An interview with Mary Eileen Williams
Joining us today is Mary Eileen Williams, founder of The Feisty Side of Fifty / Baby Boomer Women, and she’s here to share her perspective on women over fifty in the job market today.
1. Are those over fifty uniquely qualified to solve challenges in the workplace, compared to their younger peers?
Although each age group embodies certain attributes that make positive contributions to the workforce, older employees boast unique strengths that only age and maturity bring. Three of these valuable qualities are perspective, people skills, and a mature work ethic.
Years of experience create a certain “I’ve seen this before” perspective, which enables mature employees to deal with upsetting circumstances more easily then their younger counterparts. The first few times one encounters a disgruntled customer, a difficult coworker, or an unexpected delay effecting an important deadline, the experience can be unnerving and even highly upsetting. However, by the time one reaches her fifties, she’s encountered several of these types of situations, knows through personal experience that she can handle whatever arises and is, therefore, able to control her emotions and maintain her equilibrium.
In addition to perspective, a mature woman brings well-honed people skills to her job. Gained through a lifetime of interacting with managers, coworkers, customers and clients, she can generally diffuse even highly charged situations and bring about a much needed calm and order.
Age also gifts her with a mature work ethic so she knows the importance of showing up on time, being a contributing team player, and putting the customer first.
2. Are there differences between men and women over fifty, in terms of their attitude and success in the workforce?
Baby boomers represent the first generation where women entered the workforce in substantial numbers. Nevertheless—and especially in the case of first wave boomers—most households in the 1970s and 80s were fairly traditional. The husband was the breadwinner while the wife remained home to care for the family. Even if the woman worked outside of the home, she generally held a second income position, working part-time or pursuing less demanding jobs known as “the mommy track.”
Now that the job market is far more welcoming to women in higher-level positions than it was when boomers first kicked down the barriers, many women are choosing to pursue long-deferred dreams. They wish to leave their mark in the larger arena and are focusing on meeting their goals with a renewed sense of vigor and energy.
Many middle-aged men, to the contrary, have already lived out their career aspirations. They may feel that they’ve “peaked” in a certain sense and wish to explore other aspects of their lives rather than devoting a single-minded focus to the world of work. Midlife means change for both women and men and it’s often a time when traditional gender roles undergo a major metamorphosis.
3. What is the most common question you receive from people seeking your advice, and how do you respond?
The most common question I get is: “Can I really find a job at my age?” This, of course, disturbs me greatly because the media has perpetuated a great falsehood—in fact, a downright lie—upon the American public. And far too many people believe it.
If you’re a mature jobseeker, please don’t fall for their dispiriting news! The statistics the media cite are, by definition, generalities—and do not reflect on your own chances for success. Your opportunities are based on the methods you use to conduct your search, the contacts in your network, the number of opportunities available in your area, how many hours per day you put into your search, and a whole host of other factors that are relevant to you as an individual.
Yes, you may run into ageism and you may be overlooked for some positions because you’re past fifty, however don’t allow this to discourage you. Your attitude underscores every facet of your job search and the truth is that out of 4.2 million jobs (tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from September 2009 to September 2012), 3.5 million of them went to workers 55 and up!
4. Lastly, what tips would you share with a boomer looking to re-enter the workforce after taking a break?
The main tip I suggest is to “come from a position of strength.” Don’t apologize for being away from the job market for a period of time. As a candidate you’ll need to instill trust in potential employers that you have the abilities and the commitment to do the job—and do it well.
Most people have done some type of volunteer work. Recognize that you learned and used valuable skills and, whether or not you were paid for your efforts, you still provided an important service. List these skills on your resume and speak to them in interviews—providing substantiating examples of you doing your work at its best.
Your belief in yourself as a viable candidate will go a long way to instill trust in hiring managers and, with a bit of luck, you just might land the job!
About the Author
Mary Eileen Williams is a Nationally Board Certified Career Counselor with a Master’s Degree in Career Development and twenty years’ experience assisting midlife jobseekers to achieve satisfying careers. Her book, Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50, is a step-by-step guide that shows you how you can turn your age into an advantage and brand yourself for success. Recently updated, it’s packed with even more information aimed at providing mature applicants with the tools to gain the edge over the competition and successfully navigate the modern job market.
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