Older chemists often have to deal with employer misconceptions when job hunting. Asked or unasked, interviewers may have questions about when you plan to retire. They may worry you have what they consider unreasonable salary requirements. Some hiring managers will believe your job skills are out-of-date or you have rigid work habits and can’t adapt to their workplace culture.
You have to be proactive in addressing these concerns while demonstrating that your experience can work to your employer’s advantage. You can begin by considering whether you are addressing some of these concerns in your screening interviews and résumé cover letters.
Cover letters and interviews
Consider explaining why you are job hunting in your cover letter and raising the issue in your initial screening interview. Explain that you aren’t financially ready to retire because of the effects of the recent recession on your 401k plan. Alternatively you can say that you want to remain professionally active and challenged. You don’t need to provide details for any of your reasons.
Don’t mention the causes of your job loss or early retirement. So many companies have had layoffs that job loss is no longer an automatic indication of marginal performance.
Some hiring managers will have assumptions about your salary requirements compared to your previous jobs. Accept that you may be offered a salary less than what you earned in your previous job. If asked to state your requirements, say that you’ll accept a fair offer because you are eager to get back to work. If pressed to state a number ask what the employer is willing to pay you and negotiate from there.
You may wish to negotiate for job perks in lieu of a high salary. It is best to do this after receiving a job offer or in discussions with the employer’s human resources representative during your onsite interview. For example, many older job hunters ask for and receive more vacation time that the typical two weeks offered a new employee. When job hunting for my third job I was so eager to leave my current employer that I did not ask for more than the standard two weeks. Later I discovered that mid-career chemists hired around the same time I was were receiving more vacation time because they asked for it. I was angry at myself but by then it was too late. Fifteen years later when my division was acquired by another company, the employees who received job offers from the new owner were offered just two weeks vacation time even if they had had more previously. I asked for more and advised my colleagues to do the same. The new owners quickly modified their employment offers to offer us the same amount of vacation time we had previously.
Some hiring managers will believe your skills are out-of-date or you have rigid work habits and can’t adapt to their workplace culture. During interviews you can bring up how you adapted to cultural changes over the years and found the changes valuable in increasing productivity. Because of the complexities of these topics, it is best to wait to discuss them during interviews and not try to include them in your cover letter unless you want to mention that you have adapted to different workplace cultures in the past and are sure you can do so in the future.
Emphasize the positive
During interviews you can bring up the advantages of your experience. You have seen recessions before. There was a recession in the opening years of the new century preceded by earlier ones in 1980s and in the mid-1970s. . Comment that there is always recovery after recession and you want to be there for that.
Explain that you have kept your technical skills up to date and provide examples. For example, as a project manager I have used a methodology called mindmapping to organize and manage projects. There is software available to aid in doing this. I can open my notebook computer, load the software and explain the process to interested managers.
Emphasize your flexibility
Explain how your experience will enable you to get a fast start in a new job. Your learning curve will be short. If you are willing to work part-time, note this during interviews.
Emphasize the leadership and organizational skills that your experience has given you. Note that because of your experience you have seen many highly stressful situations in the workplace and survived them. You have emotional stability and a high tolerance for stress in these situations. Telling a “war story” about such a situation can’t hurt. However, don’t get trapped into nostalgia and telling anecdotes about “the old days” instead of focusing on how you can help employers meet their goals.
John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.