Take Charge Thursday: Finding work after 40

By: Alana Greenfogel Email
By: Alana Greenfogel Email

On a beautiful, sunny July day, Larry Podojil practices his golf game. But it isn't common for Larry to have a Thursday afternoon free like that.

His full-time job has become looking for a job.

It's going to delay his plans for retirement and, of course, more golf. At 60 years old, Podojil says the job market is a different world.

"I think, when employers talk with me, they see a qualified person who's accustomed to achieving. But then the next question becomes, is it going to be a fit, culturally?" Podojil ponders.

Many older workers are concerned about employers' perceptions. They fear they're looked at as being outdated, unwilling to change and expensive.

"The biggest obstacle I have experienced has been compensation," Podojil says. He has had job offers, but they would require a 50, 60, or 70% pay cut. "You have to put your ego in your pocket."

"I don't think there's going to be any sort of preference for a younger worker or an older worker. I think it's going to be, who's the person who can contribute?" explains Jay Mattern, owner of Peoplelink Staffing Solutions in South Bend. "The older worker has to say, 'I bring something to the table. I bring knowledge, experience. I bring a resume that indicates I've been able to accomplish something.'"

Common misconceptions about older workers:

   1) They are too expensive and overqualified.
   2) They lack the required energy and enthusiasm.
   3) They will cost more in health care.
   4) They are outdated when it comes to technology.
   5) They are set in their ways and unwilling to change.

"They've heard that," Mattern says, responding to the list of various misconceptions. "That's kind of the stigma that's out there. Our response is: your mindset has to change."

"There's a perspective that older people are set in their ways, they're inflexible, they would have difficulty reporting to a younger boss," says 55-year-old Jack Elston, who is looking for a job after a long, successful career in public accounting technology.

But Jack says it's more important to focus on what an older worker can contribute to a company.

"Experience. Maturity. Wisdom. You can't buy those in college. That just comes through age. People skills. We've all been through a zillion inter-personal skills training classes. We've hired people. We've fired people. We've dealt with people issues, so we've been through an awful lot of that," Elston explains. "So the question is, how adept are we at learning? I think that's the question that has to be asked. Not so much do you know this technical skill, but can you learn this technical skill? And what's your willingness to do that?"

"It's so easy to fall into this trap of saying there's no way, there's no way, there's no way. There's no question it's going to be different because you're not coming on as a young, fresh, eager beaver with hands-on technical skills," Elston stresses. "You really have to emphasize your experience, your maturity, your ability to learn. Those are the things that are going to win you points."

"Sixty is the new 40! That's what I hear anyway. Some mornings it's not how I feel!" laughs Shirley Hudgins, 61, at her Valparaiso home. "I think there are a lot of 60 and older people that can run circles around people that are 25."

"They need to get comfortable in their own skin, know what they bring to the table and be able to communicate that in a way they're focusing on the employers' needs," says Elizabeth Muellner, from Career Transitions in Mishawaka.

People looking for work say support groups have been crucial, emotionally, when getting through the job-hunting process. At a recent Wednesday night session at St. Pius, the room was packed with job seekers, all over 40 years old. The overarching message from the meeting: be flexible.

"If I take a different direction, the things I have looked at, then I'm starting at the low end of the totem pole," explains Karen Innman, 58, who is looking for a job. "I believe it's out there. There are jobs out there for us, and there are employers out there looking for people our age for the experience we have. I'm not a person to give up, and I would advise people, don't give up."

"People use age as a crutch oftentimes. Age becomes your asset, not your liability," explains Norm Robertson, support group leader and owner of Express Employment Professionals. "If my asset is my age and my experience and I can bring that to a company, help that company make money, that is something that somebody younger than me doesn't have."


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