Many media sources try to sugarcoat age discrimination, probably seeking more readership through happy optimistic articles. The truth is, many companies don't even try to hide age discrimination. They're very open about preferring "younger people."
Career counselors and journalists offer cheery solutions. For instance, one article suggests positioning yourself as a problem-solver. In theory, the company needs you so much they will overlook your age and hire you. This statement will be true if you've already achieved some recognition in an industry and you've established a name for yourself as someone who can be counted on to deliver solutions.
Unfortunately, a lot of hiring takes place in the fuzzy area known as "fit." It's about the hiring manager's comfort level, which often means being able to put herself in your shoes. If they resonate to your story they'll be more likely to trust you which is why a single mom will often get hired by someone who's been a single mom or knows other single moms.
Articles on age discrimination usually stop at the hiring stage. In reality, you'll often encounter insidious discrimination after you've been on board awhile. Managers assume you won't care about promotions because you're close to retirement; to a young manager, fifty seems retirement age. They assume you're happy to work late because you don't have to pick up the kids after school. And they assume you're feeling grateful to have a job that you'll overlook everything else.
Best jobs over 50? Forget it. One article suggests that boomers investigate fields such as medical assistant, custom garment maker (seamstress?),assisted living facility professional (“an aide’s responsibilities can range from dispensing medication to taking their charges on outings”), financial adviser, tour guide, and private investigator.
Sometime in your 40s – and definitely your 50s – begin planning for self-employment. Start something on the side, just to get used to entrepreneurship. Some people take the plunge and feel inspired; others feel like they’re drowning in a tub of icy water and they can’t wait to get out. Don’t despair: it’ll get easier.
Need help? Skip the pricey coaches and take a course at a local community college. Talk to your SCORE advisor at the Small Business Administration. The quality varies widely, but then so do private coaches.
At some point you just have to get a business license, announce you’re available, and just do it. You can start simply with something like dog walking or gardening. You might create an online business, perhaps beginning as a virtual assistant. You might have to go through two, three or a dozen ideas before something gains traction.
Your business advisor will tell you to create a business that's scalable. In other words, get away from freelancing and hourly pay. One dog walker hires others to walk dogs through her company. Another organizes group events for dogs where each owner pays a fairly small sum but she gets a good hourly rate.
Those opportunities won't always be obvious when you start. Instead of waiting for the perfect business, get used to the idea of self-employment. Your first business is just a test... and maybe your second or third.
Finally, don't be surprised if your openness to self-employment makes you even more marketable in your current role. Having the confidence to know you won't starve if you lose a job will make you more desirable to employers and it's the single best way to beat age discrimination.
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