Baby Boomers in Transition

The following written by Al Smith

“It's Looking More And More Likely That Peyton Manning Is Finished”

How about you? Like the experts said Peyton Manning in 2011 was; are you:

  • Washed up!
  • A has been!
  • Can’t cut the mustard!
  • The game is over!
  • Finished!

Or, like Peyton Manning in his 2013 season, do you still…

“Deserve Your Own Page in the Record Book?”

Maybe, just maybe:

The reports of your death have been greatly exaggerated too”

-Mark Twain (with apologies)

Attacking a problem head on has always been my preferred method: gather the facts and the perceptions; formulate a plan of action with measurable goals; implement the plan then judge the results versus our goals. In the case of Baby Boomers (and anyone over 45) we need to ascertain what the problem is. And is there evidence to prove or disprove our theory?

Because of job loss; the demise of company-based retirement plans; the needs of aging parents; inadequate financial planning and other contributing factors, Baby Boomers are being forced to work later in life. “After years of financial independence, many must lower standards of living, deplete savings, or rely on spouse’s earnings.” Most Boomers have gone through recessions and even job loss previously, but never have their losses as a whole been this pervasive.

Baby Boomers have been hit especially hard during this recession. One perception is that we are being discriminated against because of ageism. Let’s examine this and other challenges then formulate our plan to overcome our plight.

In his New York Times article, Michael Winerip tells the story of a Boomer who was in charge of dairy and frozen foods for a major northeast supermarket chain. At a salary of $125,000, this guy was no bag boy who lost his job just before his 57th birthday. A long-time volunteer advocate for those in job transition, this individual was a guest at a White House forum on joblessness in recognition of his work creating a volunteer networking organization serving 1,200 unemployed. The group’s attendees are mostly professional, white-collar baby boomers. Unfortunately, now he’s a member of that group.

Ten months, 400 applications and ten interviews later he is still unemployed. One day, unemployed and without healthcare coverage he awoke with a heart attack. Now nearly $200,000 in debt, living with his mother and family, he struggles both to remain solvent much less get rehired now that he has a pre-existing medical condition. This isn’t exactly the idyllic, three generation home portrayed in television series The Walton’s.

Goodnight John-boy. Goodnight Grandpa. Goodnight Elizabeth...

Re-employment for Boomers lags other groups. For those 55 to 64, the re-employment rate is forty-seven percent and only twenty-four percent for those over 65. Compare this with a 62 percent return rate for those 20 to 54. And finding another job takes far longer too: roughly seven and one half months on average (46 weeks) versus five months (20 weeks) for 16- to 24-year-olds and over a full month longer than the general population (40.4 weeks).

Even those who have found new employment have not returned to their previous salary level. Median salary loss for Baby Boomers is eighteen percent versus a 6.7% drop for Millennials. Boomers are having to deplete their savings at an alarming rate with time and reduced salary prospects hindering their long-term financial outlook. The Labor Department’s Ben Siegel stated, "Older workers are supporting families; they may be supporting parents. They can't afford to spend two years going back for a degree to retrain."

Regarding the existence of ageism, Katie Allen of The Observer, as reprinted in the April 2012 edition of The Guardian states that, “Ageism is back as unemployed over-50s struggle to get back into work.” She goes on to say, “Older workers are worst hit when it comes to long-term unemployment and experts warn it is a trend that will cost the economy.”

And don’t expect any help from Washington or the legal system. Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling in GROSS v. FBL FINANCIAL SERVICES, INC., bias cases have become virtually impossible to prove. As such, most lawyers won’t touch age discrimination cases with a ten foot pole. And congress is of no help either. Although the senate has introduced and passed bi-partisan legislation in Boomers’ favor, its passage has included only a handful of Republicans (of which, two retired) and without more support from both sides of the aisle, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of the bill even coming to a vote in the House, so let’s not waste any further energy there.

Al, What should we do?

