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7 Obstacles For Older Workers—And How To Overcome Them
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7 Obstacles For Older Workers—And How To Overcome Them

Employers often have fears and concerns about hiring older workers. Some of these fears are completely unfounded; some have a basis in reality. It just may not be your reality. People tend to generalize and assumptions are often made about older workers as employees. What may be true for many older workers may not reflect your situation but being aware of these assumptions and concerns may help you avoid getting lumped in with the rest.

Here are the seven most significant concerns that employers have about hiring older workers and a few tips on how to overcome these obstacles. 

1. Energy
Will an older worker have the energy to keep up? Many employers are concerned that the older worker will have less energy, be less productive and take longer to get the work done than younger employees. The truth is that older workers often function more efficiently, with less distraction and are more capable when unusual circumstances arise. 

When interviewing you can show your energy by sitting up straight and leaning forward slightly. This will have the effect of raising the level of your own energy.   If you are conducting a phone interview you might even stand or pace. Have responses to basic predicable questions prepared so that you are able to answer these quickly and crisply.

Also show excitement about the job. You may feel as though this is just a job and one with less responsibilities than you’ve handled before but passiveness comes across as a lack of energy. Research the job and the company before the interview. Have some good questions prepared about the job and the company.  This shows interest and interest translates into energy. Emphasize what you like about the job. 

2. Health
Will older workers raise the cost of my health insurance? Employers are concerned about the potential effect that hiring older workers will have on their health costs. In addition, poor health means missed time from work and disruptive interruptions. Yet studies have shown that older workers are much more dependable than their younger counterparts. A recent study shows that Millenniums on average will have six jobs by the time they are thirty.

Make it clear that you are in good health. Avoid discussing any past or present medical conditions. If there is a gap in your employment due to medical issues try to find another reason for the gap.  Do not complain about your back as you get up and down in your chair. Even if you are interviewing with an older person who might share some of your ailments, avoid discussing your recent diagnosis or your past bouts with various diseases. If you enjoy any participatory sports (golf, skiing, running, gym workouts, etc.) find a way to talk about it without overdoing it.

Sometimes it is not possible to avoid your health issues. In these cases, consider working as an independent contractor, consultant or part time worker where a company does not have to worry about your medical costs. You may even suggest an arrangement to hire you through a contracting agency instead of by the company directly. You may have medical coverage through your spouse or Medicare. Sometimes the contracting agency will have some basic medical coverage.

3. Technology
Is this worker technologically outdated? The vast majority of jobs require working with a computer. This might be a program specially written for the company but more likely it is a common software package like Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook). Be aware of the software that is typically used in your profession and add this or similar programs on your resume but avoid older technologies that are no longer used such as DOS or COBOL. If you are unfamiliar with the basic software in your profession then it may be wise to invest in a class. Unemployment offices will often know about free or reimbursable offerings. 

Include any familiarity with software programs on your resume. If during the interview there is a discussion about the software used or the kind of computers used, express confidence in your ability to work with it or learn it. Describe your familiarity with similar software and technology. Check your email frequently as unread emails is a clue to people who don’t use technology.  Respond quickly to any emails. Follow up your interview with email thank you. While you are waiting for your interview to begin read your email on your smart phone. The interviewer will immediately see that you are technically savvy. 

4. War Stories
There is a fine balance between giving someone enough of your background to convince them you have handled similar jobs and telling the interviewer too much. As we grow older we have many experiences of which we are proud and rightly so. We have told these stories over and over again to family, friends, and coworkers.  But an interview is not an appropriate time to go into all the details. Avoid long stories of past experiences.

Employers worry about people who may be a drain on the productivity of others by constantly telling war stories, even if they are extremely entertaining. You may get a chance to tell your stories once you are hired but avoid them in the interviewing stage. Do not indicate that you want the job for social reasons.  That is, to get out of the house and have people that you can socialize with. 

Using past experiences to illustrate important skills can be an effective way to demonstrate your capabilities but practice these stories. Make them short, crisp and to the point. The key points to make are: 1. What was the challenge; 2. What action did you take, and; 3. What were the business results. Think about this model when framing your stories and eliminate anything that isn’t on point. For some, writing down these stories and applying some editing can be a way to tighten up the telling. As a rule of thumb answering a question shouldn’t last longer than 2 or 3 minutes. 

5. Adaptability
Sometimes older workers particularly those who have held positions with considerably more responsibility can become a bit blasé about their ability to do a job. Avoid being overly confident about doing any job without recognizing that there will be new things to learn, new ways to do an old job, and new systems to operate within. Employers can be concerned that an older worker, especially one who comes off as superior to the job, will not adapt to the new environment. 
Show that you are open to new ideas and that your experience has not proven to you that there is only one right way. Be aware of the concern that older workers will resist new ways of doing things.  Sometimes this translates into doing it their way even when your way is just as good. If you have taken up any new activities such as learning to play an instrument or a new sport or new craft try to work it into the interview. This shows you are interested in learning new things.

6. Forgetfulness
Let’s face it, you don’t have to have Alzheimer’s to notice that you forget things more easily as you grow older. Consider creating new reminder systems for important meetings and commitments. What used to work for you might not be enough anymore. Find new ways to overcome this natural decline. 
Write it down! After an interview take a few moments and reflect on a few things that you might want to follow up on the next time you see that person. Something personal, perhaps. Write down the next steps and any follow up action required. Write down the names of the people you interviewed with. 

7. Management Intimidation
If you’ve been an executive, manager, or supervisor and you’re now considering a job as an individual contributor, you have the extra burden of overcoming fears that the current manager might have. These fears would include undermining the manager’s credibility with the existing team, criticizing their decisions, and complaining about some routine work as unnecessary. The hiring manager fears that you might be better prepared to do his/her job and they might be right.
Make it clear you no longer want the headaches associated with being the manager. Remind the person that you know how difficult their job can be, and that you’ll do whatever you can to make their job of managing easier. Impress upon them how much you enjoy doing the work and being an individual contributor. It was success as an individual contributor that got you promoted in the first place. 

Summary
These are the biggest fears that many companies have toward hiring older workers. Some of these issues might ring true for you and not others. Assess your own style against these fears and take steps to overcome these fears. Emphasize the unique values that older workers bring to the job: your experience, skills, and knowledge, your dependability, and your ability to work with people and improve productivity. The company is likely getting a real value in terms of what they are paying you and what you bring to the party. 

Sometimes you may have to re-evaluate your goals and reset priorities. But if you are being realistic, then be confident in your ability to produce results. Be enthusiastic about the job. Know who you are, what you offer, and you can succeed.

Let us know in the comments: how do you overcome some of these obstacles in your career search?

Dennis Fitzgerald is a Human Resource Consultant with particular strengths in building high performance cultures, organizational integration (especially acquisitions), global cultures, executive coaching and recruitment. He provides Career Coaching to RetirementJobs.com members. This post originally appeared on RetirementJobs.com.

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Comments (4)
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Lots of good stuff here, too bad it missed the most common and most devastating of barriers to senior employment. Oh, and kudos to the authors, in the unlikely event this comment displays.

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Great article- wonderful refresher on how to “present” oneself!

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This was a great article. I learned some of the things I was doing during interviews that I need to correct. Thank you.

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Great food for thought! Awesome tips!

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