In the know

Ex­pe­ri­ence can be an older job-seeker’s best friend

Los Angeles Times - - JOBS - — Marco Buscaglia, Tri­bune Con­tent Agency

“Peo­ple look­ing for jobs are … more likely to run into a manager in need of a spe­cific skill or a spe­cific strength, and that’s where that ex­pe­ri­ence comes in.”

T im O’Brien likes to tell friends that he’s on the “bet­ter side of 50.” What does he mean by that? Well, that’s a good ques­tion.

“I have to be hon­est, I used to just think it meant how you looked, like when peo­ple say their right pro­file is bet­ter than their left pro­file,” O’Brien says. “I thought it was just some goofy ex­pres­sion.” To­day, the 58-year-old ac­coun­tant from Ar­ling­ton, Texas, feels a bit dif­fer­ently.

“It means I’m on the right side of the age spec­trum,” he says. “I’m the guy who’s on the right side of the game.”

That game, O’Brien says, is to­day’s job mar­ket. Once con­vinced he had to cloak his age at all costs, O’Brien says he now leads with it any time he heads into a job in­ter­view.

“I want them to know up front that I’m the guy with ex­pe­ri­ence,” he says.

Af­ter work­ing more than 30 years for a “top-shelf” ac­count­ing firm, as he puts it, O’Brien abruptly found him­self out of a job in 2010.

“It was a purge, es­sen­tially,” he says. “They got rid of peo­ple who had put in enough time to earn the top end of the scale. Noth­ing sci­en­tific about it. They just cut the peo­ple who made the most money.” O’Brien says he found him­self scram­bling for work.

“I had two kids in col­lege and a house that was in need of about $50,000 in re­pairs,” he says. “I was des­per­ate.”

So des­per­ate, in fact, that O’Brien said he would lie about his age on ap­pli­ca­tions and dur­ing in­ter­views.

“Ev­ery­one I spoke with told me no one hires peo­ple older than 50,” he says. “I fig­ured I’d say what I had to say.”

That is, un­til he got caught. O’Brien is quick to point out that he never lied on forms or when asked to clar­ify his age, but his re­sume bumped up his col­lege grad­u­a­tion date by 15 years.

“My wife was the one who busted me,” he says. “She said ‘If you think some­one’s go­ing to be­lieve that mug of yours isn’t even 40 yet, you’re delu­sional.’”

O’Brien says he re­vised his re­sume, worked with an out­place­ment firm and re­branded him­self as an ex­pe­ri­enced money man, “the guy who knew where the bod­ies were buried,” he says. The strat­egy im­me­di­ately paid off. O’Brien says he was hired by an in­sur­ance firm in Dal­las for a six-month as­sign­ment to clean up their fi­nan­cial books. It took him 10 weeks, thanks to re­ly­ing more on face-to-face dis­cus­sions with those re­spon­si­ble for the fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions and a multi-level ap­proach to find­ing the right an­swer. He was the right hire.

Don’t run from your ex­pe­ri­ence

Ca­reer con­sul­tant Ed­ward Bracks, who spe­cial­izes in plac­ing ex­ec­u­tives in fi­nan­cial firms in New York and New Jer­sey, says O’Brien’s de­ci­sion to play up his ex­pe­ri­ence should be a strong ex­am­ple to any­one over the age of 50 who’s look­ing for a job.

“Peo­ple look­ing for jobs are al­ways go­ing to run into in­ter­view­ers and man­agers who won’t be able to get past their age,” Bracks says. “Let’s just ad­mit that up-front. But they’re more likely to run into a manager in need of a spe­cific skill or a spe­cific strength, and that’s where that ex­pe­ri­ence comes in.”

Delta Wil­son, a for­mer trainer for United Air­lines in Chicago, says when used cor­rectly, ex­pe­ri­ence trumps all other at­tributes and can be used to se­cure most jobs.

“Any­one can be en­thu­si­as­tic. Any­one can be ag­gres­sive. Any­one can say they work well with oth­ers,” Wil­son says. “How many peo­ple can say they’ve been there and done that? You add that ex­pe­ri­ence to any other trait, whether it’s con­fi­dence, cre­ativ­ity — what­ever — and you’re look­ing at the ideal can­di­date.

Look the part

Wil­son says older ap­pli­cants of­ten work too hard to fit in with their younger com­pet­i­tive coun­ter­parts. She re­calls “see­ing guys come in with ridicu­lous shirts and women come in wear­ing borderline in­ap­pro­pri­ate cloth­ing, just so they could look young. It didn’t work. They looked ridicu­lous.”

At the same time, some older ap­pli­cants looked, ac­cord­ing to Wil­son, like they “just stepped off a bus on their way to a free din­ner.” In other words, “iron your pants, wear a sim­ple tie, look pro­fes­sional,” she says. “You know those cliches about how older peo­ple dress? Rum­bled clothes, lots of lay­ers, gi­gan­tic shoes, thick scarves? Avoid those cliches.

On the hunt

Although he likes tak­ing project-based as­sign­ments, O’Brien says he’s now look­ing for a full-time job.

“I like go­ing in and fix­ing up a com­pany’s books, but I also like sta­bil­ity and rou­tines. Maybe that’s the older guy in me com­ing out,” he says. “Now, I’m look­ing for a full-time job be­cause I know I can help out more if I have a chance to re­ally dig in.”

O’Brien says he’s al­ready re­ceived two of­fers but turned down both.

“One was a bru­tal com­mute and the other just didn’t seem like the right fit, at least for my last full-time job ever, I hope,” he says. “But if it’s not, I’ll sur­vive. I’ll just be the 65-year-old guy who comes in and fixes ev­ery­thing you’ve been do­ing wrong the past 10 years.”

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