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How older workers can rebound from a job loss

Is it harder for older workers to get back on their feet after they’ve been laid off? Labor statistics say yes, but there are ways to improve the odds of landing a new job.

Is it harder for older workers to get back on their feet after they’ve been laid off?

Janine, who lost her job as an operations manager for a California mortgage firm in May 2007, seems to think so. After a decade with the company she was laid off and has been unable to find a new job.

“I am 56 years old, and I've never had to actually look for a job since 1980. Unfortunately, all the people that I would have networked with are also out of work, and many are my age,” says Janine, who did not want her full name used.

“We all feel like the rug was pulled out from under us and are finding it difficult to get back into the work force,” she adds.

Alas, Janine may be onto something.

The re-employment rate among older workers tends to be slightly lower than their younger counterparts, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor. In 2006, the most recent statistics available on re-employment, 25- to 54-year-olds had the best chance of getting another job. Among this group, 75 percent had new gigs within a year, compared with 61 percent for workers between 55 and 64.

And mass layoffs among older workers as a percentage of the total working population are rising. According to the Labor Department, which defines mass layoffs as job reductions involving more than 50 employees, workers 55 and older accounted for 18.6 percent of the layoffs in 2007, compared with 13.4 percent in 2000.

So what’s working against older workers?

The 50-plus crowd faces a number of challenges, says Jennifer Kalita, a consultant who specializes in helping baby boomers and seniors with their careers.

“Companies can hire younger workers for less money than the 50-plus professional is used to,” she explains. “Employers fear the propensity for more health complications" for older employees, she adds. And they are concerned older workers may not be “as well-versed in tech-speak and processes as younger applicants.”

Another factor hurting older workers is that they have a specific set of skills they have honed over the years, so the range of jobs available to them is limited, notes Jeffrey A. Heath, president of The Landstone Group, an affiliate of recruiting firm MRI. The average 40-year-old, he says, will have had 14 jobs during his or her working life, compared with seven for the average 50-year-old.

No matter what an employer thinks about older workers, discriminating against them in the workplace or when they apply for a job is illegal. But cases of age discrimination — or at least perceptions of it — seem to be climbing. Last year age-discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission jumped more than 13 percent to 19,000. (If you suspect you were turned down because of your age, you can file a claim with the EEOC at its Web site.)

But some companies see the value in recruiting more seasoned workers.

More mature job candidates have extensive work experience and industry knowledge, as well as “big-picture thinking and business management skills,” says Kalita, the consultant.

CVS Caremark Corp., the pharmacy company, is searching for this type of experience. The company heavily recruits workers who are over 50. In the early 1990s, 7 percent of CVS’ workers were 50 and older. Today that figure is 18 percent.

“It’s a business decision,” says Steve Wing, director of work force initiatives for the company. The U.S. population is growing older, so the company wants to make sure it will have the workers it needs in the future, he says. CVS executives also want a work force that mirrors the customer demographics in the towns they serve.

Wing says his company has seen an uptick in the number of older workers on the job market this year as more and more of them are getting downsized.

One problem he’s seen among the pool of older job seekers who have worked for one company for many years is that they have low self-esteem when they enter the job market. “When someone is downsized or a facility closes, there’s a fear factor. They’re thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ And some of them don’t know how to work a computer or need help with their resume or interviewing skills.”

Wing says many community centers, and groups like the National Council on Aging and the AARP, can provide help.

Workforce expert Tamara Erickson suggests older workers start building their networks.

“Most 30-year-olds have maintained very vibrant networks and have lots of options even if they lose their jobs,” says Erickson, who is also author of “Retire Retirement: Career Strategies for the Boomer Generation.” “But a lot of 50-year-olds just haven’t kept contacts up-to-date and are not using the latest technology like LinkedIn or Plaxo.”

Another strategy Erickson recommends is doing project-based work rather than trying to find full-time work.

It’s a good idea to concentrate your job search on growth industries, advises Jeri Sedlar, who moderates a group on boomer social networking Web site and is the author of "Don’t Retire, Rewire!" Some areas to consider, she notes, include energy, health care, government and education.

But no matter what job you go for, you have to start believing in yourself and get across how great you are to a prospective employer, she stresses. “Imagine you are sitting on a shelf in grocery store,” she recommends. “Why would someone want to buy you? Should you be repackaged?”

Repackaging means updating skills or learning new ones, and being prepared to walk into a room with enthusiasm rather than despair and desperation. That doesn’t mean you have to go for a four-year college degree or go get your MBA. Experts suggest taking a few courses at a community college or online.

Start letting everyone you know you’re looking for a job, including former co-workers, friends and family. And make sure you have that two-minute elevator speech down so you can articulate what you’re looking for clearly and concisely. “Don’t just hand someone a resume,” Sedlar says.

There are a host of Web sites out there that offer job listings and job-seeking advice. In addition to, which lists a host of companies that are older-worker friendly, Jim Toedtman, editor of the AARP Bulletin, recommends these sites as a good place to start:,,

We’ve all heard so much about the aging of the work force and how older workers will someday be in the driver's seat when it comes to employment. Unfortunately, the economic climate today has put a squeeze on many 50-plus workers, Toedtman says.

And things probably won’t change drastically, he says, “until people develop portable skills and until employers value experience.”