Does Middle Age Mean the Death of your Career

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iStock_000008332029XSmall(Article Trader) I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience’ – so said Ronald Reagan during a 1984 presidential debate with Walter Mondale. While some might view his comment as a defensive move to cover up his less than brilliant performance during an earlier debate, it could also be considered to be precisely the opposite – an offensive strategy which played on the wisdom and experience of age.

The reality for many in the 40 or 50+ age brackets, however, is that by the time they reach ‘middle age’, they feel that it is safer to stick with their current employer than face the competition of ‘the bright young things’ out there in the job market. In an age where youth is celebrated and revered, a great many employers perceive younger applicants to be more energetic, enthusiastic and full of fresh ideas. Their older counterparts, on the other hand, are considered to be more expensive and less productive. So, with so much competition out there, not just from younger applicants, but also from a pool of 40+ workers which is double the size that it was a few years ago, what does the older jobseeker have to do to stake his claim?

Modern day jobseekers need to ‘sell’ the added value that they can bring to a company, and this is no less the case for the middle aged. The invaluable experience, not just in terms of work, but also in life itself, that greater age brings with it, means that older candidates are very often better able to cope with difficult people and difficult challenges. In addition, older applicants have a wealth of specific examples of contributions made to previous employers to draw on, which provides them with a singular advantage over the youngsters. It is not by accident that age and wisdom are linked in our minds, and it is vital that older candidates focus on the positives that their age can bring, and play on these.

In his book, Career Change, Dr David Helfand identifies that chronological age is not significant in whether or not a person will perform competently at work and that, in fact, workers over the age of 50 possess a stronger work ethic, greater willingness to learn, more patience and a better attitude than their younger colleagues. Additionally, their better decision-making abilities mean less time wasted and fewer false starts, and the expertise of many years means that older employees are able to provide expert guidance to their younger colleagues. At a time when employers need people who can step in and make an immediate contribution without years of training, the short lead-in time that most older employees require is a huge plus.

Two of the biggest mistakes that many older candidates make are to effectively price themselves out of the market and to let their skills become outdated. While in some ways the financial pressure on the older generation might feel greater now than ever before, especially if funding kids through college or caring for elderly relatives, it is important to make sure that salary expectations are realistic and balanced between the value that the candidate can bring and what is reasonable based on what the competition is offering. Keeping up to date with what is happening within your field and, very importantly, with technology, is also vital in allowing you to compete.

While you may perceive the job market to be even tougher as a result of your age, it is important to maintain the right mindset and be positive. Employers are impressed with enthusiasm and a ‘go-getting’ attitude, so make sure that yours is plainly on display and never forget just how much you have to offer. Play to your every advantage and if asked that dreaded question, ‘Do you think you are up to this job?’, let those employers know just how far you are from being on the scrapheap!

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