First, let’s put to bed the idea of NOT having your picture on your LinkedIn profile. This idea has been floated for a long time and I have argued against it for years. LinkedIn’s own research agrees with us. According to the conclusion of a LinkedIn study, you increase your chances of having your profile read if you have a photograph. And you need to have your profile read if you want an interview, right? So why would anyone NOT want to increase their chances 7% if all it takes is a picture of your grizzled old mug?

I had a client who joked about becoming a Grecian Geezer because he colored his hair (whatever works!). When he compared the mirror’s image of himself to his passport photo, he began coloring. I helped him twice get jobs in his late fifties and early sixties (I’d prefer to believe that it was my coaching rather than a couple squirts from a bottle that did the trick).

Others suggest that you remove 10 or more years from your resume.

I have no issue with shaving a former employer or two from your resume as long as you don’t discount your accomplishments from back then as well (another reason for a Hybrid Resume). I suggest that you have a section at the end of your employment history that reads something like: Additional Experience. It could merely state the names of the companies, your title(s) and some responsibilities. In either case, they will have a good idea of your age range when you interview.

A better strategy is necessary, but what shall I base my strategy on?

We have determined that Boomer employment is bad and that re-employment is worse than many segments. Much evidence exists that ageism (prejudicial hiring practices against older workers) is real, but why? What is it about us “old gummers” (does 45+ make us an old gummer?) that created these prejudicial conditions?

In the April 2011 issue of The Guardian, Robin McKay Bell lists seven conclusions that younger hiring managers have stated as reasons why they would rather hire people other than Baby Boomers [order changed for the purposes of addressing our needs]:

  1. Older people won't work for a younger manager, or with a younger team
  2. Older people lack energy
  3. Older workers have health problems
  4. An older worker has money, so they don't need the job
  5. Older people are not mentally agile
  6. Older workers can't deal with change
  7. Older people are often overqualified

Okay, now that we know what they think (if you can call that thinking), we need to formulate a plan of action for interview situations that either proves those beliefs faulty or minimizes our brand’s perceived inadequacies. This plan must also spotlight our positives (while possibly planting a few seeds of doubt towards the supposed positives of our younger brethren). Like lawyers in a courtroom, your side needs to argue your case convincingly so that the scales of justice for you being hired will prevail over the lightweights.

Quoting AARP’s Maria Reynolds-Diaz, “Baby boomers come with a lot of expertise, a lot of experience, leadership. They're known to be very dependable, honest, and reliable.” Now we have ammunition, so let’s make your age an asset. Where did I hear that before?

Whaddya got that they ain’t got?

Some examples of traits that Baby Boomers possess include:

  • Greater experience
  • Require less training
  • Need less supervision
  • Greater degree of loyalty
  • Hit the ground running
  • Track record of success
  • Less chance of failure
  • Good mentor to others
  • Established clients
  • Industry connections
  • Great work ethic
  • Understand corporate politics

Here are some more that are patently unfair

Who cares if they are unfair…I want a job!

  • No maternity leave required
  • No children at home to cart around or sit with when they are sick
  • More productive
  • At work to work
  • Not looking for an “MRS Degree”

So you really think I can get a job?

Not yes, but HELL YES! We just need to combine working harder with working smarter.

For those of us who have worn many hats in our career, securing the same type position that we had in the past at near the same income level seems problematic at best. If more traditional employment is your cup of tea, an alternative might be to focus one’s attention on mid-size, start-up or Mom and Pop companies.

Whereas major corporations desire specialists, smaller companies have a need for people who bring a lot to the table: generalists. The broad-based experience that Mega-Corp frowns on is a valuable commodity for smaller companies. In addition, small to mid-size businesses, in all likelihood, don’t have the training budget necessary for the youngest in the workforce to be brought up to speed. Boomers can hit the ground running while wearing many different hats.

I'm not saying that you should discount either large corporations or “Age Wave” opportunities; people are having success with them. I want you to consider all avenues including owning your own business and many of us forget that the chief economic engine of the country is small business (yes, even your own).

The question is, however, will Boomers adapt to these inevitable changes or cling to what they perceive is the comfort of the past?

"Omaha, Omaha!"

-Peyton Manning