More ugly truths (how to cope)

Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
Two and a half years ago (in the second year of our current "recession"), I began a thread Some ugly truths about job hunting

Today's thread is targeted at folks 50+ years old.

I, of course, have children starting to crowd that magic "50" so I am acutely clued in on the trials and travails of that age bracket as I hear from them about their own challenges and the challenges facing their peers.

Ageism is nothing new. I saw it from the early 1960s to today and my dad often mentioned it from right after WWII through the 1970s. What I have seen change is the increased callousness of the bosses and HR people as they deal with 50+ workers and candidates. Almost up until 2008, currently employed workers were not fired, merely shunted off the promotion and salary raise track in favor of younger workers. Candidates in the 50+ bracket were given polite dismissals, with the ubiquitous phrase, "we'll keep your resume on file."

Today, I am hearing that HR departments in every industry sector are adopting a very rude policy of summarily firing older workers under the euphemism "right sizing," often just days or weeks before vested benefits would take effect, cheating those workers of benefits they had labored in good faith to earn.

Candidates who don't fall into the magic "youth bracket" have their resumes and applications simply ignored and never even acknowledged. Candidates who get as far as a personal, face-to-face interview find the interview cut short if they don't look like a vibrant 30-something dynamo.

Faced with such obvious bias, many 50+ candidates (and existing employees) are struggling to reinvent themselves as younger models, going into debt for cosmetic surgery, dyeing their hair, and struggling to turn aging bodies into hard bodies with gym memberships and personal trainers. The remaining ones with flabby bodies and graying and thinning hair are distressed that knowledge and experience don't seem to count compared to youth and attractiveness.

HOW TO COPE
You can join the trend and become a contestant in the "beauty pageant." (It works [or seems to] for Morgan Fairchild, who, at age 61 [62 in Feb. 2012], would still pass for a woman 20 or more years younger than her real age and gets TV and film roles playing that younger age.)

Alternately (my choice), you can spend the time and money folks spend on looking younger [not necessarily "healthier" as they risk skin cancer in tanning booths] on researching for the industries and organizations where the skills, knowledge, and experience of the 50+ worker are acknowledged and rewarded.

Tools we've talked about in other job threads here in the Cove (personal assessment grids, avoiding gatekeepers, etc.) are doubly important for the candidate who has a story backed by facts about the value he can bring to an employer. The 50+ worker MUST get past the shallow software programs and clerk gatekeepers to put his story before a decision maker able to see the candidate offers a good answer to the question every decision maker always has: WIIFM? (What's In It For Me?)

One of the job search tools we have discussed recently is a Skills Assessment Matrix (SAM) - essentially a spread sheet where a candidate lists his skills and experience and assigns values to each item, thus focusing on his strong points to offer to an employer and determining weak points which may need more study or a good explanation of how the candidate can upgrade through education or opportunity.

Matching the items in a SAM with requirements and attributes of prospective employment targets helps a candidate narrow his search.
One of the advantages of a Skills Assessment Matrix (SAM) is that it helps a person make value judgments about which aspects are more important than others.

I've discussed SAMs only tangentially in the past, but it may be a good idea to explore this tool in depth, especially as to how a well-executed SAM can help focus one's efforts in any contemplated activity:


  1. jobs,
  2. relocation
  3. education
  4. interpersonal relationships (friendship, dating, marriage, divorce, etc.)
  5. any other activity

The key to a useful SAM is almost brutal honesty in assigning a value to each of the characteristics and attributes which comprise the SAM. The SAMs which seem to fail in helping are those where the person constructing the SAM was overly generous or stingy in assigning a value to a specific item.

In the end, it is not MY judgment which should direct your life: it should be yours, once you have weighed all the variables.

Once you have a grid for yourself, you need to create another grid of the features, perquisites, pay, working conditions, etc. of the ideal organization you'd like to work for. Here (in the grid), it's OK to shoot for the sky because it's your "want" list, not your "settle for" list.

