Nothing has been as sobering as seeing several former colleagues and friends struggle in the job market in their 50s. First of all, it hits me hard given that I am 52 myself! And secondly, the people I am talking about were titans in business at one stage, and had companies knocking on their door to steal them away — they were the best at what they did. To see the struggle is, well, downright scary.
Many 50+ers find themselves taking an early retirement from a well-paying job, and expecting to have a gamut of opportunities, painfully discover they are “dated” and not as valuable in the market as their last position suggested. Others do find their market value is sharp and move seamlessly from employer to employer. So, what’s the secret?
Having observed carefully those who continue to drive their value into their 50s, 60s and beyond, there are four key variables that all of us can employ to keep our market value from eroding as we cross 50.
• A sound mind in a sound body. Let’s face it. Employers worry about the 50+ crowd’s health and energy. Can they keep up with the younger folks? Will they keel over and die under pressure? Will they be off sick all the time? Will they bankrupt the medical plan with expensive bypass surgeries? We 50+ers may not like this, but it’s a harsh reality. This is what people are worried about, what they are thinking. So step one is to take good care of your health. Eat right. Stay lean. Exercise. The good news is, many kids today aren’t fit and every day I see 30-year-olds who are walking heart attacks waiting to happen. It’s actually not that difficult to reach a level of fitness and vitality well above the norm of the 30-year-old crowd. It’s entirely doable with a good dose of discipline and know-how, and there are one-day trainings specifically designed for executives (please reach out to me directly if you want more information). Remove these concerns by walking into the interview fighting trim and fit and looking ready to rock!
• Stay updated. The worst thing a 50+er can do is to blindly run the “model” they learned in the 1980s or 1990s. The world moves fast these days! When I took P&G’s renowned “media training” in the mid-1980s, it followed a standard playbook of TV, radio and outdoor advertising to build a brand. The concept of “digital media” was nonexistent! Yet today one cannot find a media plan without a digital component, or even 100-percent digital! The point is, the world moves on. What are you doing to stay current? Are you attending seminars? Conferences? Reading? We can’t come off looking like dinosaurs with old thinking. Stay up to date! Build on our experience, but don’t solely rely on it.
• Be flexible. There is no global job crisis. There are solely geographic crises. And also geographic “hot spots” where there are more jobs than people. Maybe the 50+er retired in a nice and cozy location. And perhaps the expectation to move on to another high-paying role in the same or similar location was unrealistic, the jobs just aren’t there and there are too many young and hungry up-and-comers to compete with who will work for less. But there are many pockets in the world where talent and experience are lacking and the 50+er can have a bevy of options: parts of Asia and Latin America, the Middle East, and certainly Africa. One has to be prepared to go where the jobs are and not expect to get the cozy location they desire. You can’t have it all.
• Connect to youth. Kids and grandkids don’t count! Staying connected to the youth keeps a person young at heart. It breeds enthusiasm and passion. It drives energy levels. The vigor of the youth and their boundless enthusiasm rubs off on anyone. Find a way to keep a strong connection. A good way is through education. Every year I personally teach college-level classes and my students keep me young and challenged! Schools everywhere are desperately in need of teachers and more external, real-world perspectives. Volunteer to teach. Coach a youth sports team. Inject youth into your system!
At the end of the day, all of us in the over-50 crowd want to exploit our advantage of experience without the downsides that come with age. This can be done. And it is up to us to follow the recipe.
When I get job inquiries, I proudly say, “I am 30 years old with 30 years’ business experience.” This turns heads in puzzlement but it’s true. I have been working 30 years now since college graduation. And I have yet to meet a 30-year-old I could not keep up with, be it workload, energy, passion, or even lifting weights!
It’s up to us, the 50+ crop, to redefine the game. We have the edge of experience. Negate the age risks, and a whole world opens up in front of us.