By Richard Eisenberg, Next avenue
Kerry Hannon has been writing for Next Avenue about work and personal finance since the site’s inception in 2012. The 61-year-old journalist recently became Yahoo! senior columnist; launched “The Second Act Show”, a bi-weekly live broadcast with career coach John Tarnoff; and published a book, aptly titled “In Control at 50 Plus: How to Succeed in the New World of Work”.
I recently spoke with Kerry, a longtime friend and colleague, to find out how and why older people can take control of the new world of work, if she thinks the boiling job market has reduced discrimination based on age and to share the lessons she learned after do not get another job recently.
Here are some highlights of our conversation:
Richard Eisenberg: Why did you call the book ‘In control at 50 Plus?‘
Kerry Hannon: Often we come to this stage in our lives and feel like we’ve lost control of our careers. And it’s a time, especially coming out of the pandemic with all the changes in the workplace, that we need to step it up.
When you talk about the word career, some people might think that‘s for the youngest. Tell me why it’s not true.
The word “career” is very loaded, isn’t it? I see it as a path, and the path twists and turns. So it’s not necessarily going towards something that I’m going to do in thirty years. A career is just your body of work.
It is important to embrace your career. It’s not just about putting one foot in front of the other to reach the finish line, but about continuing to push that finish line. Because that’s what excites us.
If you’re fifty or fifty-five, you could easily be twenty-five years older. [of work] in front of you if you wish.
Your book contains a chapter titled ‘The rock of older workers.‘ Tell me why older workers rock.
We bring to work this feeling of stability, loyalty, ability to roll with the punches. That “I saw that, we’ll get through this” feeling that an experienced worker brings. There is this emotional and professional intelligence that we bring with us. We have the ability to work with people of different ages as we have had to over the years.
You write on ‘the new world of work.’ What do you mean?
Many of these trends had started before the pandemic, but the pandemic accelerated them.
For example, career transitions used to be reserved for outliers over fifty, but they are now mainstream. People say, “I’m going to redeploy my skills in a new direction.
Entrepreneurship for older workers has really ignited over the past two years. Workers who have been laid off or who have taken early retirement and want to come back say, “I think it’s time for me to really try something new. We’re talking about microenterprises – side hustles that morph into something a bit more.
Another great thing is online education, which has really changed the way to retraining, upskilling, and transforming yourself into a viable candidate to work in a new industry, to get a promotion, or to advance in your job. There are so many new online offerings that have sprung up during the pandemic.
Why is remote work such a big and lasting change in the workplace for people over fifty?
I think it’s huge to fight against ageism because having the option to work remotely allows you to not be judged based on your age. You’re judged on your performance and productivity in a way that maybe doesn’t happen when you’re in the physical workplace.
Additionally, if you have health conditions that make traveling difficult or the workplace needs to be set up appropriately for you, the ability to work remotely offers a whole window of opportunity.
There are a lot more work contracts these days, where people get a job for a specific number of weeks or months. Is it good for older workers?
This is not necessarily a big trend for older workers. Part-time contract work is great and it keeps your resume alive, but if you’re still looking for employer-provided health benefits or retirement accounts, it’s a dangerous place to go.
So if you’re planning on creating a patchwork of part-time pursuits, talk to your accountant about how to save for retirement and set yourself up for success.
With the job market hot, I see signs that some employers are more willing to hire and retain people over fifty than before. Are you?
I see it to some extent. Some older people are returning to the labor market.
But many employers have used the pandemic to get rid of some of their older workers and they may not be giving them those opportunities. I think the challenges are there for older workers as much as they ever have been.
The point is, you need to take that extra step and stand out even more than a young worker to show an employer why you can make a difference in their business.
How should people search for work wisely these days?
See what jobs are open on employer websites, then go to LinkedIn and say to yourself, “Who the hell do I know that works there? You still need that personal introduction to get in the door.
Chances are you won’t get a job from a job board posting. It is very difficult to pass through some of these computerized filters. But if you can get someone to present your resume to the responsible person, you have a better chance.
Some labor analysts believe this trend of employers hiring and retaining older workers will continue for some time because there won’t be enough younger workers. Others believe that as soon as the labor market cools, we‘I go back to the age discrimination that we saw before. What do you think?
I think if you’re there and keep raising your hand for new tasks or showing that you’re committed to your work, they’re going to keep you.
So, is age discrimination by employers over?
Ageism is more of a publicly discussed topic. I think the more we raise awareness about it, the more opportunities there will be for older workers.
Your book has a section specifically for women over fifty. What do you think they need to know and what should they do that might be different from what you would tell men?
If you left the workplace to provide care, you need to be able to explain it in a way that shows that “No, I haven’t lost track of my career path”. These are the skills that I honed during this time.
And there is the question of wages. We have to work three times harder than men to ensure we are valued in the workplace.
For older women looking for a job, find out what these jobs pay. Go to websites like Glassdoor and PayScale that give you an idea. And contact everyone you know at the employers you’re considering to get an idea of what a certain position pays.
How the labor market has – and hasn’t – changed
What are the biggest changes in job search compared to twenty or thirty years ago? What should people do differently than the last time they looked for a job?
Don’t just write your previous job titles on your resume. Include the tasks you had and what you accomplished – the projects you presented in advance and the quantifiable effects you had in your jobs. It’s a deeper dive into your accomplishments that you didn’t need to do before.
Also, don’t put all your years of experience on your resume. Keep it for the last ten years; keep it tight.
Should job seekers do more research on the employer than they would have done in the past? It’s easier to do that now.
Absolutely. Your ability to do this kind of online research seamlessly has really improved. It’s not hard to find a lot of current stuff in a Google
What is your advice for someone considering starting a business?
Take it slowly. Do your research on what you want to do and how you will make a difference. Then talk to people in that area. Most people are flattered to be asked their opinion.
If you can volunteer or moonlight at that particular job first, you’ll know if it really is as dreamy as you think. And you have to be financially in place, because as an entrepreneur you’re probably not going to pay yourself upfront. Or if you do, it won’t be at all what you earned when you were with a full-time employer.
Be honest with yourself about how much time and money you need to invest in this business.
The last thing I would say is that once you start your business, don’t be afraid to delegate. In the new world of work, you can find people who want to work as virtual entrepreneurs – your virtual assistant, your virtual accountant, whatever.
Employers want to know: what can you do for me?
There’s a part of your book that was very different from what you’ve written before, because it was very personal. You said you were recently asked to apply for a job and you didn’t get it. Can you talk about this experience and what other people can learn from it?
When I entered the interview process for this, I found myself breaking the rule I tell everyone: don’t go back to “my time” or “a long time ago.” I realized I was going back to the jobs I had twenty years ago and needed to push myself to stay present in what I could do today.
And I focused too much on my song and dance on me, on ‘Ain’t I wonderful?’ Looking back, I spent a lot of time talking about myself and bragging about my abilities without focusing on what the societysought.
What they wanted to know was how I could solve their problem. I was focusing too much on Kerry and Kerry’s ambitions.
It’s important to remember when looking for a job that it’s always about them. It was a good lesson for me to learn. They ended up hiring someone younger, who would work from home, and who didn’t want to be a telecommuter.