9-to-5 life.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Working with elderly people makes for an immensely rewarding career. Not only will you have the gratitude and thanks of the people you care for. You will also find yourself being thanked by a resident’s family. Depending on what your role entails, you may help ease the physical and mental burdens associated with living in a care facility. You may also visit a client directly at their home and help lift their spirits. Regardless of your actual duties, as long as you are directly involved with the elderly and have compassion, you will be able to find a deep sense of job satisfaction that’s hard to replicate in any other job.

  • Kimi Wick says:

    People go into mourning when they retire. Your whole identity is caught up in who you are and what you did. Continuing to work provides social benefits, including feeling relevant. The next phase of your career doesn’t have to be a reprise of your current gig, either. Rather, you can see how your current experience will transition to a different field. You’re not reinventing yourself, you’re redeploying. Maybe you’re taking what you’re good at and redeploying into a new arena. Some employers offer workers flexible retirement options to keep their older employees on board. I would recommend that you give yourself a five-year time horizon before you make the leap into your next career adventure. That is if you want to retire to a new job at 65, start thinking about how to do it when you’re 60.

  • Adrian says:

    Older workers are worst hit when it comes to long-term unemployment, and experts warn it is a trend that will cost the economy. There’s been no shortage of press about how older workers face discrimination in the workplace. Most of the people over age 50 faced some kind of discrimination due to their age. Companies still advertise for “young-thinking” employees. Several older citizens say they face some kind of age-related problem everywhere, from bad restaurant service to discourtesy in public. Unemployed older workers stay that way far longer than their younger counterparts. Western cultures like ours, Australia, don’t value older folks and hold a number of detrimental, and false, stereotypes including that older workers are hopeless with new technology, they are more difficult to work with [and] they are more likely to get sick because they are older. It is expected that this could become a serious issue as governments, including Australia’s, look to increase the minimum age for pension programs. Workers have fewer prospects for jobs but have to wait longer to receive retirement money.

  • Peta Corfield says:

    Workers are becoming so fearful of being classified as old they are spending big dollars on keeping themselves looking younger. Research shows that one of the primary reasons women go under the surgeon’s knife is to ensure employability in the workforce. As an executive coach and facilitator, working in corporate Australia, I am aware of the level of fear. That fear is not only confined to women it just starts earlier for them. The government has acknowledged employment discrimination may derail its plans. An inquiry must be established to identify what is required to keep older people in the workforce. Let’s hope it packs a punch because it will have to be taken seriously if the government wants to deliver on any number of economic outcomes.

  • Alex Finnegan says:

    Australia is an advancing society that benefits from a high life expectancy that is increasing each year. When you think of working with the elderly, do you immediately default to care work? There are lots of different career paths available that involve working with elderly people to improve their quality of life without explicitly becoming a carer. In short, we will have more elderly people than ever as the years go by. This Australian Institute of Health and Welfare graph shows how the elderly population will grow over the next 100 years. This aging population means Australia needs workers who will assist this elderly population with their physical, emotional and practical needs.

  • Alan says:

    Ahh…you have touched a very delicate topic. I think revamping your career planning after the age of 50 doesn’t happen overnight. It is better to do some soul-searching. Think deeply about the abilities you’ve acquired during your career and how you might be able to use them in your new gig. Do you really want to turn a hobby into your full-time obsession? You should also think about how many hours you want to work. A gig as a consultant might give you more flexibility. You can also do a test-drive. Volunteer or moonlight in your new job before you make the leap from your current gig.

  • MacFarlane says:

    Age discrimination is a social and economic issue affecting a growing cohort of men and women. It is important to dispel the myths: Australians over the age of 50 do want to work. The issue is they often cannot get a job after their employment has been terminated. The new jobs they are offered are often casual or jobs that no one else wants. Financial hardship is becoming an inevitable reality for this group of older Australians and it’s affecting their health. Worryingly men, who have lost employment between 45 and 65, are one of the largest growing groups of people with mental health issues.

  • Stark says:

    Would you like a job that really makes a difference in people’s lives? Have you ever considered working with the elderly? With a healthy job sector, good career prospects and plenty of different roles available, it may be a perfect choice. For compassionate people, working with others in a role that feels like it truly means something is an important life pursuit. Many industries exist in which you can help others, whether that’s childcare, teaching, care work or working with the elderly. However, for some people, there’s no real substitute for the intensely rewarding nature of working with the elderly.

  • Matilda says:

    At this critical age, social networking, research and cleaning up financials can also be beneficial. Get back in touch with your alumni and industry groups and see what kind of work is available. Find people who are already doing the job you’d like to do, and ask them how they prepared themselves. Carry out research. As you burnish your resume, do your homework on the web. Fiverr and Upwork connect professionals with companies in search of expertise. Find a post that will let your years of experience shine. You’ll feel less constrained during your job search if you don’t have large debts hanging over your head. Use your five-year horizon to aggressively pay down credit card balances and reduce housing expenses.

  • John says:

    To work out where your encore career might sit, you’ll need to begin by building self-knowledge. As a starting point, this will involve a review of your skill set that goes beyond what you like to do or the work you’ve done in the past. You need to assess your skills and determine those that you have that are transferable and how they might be applied in different areas or sectors or with different groups. Reflect on the skills you’ve acquired throughout your professional career and your personal life, everything as specific and eclectic as mentoring young traffic engineers to survival skills camping with the family to being a foodie, make a list and consider honestly the skills and areas you’ve worked in in the past that you don’t want to focus on, those that you do want to further develop as well as new areas in which you might deploy them. Look at where the gaps might be and the type of development you could undertake to fill them.

