Women over 50 face both age and gender bias. Traditional stereotypes suggest that older people are uncooperative, inflexible, unpleasant, dull, and lacking in adaptability, competence, self-confidence and leadership ability. Traditional gender stereotypes suggest that women are pleasant, caring, modest, emotional, and helpful – but not competent leaders. Thus, an older woman faces the Double Whammy of both ageism and sexism, making it much tougher to reenter the workplace than it is for younger women and men of all ages.
This means that if you are a woman over 50 restarting your career, you must carefully plan your reentry and manage the impressions others have of you.
Preparing for Career Reentry
Career reentry can be frustrating and disillusioning. Only about 30 percent of highly qualified women succeed in resuming a full-time career. This is sobering, but you can significantly increase your chances of successful career reentry with proper planning and preparation.
Build and maintain three distinct networks
The first is with senior business and professional people who can provide advice and support about reentry. The second is with former co-workers, customers, clients, suppliers, collaborators, and competitors. These people help you stay current in your field of interest. The third network is with women who are not now working full-time or who have recently returned to full-time careers; you can compare experiences, brainstorm about ways to stay engaged, and devise strategies for when and how to make transition back. Use your networks to focus your opportunities and interests.
Make sure your skills are up to date
Participate in workshops and educational programs; do career-relevant volunteer work; undertake individual study; and be sure your computer skills are better than if you had never left the workplace.
Participate in career-related events
Every week or so, lunch with a former colleague, attend a networking event, seek out consulting opportunities, present a talk or write an article on a relevant topic. Get to know and be known by as many people in your field as possible.
Polish your résumé to highlight key talents and traits valued in your field
Develop a powerful but accurate account of your career-relevant activities during your time out of the workforce: the volunteer work you have done, courses you have taken, consulting assignments, and so forth. Show you are not rusty or out of touch because of your age or time at home. Your LinkedIn profile and Facebook page (yes, you need both) should be carefully updated to show your talents, strengths, and achievements.
Prepare to engage
Be ready at an interview with engaging stories about your accomplishments, reasons for being out of the workplace, and your potential contributions.
Managing First Impressions
As a woman over 50, you also need to factor in impression management. Three key areas come to mind:
The toughest challenge you will face is convincing your prospective employer you are not out of touch, inflexible, or irrelevant. With homework and preparation, you can overcome this challenge.
Your age gives you considerable strengths to bring to the table. You’ve had important life experiences, your judgment has been tested, and you are likely to have considerable grit and self-confidence. By bringing a sense of seriousness, knowledge, and purpose – gravitas – to your personal presentation, you can show you’re ready to excel in a new position or career field. You have a great deal to be proud of, more to contribute than a younger person, and a valuable perspective on both work and life. Present yourself accordingly.
The totality of your nonverbal and verbal behavior – your style – shapes the impressions others have of you. One aspect of style is your appearance, which has a great deal to do with how others see you. Dress in a way that makes you feel confident, in touch with contemporary fashion, and for the appropriate business context. A bank is different from a tech company, New York City is different from Des Moines, and corporate law is different from healthcare. Research the types of organization you want to join. Study the “look” of their leaders and choose your look accordingly. And present yourself as an accomplished, competent, and ambitious person, who is comfortable with contemporary tools, media, and working with younger people.
When confronting the Double Whammy, you must impress potential employers with your ability to make a unique, important contribution and to leave no doubt that you will fit in to a dynamic, up-to-date work environment. And with self-confidence, the right preparation, and effective impression management, you can beat the Double Whammy.