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Right Or Wrong: “If You Are 50+, Nobody Will Hire You Anymore”

This is a tough one. HR Directors and (most) recruiters will tell you that age makes no difference, 50+ people who have lost their job will say the contrary.

What is the truth? Are you really professionally finished as a 50+ for a corporate career?

Alyssa from the US writes “I think the field of expertise is an important variable, and in some cases, somewhat negates the ageism. For example, my 60-year old brother is a mega-star XYZ with credentials hard to find in the U.S. He has NO problem with employment. In fact, he is constantly pursued by employers and has never been laid off. He just makes more and more money. In his industry, the pool of qualified candidates is very small so they cannot afford to discriminate on age.”

But Nadia in the Middle East tells me tells me “I have been searching for a job for a while now. Instead of asking 10% more than my previous salary, I am willing to accept 70% less and roles lower than my actual level but that still does not help. I cannot progress to a higher role and I can no longer hold the same roles as before. I have concluded from my interviews where line managers are younger than me and less experienced that they are frightened by my age. I am able to reconsider the elements that I can influence but I am not able to do anything about my age, gender ornationality. What would you advise me? Most of the job advertisements in this region set an age limit, and are allowed to specify gender and nationality. I discovered sadly that women have no chances after 40 and I don’t know what to do. Shall I go for an operation to become man??”

Myth and Truth about baby-boomers:

Whilst prejudices say that 50+ workers are less flexible or tech savvy and more often on sick-leave, statistics show that older employees have in fact a much lower sick-leave level and are 5 times more loyal than their peer group in their twenties. Regarding performance, an OECD survey concluded that verbal skills, communication and intelligence remain unchanged as a person ages. And it has been proven that 50+ are more efficient than their younger “competitors” when it comes to problem solving, people management and good judgment. The fastest growing group of Internet users is over age 50. According to a recent Harvard University study, the ability to use an accumulated body of knowledge keeps rising throughout the lifetimes of healthy people. Older employees have more skills and are more experienced which leads to better quality and better decision-making. Regarding innovation, a Harvard University and Babson College study supports the statement that age-diversified work groups enhance innovation. And – this was a happy surprise for me – the largest and most successful group of new entrepreneurs are over age 50, according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity!

Outlook:

About 94 percent of employers say they think it is important to keep older workers because their companies need their skills (Bloomberg). The trend is clearly in favor of baby-boomers and if talent shortage is already a problem today, it will severely endanger the competitiveness of organizsations tomorrow. According to the US bureau of labor statistics, employment of workers 60 and over increased 101 percent, compared to a much smaller increase of 59 percent for total employment (16 and over) from 1977 to 2007. It is a fact that in many countries such as USA, Canada and most European countries, the unemployment rate of 50+ professionals is 30% lower than the one of entry-level candidates. In Canada, the majority of men aged 55 to 59 were attached to the labour force in 2006 (76%) (www.statcan.gc.ca). This number will increase in the future (for you too, ladies, but I don’t have the numbers).

Conclusion:

I agree of course with Martin an Vince who commented on my teaser before this posting was even written that one can be hired or refused at 20, 30 or 50+. The work force is changing in many countries and along with talent shortage, employers will (have to) change their mind-set.

It is all about competitiveness: Do meaningful things, choose your employers and the industries you work in wisely, update your skills regularly, be good and work hard and it will work out, fingers crossed.

PS: stay tuned (or better yet: subscribe to my newsletter) and watch for my upcoming blog posting which will offer “10 strategies to find a job when you are 50+”

Jorg Stegemann - Headhunter, Certified Coach and Business Writer - is the Managing Director of Kennedy Executive Search & Outplacement. Apart from running our company blog, he writes for Forbes, Careerbuilder, BBC and other media.
  1. Martin Reply

    Of course companies will engage 50 year olds and a client appointed a 52 year old today. But they will not engage people who are already beaten by their age. By the way I am a 56 year old headhunter and blogged about this this week at http://fastheadhunter.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/finished-at-50-dont-be-dumb-and-accept-it-fight-back/

  2. Vince Reply

    Of course my answer is “wrong” given that the majority of people placed in senior roles in my sector are invariably over 50.