  • Fitzgerald says:

    As a +50 professional, there’s no doubt you must consider a great deal more than the way you dress to create the image by which you want to be judged including how you behave, what you say, the attitudes you express and the opinions you share. Nonetheless, how you dress is an essential part of how you present yourself because it conveys a lot about your professionalism, your character, values, work ethic and potential as a future employee. All the basic rules apply, be confident in your attire, err on the side of conservative rather than the outlandish even if it’s with a statement piece to help you stand out, and fit in with the potential future employer’s dress code. 50+ women can face different challenges to men in the workplace and in gaining a job as an older worker.

  • Vera_02 says:

    Is age discrimination alive and well? To some degree, yes. it’s now just an obstacle, not a barrier. You actually don’t want to work for a company that doesn’t want to embrace you because of your age anyway. When there’s a large supply of unemployed workers, employers can afford to be choosier, and they’re opting for workers they think are less expensive or more recently trained. So what can 55 and 60-year-olds do to find a decent job? The senior job seekers must consider more flexible work arrangements, things like consulting, interim work, long-term project work, or joining a flex work company that offers project or contract work on a freelance basis. These arrangements allow you to learn new skills, and try new career areas without a big commitment.

  • Carrillo says:

    Here, I think the same holds true for employers, who may be reluctant at times to take on a new, older employee. A flex work or consulting arrangement is a win-win for both sides: employees get a paycheck and employers get decades of experience and expertise without the burdened costs associated with a full-time employee. IT workers heading toward 50 should begin thinking about job options, alternative job paths and career goals, especially in these tough economic times. That cushy paper-pushing job packed with perks won’t last forever. Which is why it’s so important to have a plan B or even a plan C ready to roll.

  • Eva Sanders says:

    Across the world, people are required or want to work until increasingly old age. But how might prospective employers view job applicants who have skills and qualities that they associate with older adults? It is basically a social role theory where exists age stereotypes, reluctant behaviors of employers and hiring biases. These behaviors and attitudes reveal that a positive older age stereotype characteristics are viewed less favorably as criteria for job hire even when the job role is low status a younger stereotype profile tends to be preferred. And an older stereotype profile is only considered hirable when the role is explicitly cast as subordinate to that of a candidate with a younger age profile. Implications for age-positive selection procedures and ways to reduce the impact of implicit age biases needs to discussed deeply and seriously.

  • Gracia says:

    Breaking through the glass ceiling is relatively easy. I did it almost 20 years ago. But no one told me about the glass trap door, that was the shock nothing in my stellar career had prepared me for. At the age of 50, I left a job for family reasons for a short while, but I faced hurdles when I tried to return to the workforce. My corporate stiletto had slipped straight through the glass trapdoor. I simply hadn’t realized that in the modern workplace, 50 is considered old. This is not a unique story. The tentacles of age discrimination reach into every facet of Australian society and nothing we are now doing is working.

  • Coffill says:

    It’s easy for the government to get the data, change pensions policies and set up an inquiry. It is much more difficult to change a culture. This is challenging in Australia, as ageism in the workforce is as rampant as it is silent. Silence can no longer be accepted. It’s time for governments, employers, and Australians to act. Unlike the suffragettes, or powerful images of Ruby Bridges, the first black child to attend an all-white school in America, there has been no similar campaign or strong movement for the greying masses for anything to change. Given the boost to profits, productivity, and reduction on the burden of the aged pension, it is hard to understand why corporate Australia, state and federal governments and commission are not rallying in the streets to make this happen.

  • Harry Grill says:

    It always made me sad read about the phenomenon of ageism prevailing in Australian society. You have done justice with this topic and made very clear arguments. Here, I would like to add my views as well. Staggeringly, there are more people over 50 on work-for-the-dole schemes than unemployed people below 22. Even more shocking there are now 210,000 Australians over the age of 50 who are living off unemployment benefits. Serious intervention is required if for no other reason than self-interest. No amount of bribery, no amount of Botox, no amount of surgery is going to mask this problem any time soon.

  • Merville says:

    I tell anybody over the age of 45, don’t resign from your position unless you have got another job in your pocket. One reason why employers may avoid hiring older people for a new position is that older people may provide fewer years of return on any training and investment. Hirers may, therefore, have a greater preference for stereotypically younger candidates if the investment is viewed as long‐ rather than short‐term. Discrimination may occur when there is a mismatch between a person’s (gender) stereotypical characteristics and the requirements of the position for which they are applying. But in my opinion, older workers are a better long‐term investment because they are less likely to quit.

  • Frederick says:

    Working with elderly people makes for an immensely rewarding career. Not only will you have the gratitude and thanks of the people you care for. You will also find yourself being thanked by a resident’s family. Depending on what your role entails, you may help ease the physical and mental burdens associated with living in a care facility. You may also visit a client directly at their home and help lift their spirits. Regardless of your actual duties, as long as you are directly involved with the elderly and have compassion, you will be able to find a deep sense of job satisfaction that’s hard to replicate in any other job. The distressing news is that the problem of un-employability in Australia is rampant in both blue and white-collar jobs. So what are the contributing factors to this disparity? Well, it is a long discussion and needs decades to change mindsets.

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