Next, you need to create a list of prospect organizations and research them to see which have close fits to your want list. Fill in a grid with the prospects in rows of column one, with the various points of your want list in columns 2 through "n" and fill in the cells with the point factor your research discloses.

Select the best prospects (according to your matches against your want list) and then compare your skill list against what those organizations need or want. I envision a grid with the organizations in rows in column 1 with each of your best through medium level skills in columns 2 through n. Your research should be able to give you a value level to put in each cell according to how valuable or necessary that skill may be to the organization.

Combining the data from the skills should give you a short list of targets to approach, using the pointers in Tips to get past the "gatekeeper" when job hunting.

It's immaterial whether each target is seeking employees (but your research would have disclosed that fact) because your approach should be to avoid getting caught in the same net with hundreds of other candidates. You want to stand out as a unique individual who can and will deliver value to the organization. Accordingly, each approach you make will be unique and tailored specifically for that organization.

Make no mistake. This is not an easy, casual task anyone can complete in a couple of hours. Consider, though, that a good process will result in a good job which will give you satisfaction and reward you according to your merit. With that in mind, it seems worth it to spend days and even weeks compiling the grid(s) before making the first approach to a target.

A sample grid would have 5 columns
Column 1 would be a list of characteristics or attributes ANY person looking for a management job might possess
Columns 2 through 5 would be values from 1 to 4 with 1 being a low value and 4 being a high value
The analysis consists of going down the list and checking the appropriate box for the value you have for each characteristic.
The following is a list of attributes/characteristics for a marketing manager in a mid- to large-organization (someone I currently counsel) - add other items regarding relocation, travel, commission versus salary, commute distance/time, benefits, etc. which are important to you (how important based on which box you check!)

  1. makes observations
  2. identifies data
  3. analyzes data
  4. makes/interprets data tables
  5. makes/interprets graphs
  6. identifies/controls a variable
  7. makes a prediction/hypothesis
  8. designs an investigation
  9. creates/uses models
  10. makes evidence based decisions
  11. revises predictions or explanations based on evidence
  12. reads for information
  13. communicates orally
  14. communicates in writing
  15. describes observations
  16. writes explanations
  17. makes presentations
  18. uses diagrams or sketches
  19. formulates operational definitions
  20. listens to others
  21. works collaboratively
  22. keeps a science journal
  23. categorizes/sorts information
  24. sequences information
  25. summarizes information
  26. differentiates observations/inferences
  27. differentiates evidence/opinion
  28. draws/analyzes concept maps
  29. creates/uses other graphic organizers
  30. uses tools correctly
  31. uses appropriate tools to measure
  32. calculates mean, median, mode
  33. determine a scale
  34. uses graphs appropriately
  35. follows procedures
After making a personal grid, you can research some organizations (regardless if they have openings for a position you want) to see which of those characteristics are/may be important to them, make a reverse grid for those corporations (a new matrix, same column 1, but place corporations in the other columns, enter a number value (if possible) instead of a check mark and refine your personal list.) Armed with your own self assessment AND what organizations consider important characteristics you can target a pitch directly to the organization
 
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K

kgott

I wont say anything on this because I am very much a learner on this topic and very much in the target audience. Thanks Wes.
 
M

Martin IT

Thanks Wes to share with us your thought (your point of view is always really interesting). I've read your post carefully and I saw how different are our cultures.
Here in Italy we have the opposite problem! A young person has got a lot of problems to find a good (and payed) job even if he/she has got a good degree etc.
Everything seems to be managed by 50+ and there are very poor opportunity for the new generation!
 

Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
Thanks Wes to share with us your thought (your point of view is always really interesting). I've read your post carefully and I saw how different are our cultures.
Here in Italy we have the opposite problem! A young person has got a lot of problems to find a good (and payed) job even if he/she has got a good degree etc.
Everything seems to be managed by 50+ and there are very poor opportunity for the new generation!
The very young everywhere are finding themselves either unemployed or under-employed. It's a function of so many older workers who cannot retire gracefully because they do not have enough money (investments that have lost value) or pension benefits that have eroded or disappeared altogether after company takeovers and reorganizations. (I'm aware of age peers who worked for chump change retail jobs with Sears, banking on the promise of huge retirement benefits from Sears, only to have it all evaporate when Sears first reorganized and then sold itself to Edward S. Lampert. Some of them are even older than I and handing out carts and directions part-time at Walmart because they can't feed and house themselves on Social Security alone.) from (broken link removed)
The pension crisis is numbing. Out of 142.6 million active American workers, 101 million have a private pension plan. It is the lifeblood for most Americans supplementing the near poverty of pure Social Security. However, hundreds of major companies, including United Airlines, GM, IBM, Verizon, Sears, Hewlett Packard, Polaroid, AT&T, and of course Enron have now reduced their guaranteed retirement plans or judges have authorized dissolution of pension funds. The trend threatens the lifeblood of nearly all American seniors and their families, as well as younger workers.
When a 50+ worker loses a job he/she has held for a number of years for whatever reason (company bankruptcy, takeover, age discrimination, etc.) through no fault of his own, the odds are overwhelming he/she will be out of full-time work for more than six months and if (not when) he/she gets a new job, it will be at a substantial pay and benefit cut from the previous job.

Yes. If a worker is still employed at age 50 (not newly hired), his situation can seem pretty comfortable. However, even the social support many such workers enjoy throughout Europe, with long paid vacations and nearly-impossible-to-fire job security, is beginning to fray around the edges. Whole countries (even Italy) are at or near bankruptcy levels and may have to discontinue the support so many of their citizens now take for granted. Throughout Europe, once that 50+ worker does lose his job through no fault of his own, his situation may be even more dire than the young worker who has never had the perquisites and benefits the currently employed now enjoy. Those workers have become accustomed to a lifestyle they will never enjoy again; they may have incurred debts they won't be able to pay and will lose the assets (homes, jewelry, investments, autos, etc.) they now take for granted.

I don't relish being a Jeremiah of doom and gloom. I am trying to alert my readers to take action NOW to set themselves apart from the folks who are or will be victims of this recession. Things are different now from what they have been for the last 50 years. We can no longer live just for today, we MUST plan for tomorrow, primarily because no one else will do it for us!
 
S

somerqc

Wes,

Your post(s) illustrate the differences my father and I have. In my career, I have worked for 3 different companies (so far - I am still relatively young - and look younger than I am). My father has given me a hard time each time I moved. Why? He worked for 31 years at the same company. In retirement, he is enjoying a very comfortable life on a defined pension plan (very solid, and very little risk of dissolution).

He keeps telling me that I won't be able to get retirement benefits, etc., etc. I keep telling him that those thigns don't exist anymore and I am left to develop my own retirement funds. Fortunately, I have figured this out in my mid 20's so I am more than 10 years into developing a fund (again, something someone of his generation would have never though to do as "the company will take care of you").

Just another example that illustrates your point(s).

Having said all this - I do feel for the older people forced to work at WalMart just to make ends meet.

We are going through a very rough adjustment in the culture of many different countries - it will be interested to watch the end result.
 
K

kgott

. (I'm aware of age peers who worked for chump change retail jobs with Sears, banking on the promise of huge retirement benefits from Sears, only to have it all evaporate when Sears first reorganized and then sold itself to Edward S. Lampert. Some of them are even older than I and handing out carts and directions part-time at Walmart because they can't feed and house themselves on Social Security alone.)

This kind of ripoff was rampent in Australia at one but the goverment legislated that employees can choose any superanuation fund they wish.

Mind you; if/or when finanical disaster stikes as a reuslt of the euro crisis then we will still loose our superanuation anyway because the superanuation funds are now some of the biggest investors in the share market and they cant pull out because where would they invest then. The strategy of these funds is to invest in shares.

The people who control these funds are just as well 'insider' informed as anyone else so they know whats coming but they still keep our money in the sharemarket anyway.

And; no; we members can't get our money out accept in the most stringent cirumstances of which 99% to not qualify for.
 
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