    Will await your April 23rd feedback with interest.

  3. Jesse Reply

    I tend to agree with hou to a certain point….I don’t think that applies to C-Level positions.

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Jesse, I agree

  4. Debbie Reply

    I am 54 and spent the last 20 years in politics. I have many firsts and can compete with men on any level.
    I am writing a book now and I mention that the person doing the hiring will hire someone they feel comfortable with.

    So we don’t only need to talk about age, we should be talking gender.

    Since I will probably never get hired as a CEO anywhere or be put on anyone’s CorporTe board (my guess) and I am too young for my pension I like many successful women will have to start our own company and become a competitor to someone who will end up being very sorry that they didn’t include us in their executive circle

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Debbie, thanks for you comments. My guess is that the world of work will continue to change at even faster pace and in the future there will be more than corporate careers…

  5. Karl Reply

    I hope not. Nevertheless, it’s important to change the mentality of the recruiters (they look to short terms results instead of long terms). In some countries, they prefer to combine a Y generation with a babyboomer. In Sweden for example, companies hire babyboomers to “teach” the new generation.one of the purpose is to save their know-how . Honestly, you can not ask to a young graduate or to an employee with 10 years experience the same level of acknowledgement than a senior (this is one of the weakness of western companies I think). When I worked in Asia , I was surprised when I saw elders teaching their know-how and the respect showed by the Y generation.

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Karl, thanks for sharing! I agree that a mind-set change has to take place.

  6. Vassal Reply

    The age has no importance it is what you have in the brain which is it If you always have a purpose, a thirst of knowledge, you are always competitive
    The brain had time to conceive millions of connections to anticipate in your professional environment what is useful what is effective
    Avoid the errors which a young person is obliged to make it is called the experience

  7. Tony Reply

    in China, this age threshold is 35, not 50… I am 35, hehe, however what you said is partly right. It is all about your skillset. Lastly, you can’t make change without improving hard skill and soft skills. Be opmistic and healthy, then life is beautiful

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Tony -

      Thanks for your comment. 35? Incredible. Yet I agree with you and think that if we have learned one thing trough the last crisis, it is that life is not only about work…

  8. Cornel Bruecher Reply

    My father (and many others since then) told me to find the final job with 45, because this is the age german employers regard as “old”. In Germany, 45 still is the upper limit to get a job easygoing. Take competition as an additional motivation to improve. If someone else ist better than you, learn from him and outperform him.

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Hi Cornel, thanks for sharing. You wrote on this blog yourself (6 Management Tips From Ants For Humans)and I know you don’t care for this kind of things – and just continue with your career :-)

  9. Donna Reply

    When I was in my early 20s I would apply for jobs religiously and vigorously. Always turned away due to not having enough experience. When I hit 30 I married and had a child. When my son was enrolled in school I hit the pavement again and for the next 20 years I was turned down. Now that I am in my 50s (time flies) I STILL cannot get a job because NOW I am over qualified. Really? With limited job experience how am I over qualified? My entire life has passed me by and I am one step away from being homeless. My husband died when I was 35 btw and I feel as if I am slowly dying. I need to be able to pay rent, bills, etc. yet I am told I am over qualified or shouldn’t I be retiring by now. I can’t deal with it anymore.

  10. Andrew Reply

    I have been underemployed in a dying industry for a while, for twenty months I have been looking for jobs in related industries. Your skill set is important but your age really counts against you. I have had lots of positive interviews but nobody has offered anything. Plus a number of job agencies handle the bulk of a sector of employment maybe five people handle 75% of vacancies in a sector. That means your name keeps coming up and I’m sure that familiarity breeds contempt. There does seem to be a group think in HR and I just feel you get scored down the older you are and it’s those one or two points that leave you isolated.

    • Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Andrew, thanks for your comment. Sorry to read this. I think there is a job for everyone. Maybe it is freelance or consulting but I can’t believe that all the skills you have learned in a long career are not of interest to future employers. Please check out other postings with the tag “application” on this blog and try the strategy described in the posting “Application Strategy”. All the best. Jorg

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