Over 50 And Can't Get Hired? Here's A Possible Solution

Gail Belsky older job seekerNow that I'm job hunting, I've been wondering: At what age do you become that 'older worker" who has hit the brick wall? Based on what I've seen and heard from other mid-careerists, the magic number seems to be 55.

Last week, a CNNMoney story, "Workers Over 50 Are The New Unemployables," suggested the even more depressing sell-by date of 50 (based largely on old data, however) -- bad news for me, at 51. But the picture I got from talking with job-search expert Patricia Smith wasn't quite as bleak. Nor was the age of doom and gloom quite so young.

Smith, a senior vice president at the career-coaching firm, New Directions, in Boston, specializes in high paid executives in their fifties and sixties -- not exactly a representative population, I know. But while those top earners are a minority, they're also the ones who have to convince employers that the experience is worth paying for.

From Smith's perspective, the brick wall has shifted up to the late 50s/early 60s, and even then, she says, it's not impossible to get a well-paying full-time job. That doesn't mean there's been a flood of new jobs for older workers, or that age discrimination isn't still a problem. Ageism is very real, according to Smith, but it's an obstacle, not a barrier. "You don't want to work for a company that doesn't want to embrace you because of your age, anyway," she says. So what do you do if you're 58 and have hit the wall?

More:7 Lessons That Older Workers Should Learn From Generation-Y

Or if you're 51, like me, and trying to position yourself for a career shift before it's too late? One answer (not always an easy one, emotionally or financially) is to change your idea of what work is.

Smith says the key is to broaden your thinking to include more flexible work arrangements: consulting, interim work, long-term project work, or joining a "flexible workforce" firm that takes on projects, and parcels out the work to a team of freelancers. If you're thinking of switching careers while you're still employed, then quitting your job to work in the so-called "fluid space," with no benefits or 401(k) plans, may be impossible. But if you're already unemployed, or freelancing, it might make sense.

I recently joined such company a month ago, and it's been a great experience -- the work is steady yet varied, and the team aspect makes it feel like I've got colleagues again.

More:Why Relocating When You're Older Can Be A Nightmare

The Benefits Of Being A 'Free Agent'
For aspiring career-changers, the benefit to working in a more flexible mode is that you can branch out a little, learn new skills, and test out other areas without making a full commitment. Employers don't have to commit fully to you either, which might make them more likely to take a chance on someone who's new to the field.

Get A Foot In The Door
Working in an interim or freelance capacity can also be a way to make contacts inside an organization. And, according to Smith, older workers can often command a high rate because they're offering experience for far less than it costs to hire a full-timer.

After talking to Smith, I'm going to begin looking for flexible workforce firms that might focus more on the communications area than straight editing and writing. This could be a way to expand my experience and broaden my network. Why not? I might as well take advantage of the flexibility I have -- for as long as I have it.

Have you tried freelancing? How has it worked for you?

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