I’m turning 56 today. I left corporate life in 2011, having spent the 10 years leading to 2011 with a multinational corporation. My calendar for this year is almost full. My dates are blocked for the trips that I will be taking this year as well as for individuals and companies who have booked me to do work for them in areas where I am acknowledged to be somewhat of an expert.
However, many of my friends are not as fortunate as me. Many are in dire straits – they have either been laid off, have resigned or are very frustrated with their situations and are looking to move. Most of them are worried about their future. The problem is they are all about the same age as me and unlike Colonel Sanders who started Kentucky Fried Chicken at age 65, many of these buddies of mine do not feel they are cut out to be entrepreneurs. They want to work.
When talking to several people recently I realized that many men and women in their 50’s are in the same boat. They are exasperated, aggravated and upset and they spend a lot of time complaining.
I don’t pretend to know everything but bitching and moaning sure won’t help.
Misery loves company and I will resist joining everyone else who is busy lamenting that nobody wants to look at your CV once you’ve turned 40. Let me instead share some tips on how you can be hired, or at least have a meaningful time at work, even if you’re past 55 going on 60 and beyond, although I am no expert in this area. What I’m sharing is just common sense.
First, you need to work. In this day and age, in this country, where dying is cheaper than being ill, if you don’t work, you have no income, and your savings aren’t going to last forever unless you’ve started a megachurch, or you are a retired government minister or one of those senior civil servants or military honchos who will be taken care of, looked after long after active service by the government, or you’re one of those lucky ones who have amassed a fortune through gambling at our casinos – which is highly unlikely – or you got rich churning properties and dabbling in real estate, or you’ve been using the Internet to make money for you even while you are asleep to the extent that you can now buy your own nuclear submarine or fighter jets or whatever. (Be wary of such crap – if it works, why are those self-proclaimed Internet “gurus” conducting courses and charging members of the public to enroll in them? The Sunday papers are full of their ads.)
In addition, working keeps your brains from going rusty. Sitting at home, staring at your navel, watching porn on the Internet, eventually you will either go mad, or your right arm muscle will develop unusually large at the expense of your left arm muscle and everyone will know you are a dirty old coot and a wanker and they will talk behind your back and call you a pervert or you will become very severely depressed. The Nazis said “work will set you free” well, screw the mass-murdering Nazis, let me just say that work will give you meaning and context. Besides, it’s a waste if you decide to let all those years of accumulated wisdom stay still in your slowly rotting brain and not share it.
Second, be realistic. If you’re one of those who have stayed put in one company all these years, the annual increments and all that kinda handouts you’ve been enjoying will mean your last drawn salary is probably not that small. When I was in corporate life, a few of my bosses have been there since they left school – that company’s job was their first and only job. They don’t know anything else. They fight tooth and nail – even to the extent of sabotaging their own staff – just so they can hang onto their own jobs at all costs because if they lose those jobs, they are not hirable anywhere else, at least not at the salaries they expect. This explains why many are willing to even kill their own mothers if it means they get to hang on to their jobs. Very sad, indeed.
But be realistic here and ask yourself: For the job that I am qualified to do, what is the market rate? Do a bit of research. Ask around – if you know someone who is in a job that you aspire to, find out what his package is. Look at job ads to get an idea too. I guarantee you: more likely that not, the market rate for the job you just left or want to have will be lower than your last drawn salary in most cases. That’s life. Deal with it. Don’t suffer from delusions of grandeur. You are not indispensable.
Also factor in the fears potential employers may have when they consider you and the questions going through their heads such as: Should I hire this old guy? Does he come with all kinds of negative baggage? Is he tech-savvy like the rest of my people? Why is he still using that Motorola phone I threw away 20 years ago? Will there be a generation gap? Can he get along with the youngsters? Is he going to go on sick leave often? If he has a bad attitude, will he influence the younger staff? Is he so unpleasant-looking and badly dressed that he will turn off customers? Has he no money to visit a dentist? Doesn’t he shave anymore? Is he cranky and andropausal?
How would you allay those fears? Put yourself in the shoes of potential hirers. What would they like to hear? Do give it a serious thought.
Third, take a good look at yourself. Are your clothes making you look more uncle-like than you are? Is that suit of yours the one and only suit you’ve ever owned – that shiny “sharkskin” one you made for your wedding many eras ago when policemen still wore shorts? Is that haircut making you look like the Asian version of Donald Trump? Do you look energized or do you look like Jabba the Hut? Do you smell like an old person? Is that spinach stuck between your teeth? Do you exude energy or do you think people find you obnoxious? Is a make-over long overdue?
Fourth, upgrade – don’t be caught in a time wrap. How current are you with the latest technology? What qualities do you possess that will make you stand out? What will differentiate you from the other candidates? Believe you me, I have friends my age who don’t know how to use SMS, have no idea what Facebook is and who think that Twitter is a brand of chocolates, that Kindle has to do with fire and that tablets are something you swallow for headaches. Worse, they don’t read – the last time they’ve read a book was when they were in school – and if they do force themselves to use SMS once in a blue moon, they avoid the auto-spell and tap away like retards. They are afraid to go online; they still pine after WordStar and Eudora and reminisce about MS-DOS and floppy disks. Yeah, they are still in the stone age! Don’t be like them. Remember what happened to dinosaurs? They became extinct.
Look also at your competencies beyond the everyday use of IT and explore ways to upgrade your skills. If you graduated with an engineering degree say in 1981, what you’ve learned then had actually become completely obsolete decades and decades ago so what are you intending to do about it? How do you stay current? If you don’t upgrade, how are you going to convince potential employers that your knowledge base is not stuck at the point when you left school? Sure, experience is priceless but basic proficiency and expertise must keep pace with the times too. Potential employers need to be convinced that you are not only current in what you know but also have an idea of what the future portends. This makes you an invaluable, priceless asset.
Fifth, network – you can’t afford to sit at home every day, eat cup noodles and jump around like a monkey entertaining your grandkids. You have get out of that couch, get out of the house and go and network. Pound the streets, knock on doors. If you have semi-retired and are now a free agent, or if you’re freelancing tell your clients it’s cheaper to put you on the payroll than to pay you piecemeal for each assignment you do for them, that is, if you desire full-time employment. Check with HR of your previous company – assuming you left on good terms – and ask if there are positions you could take up, even on a term or contract basis. Ask friends and recruiters who are based overseas if there are gaps you can help fill. Buy the Saturday edition of The South China Morning Post – it weighs a ton because of the number of job ads for jobs in Hong Kong and China. With kids grown, this is the best age to leave your nest and make a difference in the world. Moving overseas to recharge and to contribute to emerging economies like China, India, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, etc that will benefit from their wisdom and know-how has given a new lease of life and new meaning to many people my age who are now looking to be significant rather than to be just another guy chasing just a pay package.
So there you go, my five steps – my gift to you on this day, my 56th birthday.
Note: The tips above are shared on the assumption that you want a job, but if you are happy just loafing around or free-lancing or have heaps of savings that will never run out or are insulted by the way potential hirers treat you, then just forget it. Be true to yourself. Uphold your dignity. For example, not long ago, I was approached to consider three full-time global positions with an European multinational and you know what? They treat all applications like they are from college interns (regardless of the applicants’ qualifications or experience), even requiring the submission of an essay. And these are for senior management positions! Having authored nearly 10 books – including one published by Oxford – and thousands of articles and research papers in my 30 years as a professional I told them to go fuck themselves. They can shaft those jobs up their putrid European asses. Just because you’re looking for a job doesn’t mean you have to suffer humiliation.