Job Search Networking Groups And Gray Hair

by: Joanne Meehl

The profile of job search networking groups around the country is the same: people over 40. Largely white, more male than female, almost all with at least a bachelor's degree. "Look around the room", some there say with some anger in their voices. "Notice all the gray hair? What does that tell you?"

Why IS it that most people at many job search networking groups ARE older? The immediate answer from some, especially the ones asking us to look around the room, seems to be "age discrimination". Meaning, employers hire all the young people first, so those under 40 don't need networking groups.

Not so fast. I say, don't give up so easily and yield to excuses. Yes, excuses.

Here are some observations from this, well, 50+ year old career coach:

1) Younger people have what I call "natural networks" -- they usually don't yet have families, houses, etc., so they hang out with friends. They go to parties. They take courses, they do business after hours meetings, professional meetings, they hang out with employed people, etc. Look in a bar at 5:30 near any urban office park or downtown, and the under-40 set is mostly who you'll see. So if they're networking that way, and via social media, they don't think about "official" job search networking groups. They're already doing it. You over 45 or 50 don't do those things nearly as much. So you go to networking groups.

And those who have started families will network with other younger parents. Sure, they'll network with their own parents and their parents' friends. But they'll choose the stands at the baseball diamond for making new contacts over going to networking groups.

2) Younger people simply want to network with people their own age. I've seen people under 40 come to job search networking group meetings -- populated by the over 40 or over 50 set -- and eyes wide, look quickly around for others their age. They don't see them. So they don't come back. No, they're not discriminatory -- they are behaving just like other humans, seeking out their own kind. Unfortunately, they don't realize how much the older job seeker can help them, because they're caught up with thinking "these people look like my parents". But that's another issue.

3) People under 40 are, frankly, more astute about their careers. They are more career-oriented than "next job"-oriented like too many of their elders. They are the ones who had "career education" classes in elementary school and high school, and used the big career centers at their colleges. Boomers did not have all of that. Colleges had "placement" offices for teachers or engineers, but if you weren't one of those, was there someone to help you figure out a direction? Rare then. So it was "find a job on your own". Any job was OK, because you'd figure out your direction later. After all, the world was welcoming all those new grads. Younger people have known that their search would be competitive. It's at networking groups that older job hunters learn they, too, must be competitive and career-minded. Employers want the person who is doing more than just showing up to do a job. What about you? If you ARE career minded, are you making sure you exude this quality?

4) Younger (and older!) networkers can get turned off by what sounds to them like whining and complaining instead of action. At one networking group, one client, 50+ in age and with a great attitude, sat next to a woman who began telling him she'd been in job search for a year. (I never believe that people are really in job search for as long as they say they are. People are in shock and denial for some time, then they start with the online ads, and only later do they REALLY start their searches. But I digress.) She came across as "No one will give me a job", "I've applied everywhere", "At this point I'll do anything", etc. My client couldn't get away from her fast enough. She was really there in search of sympathy, not to network. He was there in search of contacts, and because of her attitude, he almost didn't go back. Multiply this by others, especially in groups that can cultivate this kind of talk, and no wonder younger people stay away. No wonder even older job hunters stay away!

5) My final comment goes to why YOU, the "gray hair", are there to begin with. If you are over 45 or so, and have been working in your field 20+ years, you've accrued successes and experience. But you've also increased your salary. By a lot. Remember your first "real" job out of college, and what money you made? I'm sure you do, because it's probably laughable now. Well, employers want to keep their costs down, so now you are more of a liability. Even if you say you would take less money, why should they believe you when they have another candidate who would gladly work for half of your most recent salary? And remember back to when you'd move anywhere? You won't do that now. And that you'd do just about anything? Ah, right now you SAY you'll do just about anything, but you won't: you want to do what you enjoy and what you're good at, and it sure isn't "entry level" any more. So the person who is convincingly flexible on those points -- often a younger person -- is more likely to land the job.

So you have gray hair. Big deal. Are you going to give up control of your job search over something like that?! I see "graybeards" land new jobs every week, so I won't let you use that as an excuse. To give in to that means you've given up. And I won't let you give up: you have way too much to offer.


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