‘We don’t hire people like you’: what happens when you’re out of work and 50-something

It’s all very well starting a brand new career in your fifties if that’s what you wanted to do, but what if you lose your job having been quite happy with it, thank you very much?

“When you hit 50, they don’t hire you any more. It’s like they can smell 50,” said Steve Martin’s character in the 1999 film Bowfinger. And unfortunately, ageism does still exist at work. If you’re out of work at 50 you could struggle.

Steve Anderson is founder of recruitment consultancy Prime Candidate, which focuses on getting ‘older’ workers at all levels into work. He set up his business in 2015 after moving from London to Weston-super-Mare and finding it difficult to get a job, having thought that with his age and experience (he was just turning 50), it would not be a problem.

“I had all sorts of experiences, from local recruitment agencies saying ‘we don’t deal with people like you’ to situations where I was applying for work that very much suited my experience but at the first contact with an agency I was being screened by a young person… it was clearly a tickbox exercise and I’m convinced my age was an issue for them.”

Using connections

Anderson was lucky enough to have senior contacts, having been a commercial and operations director, so he found out who the hiring manager was and went to speak to them direct. He’s also one of a raft of ‘older’ entrepreneurs who are setting up businesses: figures suggest that entrepreneurs are more likely to be successful at 50-something than they are at 20-something.

People are embarrassed that they have lost their jobs and may not have told friends. But most jobs are found through networking and people that are close to you

But he wanted to help people find work at all levels, with roles currently on the Prime Candidate site including school catering assistants, business development roles and local government team leaders.

Prime Candidate is also a service provider for Jobcentre Plus, helping people back into work. The government jobs agency has come under the spotlight recently in Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake, featuring a Newcastle joiner who is unable to work due to ill health. Blake finds himself ineligible for ESA (employment and support allowance) benefits, so is obliged to look for work via a Jobcentre Plus, which is portrayed as a sometimes difficult and frustrating process.

“They are under pressure to perform like all government departments, to do more with less cost, and maybe outsource,” says Anderson. “They saw a great opportunity for us to help and support them for one of their vulnerable groups.”

What to do if you’ve lost your job

People often go through three stages, Anderson explains. “At first it’s the shock of being made redundant, so how do you react to that and what do you do about it. Then you’re a bit angry and you start doubting yourself, but then one has to accept the situation and get on with doing something about it.”

The first thing to do is not close yourself off from other people, and talk to your family and friends about it.

Employers include LGBT, gender and ethnicity in their diversity policies, and age is part of it. But a lot of organisations just haven’t tackled the age issue

“More often than not, people are embarrassed that they have lost their jobs and may not have told friends. But it’s still true today that most jobs are found through networking and people that are close to you. Just by [telling people means that] you can find new opportunities and get introduced to someone.”

What do you love?

Anderson suggests that if you are out of work, regardless of your background, you ask yourself two questions: what are you good at, and what do you like doing?

“Often, you get two different answers… if you start looking to blend the two ideas and look at how skills and experiences can be transferred, it opens up their minds to a wider job search.”

He advocates making sure achievements are listed on the first page of CVs, using action verbs such as negotiated, prepared or saved.

Once you are confident and knowledgeable of your skills and what you can offer, your interview performance will improve, says Anderson.

Employers’ role in recruiting a range of ages

Larger employers, which have diversity policies in place, often miss out age in their efforts to include people from a variety of backgrounds, says Anderson. “They include LGBT, gender and ethnicity, and age is part of it. But a lot of organisations just haven’t tackled the age issue.”

In 2014, former pensions minister and older workers’ champion Ros Altmann, encouraged employers to ‘retain, retrain and recruit‘ older workers, saying: “We need a new mindset: one that accepts that chronological age does not determine ability to work. Most people are still fit and well at much older ages than before.”

Businesses are beginning to understand that there is a potentially untapped group of people who are pre-retirement and keen and able to work, such as Barclays, whose apprenticeships now include those of all ages, and advertising agency SapientNitro, which has launched a ‘returnship‘.

Tips for getting a new job

John Lees, author of How to get a job you love, gives his tips for finding work.

  • Take stock in a constructive way.  “Don’t go near important decision-makers (including recruitment agencies) until you’ve got a fairly clear idea of what you’re looking for. The most difficult message is ‘life has been unfair to me’, because no-one can respond to that in a constructive way, and the second is ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do next’, because you’ll get sympathy, but not help.”
  • Make your age an advantage. “You still have a huge advantage because you have work experience and employable skills. But when you draw attention to their age, they draw attention to their lack of current awareness, and start to talk themselves out of job opportunities.”
  • Challenge the assumptions employers make about older workers. “You understand the assumptions employers make about older workers and you deliberately challenge those in the way you present your material. One assumption is that older workers have no interest in up-to-date technology and social media – that’s quite easy to challenge. Another is that you are looking for a quiet life. Although older workers believe the labour market is unkind to them, the people that find it hardest to get work are 16 to 24 year-olds.

What can I get with my pension retirement checker

I had wealth of skills at my fingertips and nobody wanted them

Tony lost his job as a learning specialist at a female prison in Stafford in 2014. He was 54. “I had a wealth of experience in adult learning, and I tried through the Jobcentre to find employment but I wasn’t very successful. Then I got a part-time job on a Saturday, working for Asda as a home shopping driver, but that meant I couldn’t claim some benefits.

“During the time I was unemployed I applied to in excess of 630 jobs, for a whole range of organisations. There was a wealth of skills I had at my fingertips and nobody wanted them. That’s the frustrating thing. You think ‘I would love to demonstrate to you that I can do this work’ but no opportunities were available.”

Hard to stay motivated

“It’s very demotivating when you don’t get a response, or the one you get is automatic. I invariably would try and chase those up: sometimes they’d say we’ve had too many applicants, we couldn’t go through them all. They just automatically denied you without even looking at your CV.

“Then via the Jobcentre I came across the Employment Plus team at The Salvation Army. I got a case worker and we went through in detail what I should be looking for and going through my CV. I was keen to get back into supporting adult learning in some form and went on a number of interviews.

“Then my daughter suggested I look at driving buses, so I thought I’d give it a shot, and I went into the process in February 2016 and I passed my test to be a driver for National Express today.

“My advice to other people is to look at the skills that you have. Those that you’ve trained up and qualified in may not be getting you where you want to be so think about the other skills and experiences gained throughout life. I took on voluntary work and that was one of the best things I ever did. I was working with Age UK as a volunteer tutor.

“Voluntary work means you can maintain some sort of civility with your partner, because being in the house all day really isn’t the best thing in the world, so you get out and meet other people. And you can put your life skills into place.

“Don’t give up.”

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  • Ageism needs legal enforcement behind it as otherwise hot air. If u find a field where they find it difficult to fill vacancies work is available but this does not make u feel valued. Society needs to change!!!

  • Been looking for a job about a year now have no previous job references as been bringing up family and caring for my mother in law for the past six years also .so on one will take me on .as no qualifications or employment history might as well give up …

  • I’m 60 and was made redundant at the end of November, I only want part time work and as I can’t drive needs to be on a bus route, I did go down to my local job centre and was treated like a second class person and made to feel like I had done something wrong, I have never claimed before and I ended up so upset that I left ……But I will keep looking for a job

  • At 54 I’ve been made redundant. I’m a woman which is another hurdle I think. I’ve had four interviews and in one was asked my age. Another phrase I heard twice was it’s a fast paced environment and another was young dynamics.
    I’m healthy and at an age where I have so much more patience with difficult clients and my brain certainly hasn’t started to dim yet but it is hard when you’ve never been out of work before. I’m starting to lose confidence. Unemployment has rocketed here due to the downturn in the oil and gas industry so I’m competing against huge opposition.

    • You’re not alone. I was made redundant from a responsible and demanding QHSE role in 2015 and am still searching. I’m well qualified, experienced and have never found it difficult to get work before. Like you I am very used to a fast paced environment and have no desire to slow down. But in this area it appears the only employment available to middle aged woman no matter what their skills is part time minimum wage work in the care or retail sector which scarcely covers the travel expense and makes little or no use of either skills or experience.

  • I’m sick of being out of work.ive met people younger than me that got all these citb cards whatever colour but they haven’t got a clue about the job.agency staff say you got great cv experience etc then ask silly question like what’s live demolition.silly people

  • I’m mid-fifties and actually help run a job club, Found the article by chance on FB and am going to print it out as most of our clients are over 50 and this is the kind of stuff we try and focus on, plus the organisation I work for is very much part of the Lifelong Learning initiative. Nice site, too and will definitely be back. Becoming 50 wasn’t bad, just wish I wasn’t approaching 60!

  • The prime candidate site looks a good idea until you try to register. It bounced every username I tried and the ” contact us ” page bounced every entry as “incomplete” despite filling in every part of it.

  • Very interesting read.Im about to put myself out there and look for a new position in the job market, currently I’m employed in a management position but I’m looking to relocate ,and hopefully change direction ,look for a new challenge.

  • Ive been out of work 2 yrs im 51 and this week bagged myself a job with a very big retail store i went in give it my all did tasks proved my worth im happy !!


Lucy Handley

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