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When Temple University abolished Carol King’s budget line in 2003, the former professor at the school of tourism and hospitality management was not ready to retire. “I was just a few months shy of social security,” she says, “but I’ve been a single woman working all my adult life and I wasn’t about to stop.”
Her first thought was to continue teaching for Thomas Edison State College’s master of science in management program, where she had been teaching organizational leadership and management online since 2000. But she had not banked on what it would feel like sitting in the house by herself with so much unstructured time. “I live alone, and it was unhealthy mentally,” she says. So she decided to get out and find a job.
She did voluntary and paid, part-time work and eventually found her way to the Senior Resource Center in Princeton in 2005 as a bookkeeper; she is now director of the center’s engaged retirement and encore careers program. She also has kepts the books for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton since 2007.
King will speak on “Job Search Strategies for Older Workers,” on Thursday, January 28, at 6:30 p.m., at the Senior Resource Center’s Suzanne Patterson building, 45 Stockton Street.
When people start inching into the 50-plus age group, the job market can become even tougher. Whether this results from ageism or other causes, King emphasizes that screening out older people as potential employees can be detrimental to the employer. “When employers screen out people they perceive as too old, they are denying themselves the tremendous amount of knowledge and experience that these people have,” she says.
King suggests that the issue is less one of ageism than of older people confronting a corporate culture that is now youth oriented. Many older people, she says, are not only flexible but many have experience getting along with younger people through their families and friends.
King advises older job seekers to get past the negative ideas about being rejected because they are too old. Instead she offers some pragmatic suggestions for moving beyond the age barrier.
Select the company and industry carefully. “Some jobs you’re wasting your time on,” she says. “In the technology industry, if you’re over 40, you’re old — and maybe if you’re over 30.”
King theorizes that one sensible approach is to search out companies marketing to an older population. “They are going to be much more receptive to hiring an older person to sell to and service those people, because they speak the same language,” she says.
Develop additional skills through volunteering. “Volunteering is a good way to expand your skill set and make contacts, and it also gets you in the door of the nonprofit so that when a job is there, you’re first in line and they know you,” says King. One place to find volunteer opportunities close by, she adds, is the website volunteerconnectnj.org.
King had learned to use QuickBooks to help out an arts organization. This skill is in demand in the marketplace, she says, and ultimately it gave her a foot in the door at the Senior Resource Center, where she was hired initially to do bookkeeping using QuickBooks. Eventually the director wanted to redo the website and needed a staff member to work with the professional designer, so now King manages the organization’s large website.
Next the director, Susan Hoskins, developed grant proposals to establish an engaged retirement program. The first year they teamed up with the New Jersey Foundation on Aging and the Princeton Area Community Foundation, and the second year only with the foundation.
“The initial thrust was to get Baby Boomers to volunteer and give back to the community with all of their knowledge and experience from business and professional backgrounds,” says King. But it quickly expanded to cover lifestyle issues that aging Boomers were encountering, including personal identity, the lack of social content, and too much unstructured time.
For people who have identified who they are with what they did for a living, says King, adjusting to retirement can be rough. “I was a college professor; now I’m a retired college professor — what does that get me?” she asks. “You no longer have your status, your position in the scheme of things that you had with a company. You’re no longer attached to anything, and it’s very hard for people.”
Focus on skills not status. “You have to market yourself just as you market a product,” says King. “Fit the skills and knowledge you have that specifically fit the job you’re applying for and forget the other stuff.”
So if you’re applying, say, to coach a high school sports team, what you did as an executive is not only irrelevant but will make it easy for the interviewer to say you are overqualified. Maybe you should say instead that you worked at XYZ corporation (without a job title) and coached work teams. And don’t include your MBA or doctoral degrees, or that you managed a $60 million budget because that’s also irrelevant.
Don’t be an ageist. King suspects that people who believe they are victims of ageism may themselves have difficulty relating to someone younger than they are — but that’s who is likely to be conducting a job interview. “I think it’s easy for a person who is turned down from a job to say, ‘I am a victim of ageism,’ instead of looking at how they presented themselves to the interviewer,” she says.
Maybe, for example, the person approached the interviewer with an attitude of superiority. Although she admits that ageism exists, she thinks the reality may be more complicated and that labeling all negative employment outcomes as ageism is an easy cop-out.
Emphasize the positives of hiring someone older. “The conception that some interviewers may have about older people is that they are tired, are in ill health, and are likely to be absent — which is not true,” says King. “They have better attendance records and stability in employment than younger people.”
She suggests taking the approach that you have had your career and are not a job hopper. You might say to an interviewer, “I’m not interested in leaving for more money. This is what I want to do, where my interest and enthusiasm is. I’m not going to leave tomorrow for a better job because I’ve been there and done that.”
Present yourself appropriately. You should also dress in a contemporary style that is appropriate for the particular employer. King does not think this means dying your hair, but rather making sure it is styled appropriately. And as for makeup, it should be applied in the more natural style that is now popular. She also suggests looking at the types of styles fashion magazines present for older women.
King grew up outside of Cleveland, Ohio, in Lakewood. Her father worked 44 years for General Electric — a kind of lifetime employment that does not exist anymore, says King. Her mother was a homemaker and worked as a library assistant.
King earned her bachelor’s and a master’s in home economics and food service administration at Michigan State University. Her first job was as a food service administrator at Meadow Lakes Village in Hightstown, and from there she became a senior consultant at Pannell Kerr Forster & Co., certified public accountants specializing in the hospitality industry.
She then got an MBA and a doctorate from New York University. While there, she did some teaching, online course development, and contract technical writing.
King’s first teaching job was at Fairleigh Dickinson between 1991 and 1996. Next she served four years in what she thought would be an interim position, as finance administrator at Nassau Presbyterian Church. Then she moved to Temple, where she taught organizational behavior, management, accounting, and leadership between 2000 and 2003.
After losing her job at Temple, King worked part time at Ten Thousand Villages, where she still volunteers, and then kept the books at Glenmarle Woolworks from 2004 through the store’s closure in 2007.
King suggests that the biggest issue for older workers has to do with fitting into a new organization’s culture. If a person has been working in a corporate culture for many years and doesn’t know anything else, it may be tough to change.
“A person needs to be sensitive to what the culture is and not just assume the new culture is the same as the one you left — this is the way I behaved before and this is the way I will behave here,” says King. “It won’t work. The one thing the hiring interviewer is looking at is whether this person going to fit into our organization.
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