Older workers often subscribe to certain myths about themselves, and they may end up hiding their age or apologizing for it when they search for a job. Increasingly, too, the contrasts between people in their 50s and 60s and younger millennial workers have caused a strange kind of generational workplace clash. The truth is, the American workforce needs the input of both, and baby boomers have a vast assortment of strengths to recommend them.
While not all of these 20 strengths will be characteristic of every older worker, the assets here should give those with more experience plenty of great reasons to hold their heads high.
If you're an older worker, take note of your many selling points:
1. You understand recessions: Older workers have seen hard times before—the bursting of the 1990s tech bubble, recession in the early 1980s, the oil crisis of the mid-1970s—and they understand that businesses have to adjust. Knowing, too, that expansions always follow, older workers can bring a steady perspective to a jumpy workplace.
2. You have a healthy fear of slowdowns: Sure, you've seen them before. Older workers' steadiness can be accompanied by a fair dose of worry: You know that downturns can last for long periods of time, and you've witnessed the obliteration of job security, so you know that you need to be increasingly ready and willing to do what it takes to keep your job.
3. You're willing to work part time: Older workers most crave flexibility, according to a RetirementJobs.com survey. Many want to spend more of their time doing things they enjoy—traveling, perhaps, or playing with their grandkids—and they're often willing to accept a part-time schedule or reduced hours. As employers increasingly cut back on hours, a willingness to be flexible can make a job seeker more attractive to a greater variety of companies.
4. You have real-life experience: Today, employers need workers who can hit the ground running, and older workers have more real-world, less theoretical experience, says John Challenger of Challenger Gray & Christmas. "They've been there before and seen more situations," Challenger says.
5. You want to be challenged: Forget resting on your laurels—a Penn State study found that challenging work is the thing that older workers want most.
6. You know that tech savvy isn't everything: There will be younger workers with greater expertise in computer programs, social networking, and new tech trends—but you can sell yourself on the alternative. Businesses can't rely solely on tech savvy; they also need people with sales and leadership skills. You can provide support for the young tech talents.
7. You don't need constant feedback: Ron Alsop, author of The Trophy Kids Grow Up, reports that millennial workers may want weekly, or even daily, evaluations from their employers. Earlier in your career, you probably wanted lots of feedback, too. Today, you've got a pretty good handle on your value, and you're more confident in your abilities.
8. You're healthier: A recent study by employee assistance program provider ComPsych found that older workers— in their 50s or 60s—are likelier to have healthy diets, exercise regularly and have lower stress levels than workers in their 30s.
9. You can manage yourself: A recent study by TalentSmart, a provider of psychological assessments, found that self-management skills seem to increase with age. TalentSmart said that "60-year-olds scored higher than 50-year-olds, who scored higher than 40-year-olds, and so on."
10. You're able to control your emotions: The same TalentSmart study found that when it comes to managing emotions, "baby boomers reign supreme." Other studies show older workers have low levels of work-related stress. A cool head and calm demeanor can make a major difference in workplace dynamics during hard times.
11. Your network is bigger: All those years of networking groups and Chamber of Commerce meetings haven't been for nothing. You've got deep reserves of friends, colleagues, and contacts in the community. That's an asset to an employer who's trying to get out of a sales rut. It's also helpful to a hiring manager who wants to check out your reputation.
Corrected on 12/03/08: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the year a Louisiana State University professor's study was released. It was released in 2005.