Caught in the Age Trap: Too Young to Retire but Too Old to Employ

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What do athletes in their 30s, mothers reentering the job market, or applicants who are over 50 share in common? In our society they are all considered a liability in the employment market.

When we hear that Kobe Bryant at age 37 is considered too old for basketball, or that fans are shocked at Serena Williams’s competitive ability at age 34, or that Michael Phelps is coming out of retirement at the ripe old age of 31 to surprise doubters with a gold medal win, we may chalk up the negative chatter as just part of being an athlete. But many face challenges finding jobs, especially mothers reentering the workforce and older employees.

For mothers who decide to reenter the work force and retired athletes, employers may doubt and provide negative feedback about whether they still have marketable skills or the ability to perform previous tasks. It is also disheartening for many men and women over the age of 50 who are reentering the job market because of layoffs to be told that they are overqualified, not technically proficient or not acceptable in an environment dominated by young applicants. At the same time, many retired individuals want to reenter the work world because they miss working and feel that they lack purpose in their lives.

All of the scenarios mentioned share similar challenges, In the case of well-known athletes, many don’t have a direction or plan to follow after they retire. From a young age, practicing, training and competing has dominated their lives. When retirement faces them in their 20’s and 30’s many athletes face lack of direction, poor financial planning and debt. At the same time, baby boomers also face financial dilemmas because of financial commitments to their families, including providing for their college age children and needing to help with caring for their parents.

When their jobs are eliminated and prospective employers feel that they are too old, too expensive and not proficient in new technologies, it can leave many at a loss.

Certain steps can be taken to help these individuals:

  1. Identify your marketable skills. Write down what you have to offer employers. An athlete has many skills to offer, including the ability to motivate others thanks to her many years of hard work, discipline and goal setting. A mother reentering the job market has experience juggling many tasks at home while raising her kids and can combine those skills with her previous work experience. For example, a young mother who previously worked as a psychologist and decided to stay home and raise her children is now unsure if she can be a valuable psychologist to future clients. However, her life experiences from raising her children, balancing finances, scheduling activities and helping her parents can all prove valuable in helping her new clients.
  2. Recognize that the job market has changed. Most employers are using online application systems. Put your application on online job sites like monster.com, indeed.com, LinkedIn, etc.
  3. Embrace social media. Post your new resume or CV on LinkedIn and join industry related groups on that site. Use Facebook to network. If you feel overwhelmed with social media, reach out to a friend or family member who can help.
  4. Network by reaching out to previous contacts.
  5. Consider part time work, consulting opportunities and volunteer jobs where you can expand your job skills and slowly reenter the job market
  6. When interviewing, ask questions to the prospective employer that proves your knowledge of the company, reinforces their need for additional help, and identifies how you can help the employer and company.
  7. Consider working with a retirement coach or job counselor. Also reach out to friends, colleagues and other individuals who have experienced a similar challenge in their life.

Reinventing yourself, learning new skills like social media and finding new jobs is not always an easy process.

However, you can master this transitional phase of your life with determination, outside help and support, resilience, patience and belief in yourself.

Remember the words of poet Edward A. Guest when you doubt yourself:

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done

But he with a chuckle replied

That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one

Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.

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