If you get the sense that it’s difficult to find a job in today’s tough market, well, it’s more than a feeling. A new analysis from the National Women’s Law Center finds adult women’s unemployment rose to 7.3 percent in December, making it higher than that of adult men for the first time in more than six years. (The rate for men is holding steady at 7.2 percent.) The figures show it really is hard to find work – and if you’re older than 50? It’s even harder.
“There is a sort of paradox here,” says Joan Entmacher, vice president for Family Economic Security at the NWLC. “On the one hand, the unemployment rate is lower for older workers 50 and above than for younger workers; experienced workers are more likely to keep their jobs and they’re less likely to be laid off. But if an older worker loses a job—and this is true for both men and women—it takes her much longer to get back into the labor force. Experienced workers tend to have a longer duration of unemployment; a much higher percentage of jobless older workers are unemployed for a year or more. So, while their seniority on the job has helped them stay in the labor force, if they are laid off, they have a harder time going back to work.”
And, if they do, eventually, land a new gig? Goodbye, old paycheck.
“[Older workers] are likely to take an even larger pay-cut than other jobless workers who get reemployed,” Entmacher says. “Many middle tier jobs, particularly, have disappeared, and, overall, the trend is that the jobs that are coming back are lower paying.”
With more job seekers than jobs, older workers also face age discrimination, according to Entmacher.
“Clearly, age discrimination has been a factor for many people,” she says. “We have a law on the books against it, but if an employer prefers to hire younger workers for any reason, it can be easier to find a young worker to fill a job who might be willing to work for lower pay.”
There are also employers who discriminate against those who are unemployed for any length of time, Entmacher adds.
“Because older workers are more likely to have been laid off for long periods of time, that’s another disadvantage,” she says. “In a tough labor market, if you are in a group that experiences discrimination, it’s just harder to get a job. There are more obstacles in the way.”
Entmacher says Congress can work on creating policies to protect older Americans by banning discrimination against unemployed workers, and suggests retooling work force investment programs, so that they aren’t just geared toward younger workers.
“Those programs should be strengthened and required to address the needs of older people who want to work,” she says. “Some older people have barriers to employment that are caused by the need to submit online applications, even for jobs that don’t require computer skills. Or they don’t know how to use LinkedIn or other services that are relevant to finding a job today, because it’s been so long since they’ve looked for jobs that they’re not familiar with current techniques. So, while some people will need retraining for careers, others could benefit from simpler services.”
But don't curl up in the fetal position quite yet. All hope is not lost. We spoke with Dr. Lois Frankel, author of See Jane Lead and Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office, for advice on finding a job.
Be an entrepreneur. “More women are leaving corporate America to start their own businesses, because they realize they’re going to have more flexibility and more opportunity,” Frankel says. “If women want to have a family and they want to have a career, and they want to have it all, then they have to have more control over their lives, and you’re not going to have that control if you work for somebody else, and especially if you work for a big corporation.”
Where do you begin? Start doing informational interviews, attend entrepreneurial franchise expos where you can see what type of businesses are out there, join professional groups, such as the National Association of Women Business Owners, and be prepared psychologically, financially and industry-wise.
“Talk to other entrepreneurs -- that is your best source of information,” she says. “What did they do right, what did they do wrong?”
Prime the pump before it’s dry. “When you need a job, it’s too late to do the things that will give you a quick start back into the labor force,” Frankel says. “You should constantly be building and maintaining professional relationships. You are most likely to find a job through a relationship than anything else.”
And if you’re intimidated by today’s professional networking sites? Get a tutor, she advises. “There are certainly consultants who can help you with the social networking, but what I would do is find someone who is younger who does it well—it could be a family member, or the child of a friend—and I’d ask them to teach me how to do it and offer to barter with them or pay them a reasonable amount of money in exchange.”
Forget about those “transferrable” skills from Mommyhood. “Employers see through them,” Frankel says. “Instead, keep up on technology and developments in your field through reading and taking workshops or classes. Then, when you interview, make it clear you spent your time preparing for your next job. …Not only does it increase your confidence and help your resume, but it also tells the hiring source this isn’t a person who was just hanging around feeling sorry for herself [while she was out of work]. She was doing everything she could to improve herself.”
Resist the urge to talk about your family—even when prompted. “One sentence about your love of family is enough,” Frankel says. “Your next employer wants to know you keep work and family in perspective. Turn it around by saying something like, 'I do have a wonderful family but I want to talk about how I can meet your needs.'”
Take a good look in the mirror. “Sometimes when we’re home for too long we don’t realize we’ve gained too much weight, let our hair go or need to apply makeup differently,” Frankel says. “If needed, go to a high end department store for a makeover. You can’t just sound like you’re at the top of your game, you also have to look like you’re at the top of your game. Over 50 percent of your credibility comes from how you look, over 40 percent from how you sound and only 7 percent from what you say. Now you have to look the part. You’re an actor on a corporate stage. You’ve got to know the lines and wear the costume.”
With age comes wisdom—don’t be afraid to make this obvious during interviews and in your resume. “Lose the modesty and sell your brand through a factual accounting of your accomplishments and the strengths you bring to the workplace,” Frankel says. “You have to go into every single interview prepared. You need to go in there having done your research about the company and the field, and really having done your homework in terms of your own self-assessment—what you bring to the job, what you uniquely bring to the company, and you need to be able to speak factually about all of that. So don’t be thinking that you’re bragging. … Chance favors the prepared mind. … If you go in prepared, you’re already going to stand out against probably 90 percent of the people who interviewed.”
The time to find your next job is as soon as you get a job. “You need to be networking all the time, whether you have a good job or your own enterprise,” Frankel advises. "What we saw happen when the economic downturn came a few years ago, was the people who went back to work quickly were the people who had the greatest networks in place."
If your network is slim, Frankel says to start building a pyramid: Ask five people you know and trust for five names. Contact them, let them know you’re looking for work, and ask if they have any suggestions for other people to contact. “You’re not asking them directly for a job, but you’re letting them know you need a job and you’re building a network,” she says.