CEO offers tips to older workers looking to get back, stay in the game

Nancy A Shenker
Nancy A Shenker (Shelley Franklin / Franklin Photography)

By Nicole Raz

Nancy A Shenker left her busy city life in Manhattan three years ago to begin her next chapter in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“I described it as ‘pre-tirement,’” joked Shenker, 65. “ I was just trying it on for size.”

But after a couple of years, Shenker got bored.

“There’s only so many hikes and trips I can take and I was like, ‘I’m ready to be intellectually challenged again.’”

Shenker, founder and CEO of theONswitch marketing strategy company, quickly ramped up her business in 2017. She intends to keep working for a long time. “I love what I do.”

Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows more adults 65 and older left the labor force in 2020 than in any year since 1948, when the United States began tracking that information.

But Shenker has tips for if and when they want to return.

“Keep the faith, keep your skills fresh. Think of all the things that you have done in your life that required you to fight and pivot and be resilient,” she said.

She encourages older workers to think about what they love to do, what they’re good at and which company — or what kind of employer — might want to take advantage of those gifts.

Unfortunately, ageism is a challenge for older workers, but Shenker offers guidance with that as well.

Nearly 80% of workers aged 40 to 65 have experienced age discrimination in the workplace, according to a May survey from AARP, which advocates for older Americans.

“Sometimes it’s very passive — like a lot of forms of discrimination — where you get excluded from the happy hour,” she said.

Other times, it is more overt, like in the hiring process.

Shenker has had company representatives tell her that they prefer to hire younger workers because they are easier to train.

But she pointed to research showing that’s not necessarily the case. Two-thirds of older workers are interested in additional job and skills training, according to a study by AARP published in May, and 94% are willing to learn new skills if requested by a current or potential employer.

There are things individuals can do to help combat ageism, Shenker said.

“We need to stop being ashamed of our ages,” she said. “People have said to me, ‘Don’t tell people how old you are.’ Why? That is the way to battle ageism.”

According to research from WerkLabs, the data and insights division of The Mom Project, due to the prevalence of ageism, 95% of survey participants who reported experiencing it admitted to having consciously tried to physically conceal or mask the appearance of their age in interviews.

Shenker said in some ways remote work, and a remote interviewing process, has benefited older workers.

“You’re not sitting in an interview across the desk with somebody, and they’re evaluating your weight and your clothing style and your wrinkles,” she said, noting she hopes remote work has reminded employers that “it doesn’t really matter what you look like as long as you can do the job.”

Shenker also said older adults need to push back against hiring managers who might use euphemisms like “overqualified,” without even asking how much money a candidate would be willing to accept for a job.

“I had that experience once where she said, ‘Oh, you’re overqualified and I think you’ll be bored.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t think I’ll be bored. I think I would really like this job, so let’s take that off the table.’”

Shenker encourages older adults to “ask the tough questions” when this kind of thing comes up in an interview: Can you give me more insight as to why I am not qualified? Or, why do you think I am overqualified?

And, after a rejection, ask: Why didn’t you hire me for this job?

Despite the challenges facing older workers, Shenker said employers are realizing that “youth does not necessarily represent innovation.”

A 2019 study by the Center for Retirement Research found employers see older workers as more costly than younger workers, but also as “equally” or “more” productive than younger workers.

And, as hiring managers themselves age, they are likely to be more receptive to older workers.

“You have to look at people as individuals, and not as races, or genders or birth dates,” Shenker said, emphasizing federal protections of older workers are long overdue.

Nicole Raz is a writer for the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix, an affiliated publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

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