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The question

I'm 55 years old (though I'm told I look 10 years younger) and I've worked in what loosely might be called the media and communications industry for the past 20 odd years in a field – adventure travel/sports and tourism – that prizes youth and risk-taking above pretty much anything else. I've been a freelance magazine writer, editor, co-owner of a magazine and several years ago crossed over to the "dark side" of corporate communications and public relations. About 15 of those 20 years have been in self-employment (sole proprietorship), while I have had some full-time work.

I've really hit the wall. Most of the jobs available are in the social media space (the new magic bullet for marketers) and I've immersed myself in it, but realistically, an HR person is not going to think that anyone who is 55 has anything to offer on the social media front. However, traditional media and public relations aren't doing so hot. Sadly, though, it's pretty much all I know how to do. I'm working my networks and get the odd bite, but applying for jobs on job boards is an exercise in frustration. What advice can you provide to older workers who need to reboot their careers?

The answer

I hear your frustration and your concern about possible ageism. On the positive side, you have excellent experience in running your own business in the media and communications industry. You have also immersed yourself in the new social media.

Shift your attitude and perspective. Change your thinking around "who is going to hire a 55 year old on the social media front" to "the social media front needs someone like you with your years of experience in writing, editing and PR." You don't want your mind set of doubting that a 55 year old can be hired in the social media industry to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Take stock of your experience, talents, strengths, and interests. You have a wealth of experience in media and communications that will be valuable for others. Consider ways that you can share this with others, such as teaching courses in colleges, universities and continuing education programs.

You can also continue to apply your various skills and talents on short-term and consulting assignments. To increase your visibility online, consider adding a blog to your website as well as links to various social network sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Expand your focus regarding full-time or part-time employment or consulting engagements in areas other than the private sector such as government agencies, Crown corporations, non-profit agencies and family-run businesses, to name a few. All these organizations need help and support with media, social networking and PR.

Get out and meet people in person through informational meetings, trade shows, business and professional association meetings. Develop those personal contacts and networks that will lead to a job, consulting or teaching work. Don't get stuck just using social networking and professional job sites online to line up work. Get out from behind the screen and meet likely contacts in person. Join your local chamber of commerce, business networking groups, professional women's groups and media networking groups.

Employers and businesses are looking for dynamic, progressive thinking, creative, confident, media savvy and decisive individuals. You say that people think you look 10 years younger, so make sure that you act at least 10 years younger. Be open, curious, ready to take on new challenges (as you have shown by learning all about social media and networking), and confident.

Remember to ask for the business and to tell prospective employers or contractors why you are the right person for the job or task. Tell them what distinguishes you from your younger competitors – your experience, your wisdom and your attitude. Picture yourself easily surmounting the work wall, not being stopped by it.

Bruce Sandy is principal of and Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting.

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