Pure Genius

How to get (and keep) a job later in life

How to get (and keep) a job later in life

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The author of a book meant to help Baby Boomers get and keep work, Jane Genova encourages "survival jobs" and going "collar blind" -- and says those over 50 could redefine the way we work.

Jane Genova knows firsthand how tough the job market can be for the over-50 set. But after her communications boutique collapsed, she scored a few "just in time" jobs before re-launching her career as an over-50 career blogger and author.

I spoke recently with Genova, who is speaking today on career change before the New York State Bar Association.

Your personal experience inspired you to help those over 50 with careers.

Like most people in their 50s, I expected to be set. I was so set that I retired. I sold my house in Connecticut and went to my beach house. That was around 1999. Very quickly I got it that in capitalism if you're not employed, you're invisible. I moved back to Connecticut where my professional network was. It was the perfect storm: 9/11 happened, my sister died, I had to put two dogs down. There was less work and the work that was there, I was really not able to do it because I was in grief. By 2003, I had lost everything. I lost my business and my contacts. I lost my 401K except for very little. [Eventually] I did get a job. I was hired as a security guard. I leveraged that to a full-time job as a contract employee. I saw that I would excel in any profession anywhere. I was out of the past. I had co-workers. I had a superior. I was proving myself. I was learning new skills. I got some other survival jobs. Then I was ready [to go back to] communications. I started blogging.

Then you decided to write the book?

I had started coaching because people asked me, "Could you share what you know?" Then people said, "Could you put that in a book?" The timing is good because there are 76 million Baby Boomers and most of us have to work or, like I learned, you're not a value in America unless you're working.

You say that Baby Boomers could redefine work. What do you mean by that?

We've unloaded a lot of the baggage that goes with work, such as it has to provide meaning, it has to provide a sense of belonging, it has to be interesting, it has to pay well, it has to be going some place. Through suffering and maturation, we've come to say, "Work is work. You go to work to work." We also are very aware that work is not a social context. It's a competitive context. We have the skills and the know-how to take over projects. We're not going to be CEO of IBM, but there are a lot of jobs that need project leaders. If they want us, they will accept us on our terms. We know how to play the game, so I think eventually we're going to redefine work.

How will those over 50 adapt to more project-based work after spending their lives in full-time jobs with benefits?

I don't think that most of them are that rigid. Adversity is a wonderful teacher. The rug was pulled from under them in 9/11 and now [in the recession]. Even for people in their 40s, there are very, very few full-time jobs with benefits. [Those over 50 are] inherently more flexible than youth. We know it's just a belief system. We were led to believe that was the way it was. Youth treat beliefs as sacred.

What are your tips to help those over 50 get a job?

You cannot make a generic pitch for a job or a client. It has to be completely custom-tailored. Change your resume, your cover letter and your persona to fit that particular job. They're not hiring potential. They're hiring a specific cog in the wheel to do that job better than anyone else. Always think in terms of how you can show an edge. You have to show the edge and tell them explicitly about the edge. The next thing is it really is a numbers game and luck. You can't be crushed after a turn down. All a turn down means is that you're closer to an edge because you learned something. You're not going 24/7 looking for jobs. You're taking breaks because it's going to refresh you and you're going to be sharper. Learn to take care of yourself during this time.

What about keeping a job over 50?

You're constantly selling yourself. You're diplomatically suggesting new ways. You have to earn your wings everyday. There's no settling in.

One of the chapters of your book is titled, "We Are Our Stories: They can be liabilities or assets." What does that mean?

You could present yourself as a lawyer who's out of work or you could present yourself as a businessman with a legal background. A [law school graduate] called me and said "I don't have a job." I said, "Let me see your resume. Why didn't you mention that you have an MBA?" How you present yourself is: I know business. That will help your business and that will help your clients' business. The next day, she went into Manhattan and she got a job. She changed her story. It's framing what they want to hear and it's re-framing the stories that you've been telling yourself.

Another chapter is "Thinking The Unthinkable: Going blue collar." Talk about that.

Our generation was sent to college so we would become white collar. We were trained to look down on blue collar. [But] some blue collar professions, they're doing very, very well. You might consider going to a trade school or being trained to do some blue collar work. I went through my career recovery as a blue collar. I was a security guard. It's becoming more common now. We're coming to be a "collar blind" society.

Photo: Jane Genova

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Christina Hernandez Sherwood

Contributing Writer

Contributing Writer Christina Hernandez Sherwood has written for the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education and Columbia Journalism Review. She holds degrees from the University of Delaware and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure