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Don Harding: Unemployed older workers face discrimination, long odds

Don Harding (Courtesy photo)
Don Harding (Courtesy photo)
Guest columnist

I feel like a gray piñata. Having been laid off in August from my longtime software development position, I’m finding a less-than-brave new world out there as I seek re-employment after age 60.

Recent statistics from AARP found that more than half the people age 45 to 70 who experienced unemployment in the last five years are no longer working. I can verify that it’s not for lack of effort. Workers over age 55 seeking employment are unemployed an average of 60 weeks compared to the 38.5 weeks of younger workers.

We are living in an unprecedented age. The very generation who helped bring about the greatest technological advancements in history are being discarded and dismissed as irrelevant while at the same time they are facing the double whammy of living longer in a world of rising medical and life insurance costs.

In my case, a strong resume and the ability to craft a professional cover letter have led to six in-person interviews for a development position. Six interviews and zero job offers. There’s a gray elephant in the interviewing room – even if he is willing to work for less peanuts.

But this isn’t just a “me” problem; it’s an “us” problem for all unemployed seniors. Our only option is to press on.

Some of that anemic batting average can be attributed to self-inflicted interviewing mistakes.

At my first interview, wanting to skew younger, I left my hearing devices at home. If the most common question heard at the interview is “Could you repeat that?”….well, you’re not going to get the job. Rustiness may have contributed to some early failure as well. Technological fields are, if anything, a giant bowl of acronym soup. If a term such as “CSS” causes a minute of confusion in an interview – “is that Cascading Style Sheets or is it that medical examiner cop show?” – well, he who hesitates in an interview answer has lost the opportunity.

Simple things such as a professional wardrobe, a quick smile, an air of confidence, and updating those Costco glasses can only help as well. Maybe even cut some of that gray mane… but stop short of going bald and getting a head tattoo. If you get a head tattoo, you don’t need a job, you need therapy.

There are two helpful solutions. One is perception. We just elected a 70-year-old to be the next president. He nipped the upstart 69-year-old in the process. If a 70-year-old can be trusted to lead the greatest nation on Earth, maybe other senior workers can be trusted to continue to build a web page or design an SQL query.

The other is economic. Some give and take between employer and the senior worker – such as the senior worker shouldering more of the insurance burden or foregoing some salary – would make sense on both sides. Businesses and seniors can only benefit by such displays of loyalty on both sides of the employment equation.

Don Harding is a passionate software developer looking to continue his career.

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