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Myth-Busting Your Way to Career Success, Part 1

Posted December 19, 2016

The Wall Street Journal’s Encore Section is always a treasure trove of inspiration and information for us all, no matter our age, but the November 28, 2016 cover story brings especially good news for the over-40 crowd: “Five Myths About Landing a Good Job Later in Life: The conventional wisdom says it’s impossible. The facts say otherwise,” by Anne

Myth #1: I’m not going to find a good job.

This picture is of a mature, but still modern, businesswoman

The reality is that the majority of older workers — and Baby Boomers in particular — have never been more educated, more experienced, and more physically fit than they are today. This is the time when they should be feeling more accomplished and powerful than ever before, not filled with anxiety and trepidation about being too old to find a good job.

As the marketplace continues to shift from labor and manufacturing to professional services, there is more demand for educated, experienced knowledge workers. At the same time, many employers are frustrated by a shortage of skilled workers. Older workers have established skills and experience that have been tested, and they are getting good jobs.

Myth #2: I can’t take time off, or I’ll never get back into the workforce.

business-people-standing-at-conf-table-windowsThis misconception is based on a decades-old marketplace belief that job applicants had to account for every second of their lives in their resume or they would appear unstable or inexperienced. Current research from the Health and Retirement Study (funded by the National Institute on Aging and conducted at the University of Michigan that tracked thousands of people over the age of 50 during the past 20 years) reveals that about 40% of people who retire take a break and then return to work without suffering consequences for their time off.

In addition, the marketplace is more fluid in general than it ever has been before. It is commonplace for people to take off extended periods of time from work for any number of reasons, including the pursuit of educational goals, traveling, having children, raising children, et al. When these people are ready to return to work, they are free to compete in the marketplace like anyone else, assuming they still have marketable skills. On the hiring side of the equation, most employers are looking for trained, competent, reliable employees and are not likely to overlook the applicant who meets those tests, but has taken time off in the past.

Myth #3: I’m not going to make as big of a contribution as I did in the past.

Research completed at the Institute for Life-Span Development and Gerontology at the University of Akron demonstrates that older workers can play a more vital role in the marketplace than ever. “When it comes to productivity most academic studies show little to no relationship between age and job performance,” according to Harvey Sterns, director of the institute. And further, in jobs that require experience, studies show that older adults actually have a performance edge. A new study by some of the same authors looked at a large German insurance company and found no overall differences between age and productivity. But in more demanding tasks, performance actually rises with age. Experience seems to offset physical and cognitive decline in the more demanding tasks. “Expertise deepens, which can enhance productivity and creativity.” Some academics go so far as to say that “wisdom — defined in part, as the ability to resolve conflicts by seeing problems from multiple perspectives — flourishes” in the later years.

Ms. Terge continues in her article, “Wisdom doesn’t just help basic job performance: it makes older workers into valuable role models for younger employees. Older workers who spend time mentoring, lecturing, consulting, advising, and teaching can make a ‘huge contribution’”, according to Brian Fetherstonhaugh, Chairman and Chief Executive of digital and direct-marketing agency Ogilvy One Worldwide, and author of The Long View: Career Strategies to Start Strong, Reach High, and Go Far. Older workers, he adds, “are in a position to teach the trickiest things younger workers need to learn, including sound judgment and how to build trust” with colleagues and clients.

You can read about Myths #4 and #5 in the blog I’ll post next week.

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