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Too old to work, too young to retire

Q. I worked in Security Management for nearly 40 years. I am 65. Last year, after working 14 years in the global pharmaceutical industry and 19 in healthcare, I found myself on the "beach" with the tide coming in. I could kill a forest with paper and cyber messages. I am now taking a certificate course in "Business Continuity Planning" (Crisis Management) at Penn State, Grad School. I would like to work more. Any hope or suggestions?

A. There is still hope, and you are not alone. A growing number of people over 65 are continuing to work, or to look for work. Much of the current research on older workers shows that those most likely to remain working fall into two distinct groups in terms of their educational background – these groups are 1) the most educated and 2) the least educated. The Carsey Institute, a public policy research group at the University of New Hampshire reports, “older Americans are staying in the labor force longer. When this change first became apparent, it was unclear whether it would be a temporary halt or a reversal of the…decline in work at older ages.” Recent data reported by Carsey and others, suggests the current economic recession may be the most important reason for those over 65 to remain active in the workforce.

The challenges facing an older worker include the current competitive marketplace, organizations’ inexperience and inflexibility in dealing with non-full-time work, and an age bias. Some might think it feels like discrimination, and that is where an effective job hunter may be able to use age and experience to his or her advantage.

Your resume needs to show your experience, but eliminate extraneous detail from your earliest jobs. Show progression, flexibility, and additional responsibility added to your roles. Make sure you have a current email address, and do not list a fax number. These are telltale clues to hiring managers about your technology currency.

Most importantly, on the resume summary and in all your networking, focus on the skills you want to use on the job – not titles. With a security background your summary might include “exceptional communication skills, consultative approach, ability to anticipate and prevent security issues.” At junior levels, job seekers must highlight their technical skills. At more senior levels, hiring managers are looking for interpersonal and leadership skills – even if the role is not that of a formal “leader”.

There are many web sites available to senior job hunters. Some of these sites list jobs; seniorjobbank,com, workforce50.com, retireeworkforce.com. Other sites offer job search tips, suggestions for resume development, and interviewing answers – aarp.com, for example. Follow the tips of giving a current presentation in terms of attire, and also in terms of use and comfort with technology. Give resume and verbal examples.

Targeting the right opportunities and people with whom to network will be the most effective method of job search success for any age, and especially for those over 65. Don’t wait for a job listing to be posted. Follow your contacts in the security industry into as many different organizations as possible. Target tangential new industries who would appreciate the experience you have. Have you considered higher education – a medical school perhaps? Consider companies who consulted to your former employers. Let people know about your flexibility in terms of availability. You might offer your interest in project work, or developing training or mentoring programs, or management related to special events. Anything you can do to connect on a part time basis may lead to a longer term relationship, and more hours. Find your differentiators, like your continuing education investment, and play them up. Have you added the faculty to your network? Everyone you meet should be considered a new field sales person to support your success.

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