I am often asked for tips on finding a job when you reach your 50s or even before. I am quite honest about ageism and the fact that you need to become creative (even cunning) to market yourself. Of course, you need to consider your resume, how to ace an interview and other job hunting strategies.
Now it’s time to talk about networking.
Networking used to be largely focused around face to face meetings or events. These days, social media has added another important strand – and of course our experiences over the last couple of years have highlighted the possibilities of meetings and even events being held over Zoom or similar.
People sometimes turn up their noses at networking or find the idea more terrifying than being locked in a room with 20 spiders. Possibly this used to be me. But if you want to take charge of your working life, the reality is that networking is not optional. And for older workers, it could be your best way to get around ageist recruitment consultants. Some estimate that 60 per cent of jobs are never advertised, maybe more, so pull out your best smile, brush up on your small talk, and off we go.
It doesn’t have to be horrific, I promise …
One warning, however. Networking is not an instant fix to be activated only when you’re looking for a job. Networks take time to build and are based on relationships and reciprocity – getting to know people and focusing first on what you can do for them. Manipulative or inauthentic networking is a real turn-off and quite counter-productive.
Networking is not just about getting jobs; it’s also excellent for finding information about companies that appreciate older workers, having a sounding board for a current dilemma, seeking out training opportunities or just hanging out with people who actually understand your work.
Our world is a series of relationships. ‘Six degrees of separation’ is a cliché now, but it was based on scientific research showing that we can reach anyone on the planet in only six connections, often less. Even if your first contact can’t help you, they may well know someone who can and be willing to connect you with them.
Social media should be part of your networking plan. Most people know someone who got a job or a piece of work or a good contact through an online network, and recruitment firms and employers looking to hire use it frequently. Check out the sites that fit your needs, industry and available time, but at the very least, you must be on LinkedIn. Making contributions to blogs in your area of interest is a very good strategy, and depending where you’re headed, you could even start your own blog. I’ve also read a number of articles recently that talk about building an online portfolio or resume through creating a simple website. Depending on your field, it might be a place to collect your resume, testimonials and other information, or to show samples of your work, or even be really creative.
Formal networking groups abound, and are often tailored to age groups, industries or locations. If you feel uncomfortable going alone, take a friend, but don’t spend all night in a corner talking only to him or her. Informal networking (through family, sporting clubs, gyms, friends and so on) may be the best way of all to forge links, as it’s based on common interests and connections, and may feel less stressful and more authentic.
It’s about keeping your eyes out for possibilities and then taking a small risk or two. It might change everything for you. So, where will you start?