(Note: This blog series is adapted from an article written for the Quarterly Journal – Summer 2016 of the Life Planning Network, a membership organization of professionals dedicated to helping people navigate the second half of life.)
Baby Boomers are retiring in droves, contributing to a rapidly changing workforce and work environment. Many “retirees”, however, envision a future that includes work . . . just not the traditional full-time role from which they are departing.
So what does the new work landscape look like? What options are out there for finding meaningful, flexible work? Equally important, how can you best position yourself to secure flexible work now and in the future?
Part I of this series discussed the changing work landscape and how flexible work options are evolving, while Part II focused on how to target employers for flexible work and how to convince them that you have the skills, eagerness and openness to succeed at their company. Today, I will address how to best position yourself for flexible work and overcome some of the misperceptions businesses may hold about hiring a seasoned employee.
Why do companies hesitate to hire older workers? There are many reasons – some more grounded and legal than others. Knowing what these biases are and how you can offset them will help you compete for flexible work.
We have seen employers hesitate to hire an older worker due to fears that the person will retire soon and may be taking a job as part of his or her “winding down” process. It is best to not mention any desire to retire or timeframe for retiring. In fact, using the word “retiree” can put you at a disadvantage. Use words like “transitioning” or “second career” to explain your situation, and remember the importance of always expressing an interest in and commitment to the company.
In a perfect world, a worker ought to be paid the same hourly rate, regardless of whether they work 40 hours a week or 40 hours a month. The world of work is far from perfect, and when it comes to achieving a flexible work arrangement, the reality is that there are often tradeoffs. There is the perception among some business owners that older workers seeking flexible work are less willing to come down on rate. A professional with a specialized skillset or deep technical/industry knowledge or contacts is better positioned to successfully negotiate a higher rate. Nonetheless, most small businesses – a good target for second career professionals – simply cannot afford to pay what the larger firms can pay. It has nothing to do with your value; it is a budgeting issue. If securing flexible work is truly a priority, you may have to adjust or scale your rate.
Sometimes, but sometimes not.
For job seekers whose technology skills are not up to snuff, it is no longer good enough to respond, “I am a fast learner and pick up new technologies quickly.” Instead, we recommend that you take the time to talk to experts in your field or new field of interest in order to identify the general technology skills you will need to be competitive. Next, force yourself to learn the new technology as part of the job search process so you can network, interview, and list your technical proficiencies on your resume with confidence.
Responding in an interview, “Yes, I am proficient,” is not convincing. Instead, you will need to demonstrate proficiency by incorporating technical jargon into the conversation and providing concrete examples of how you have used a technology (even if in a volunteer capacity). This will put a prospective employer at ease. Free and inexpensive on-line resources exist to help improve technology skills. You can also test your proficiency (and share the results) or provide work samples with a potential employer. For some tips on assessing and improving your technology skills, see the FlexProfessionals’ article Don’t Let Weak Technology Skills Stop You from Getting a Job – A 6 Step Plan to Achieve Proficiency.
Companies are sometimes afraid to hire a senior-level professional for fear that they are going to try to change things, that they will not be open to new ideas. Or companies worry older professionals will be too stubborn and set in their ways. Expressing a genuine openness to and curiosity about new ideas, systems, and processes can go a long way towards alleviating this concern. One way you can do this is by asking good questions about the business and expressing a positive interest and energy with regard to how the company operates.
Finding a job, in general, is hard work. Finding flexible work is even harder. A common sentiment among the seasoned professionals I interview as part of my work is a sense of surprise at how tough it is to find flexible work. Frustration and desperation are dangerous emotions in the job search process. Expressing just a hint of either can turn off a potential employer very quickly. Your goal is to give your future employer an offer they cannot refuse instead of expressing frustration.
For example, you might offer to start out working on a small, discreet project – and maybe even at a reduced rate. If completed successfully, a project or temporary assignment is a great starting point for obtaining a more permanent placement and negotiating for flexibility. For older workers who are prepared for the competition, the potential to remain engaged in the workforce through meaningful, flexible work has never been better and will continue to grow as the world becomes less and less dependent on a 40 hour work week.
Sheila Murphy is Co-Founder/Partner of FlexProfessionals, LLC, a niche staffing agency that matches professionals seeking meaningful, flexible work with growing businesses looking for top talent.