In late 1995, Herb voluntarily resigned his position as a systems integrator for a com- puter company. "I thought I could quickly find another job after some time off," says Herb, whose 26-year work history includes stints at several Fortune 500 giants.
Five hundred paper and 250 electronic resumes later, Herb is still looking.
"It's got to be age bias," says the 52-year-old. "What else could it be?"
Although age discrimination is illegal by law -- and although companies today face an exploding demand for information technology workers -- some hiring managers are rejecting workers with a few wrinkles, such as Herb.
"These guys think anyone over 35 is over the hill," says Bill Payson, who runs Senior Staff 2000 which places mostly retired workers as IT contractors solving year 2000 problems.
Based on firsthand knowledge, Payson says age bias is pervasive. The reason: the new corporate managers are intimidated by prospects twice their age.
"A 25-year-old doesn't know how to size up someone of his parents' generation," Payson says.
Payson says that the last recession drummed out millions of workers aged 40 and older because they commanded higher salaries as well as pensions and benefits. Now, many cannot find jobs because they do not have training in such critical programming areas as Java and Windows NT.
Nonetheless, the bias is vexing given the information technology labour crunch. A variety of studies estimate the need for IT workers will increase dramatically over the next seven years.
To be sure, workers young and old will fill many of these openings. But mature workers will have to rethink their strategies before mailing resumes. First and foremost, they must be prepared to encounter bias during the interview process. It can be overcome with a little preparation and a positive attitude.
Talk the talk
For example, Payson will advise workers older than age 40 to brush up on their training and be familiar with what is au courant in the workplace.
"They've got to talk the lingo, know the language," Payson says.
He says smaller companies, especially start-ups, are good places for older workers because they are short on experienced staff.
Jack Erdlen, president of human resources consulting company Strategic Outsourcing, says older workers should not bypass part-time and contract work: these assignments can lead to full-time positions. It's also important to demonstrate enthusiasm and a willingness to work hard.
"Don't be negative," Erdlen said.
Meanwhile, one organisation is trying to help workers aged 55 years and older break into IT work. Green Thumb, a nonprofit seniors group based in the US, has been given a $US250,000 grant by the US Federal Government to train older workers to become systems administrators and analysts. Green Thumb will launch pilot programs in the US this year, before expanding to other cities.
Microsoft will provide the software used for the training.
"We want them to go right out and get a job," says representative Alice Ann Toole.
Back to Herb, who has been a bit creative in his extended job hunt. He has posted his own Web page, which links sites devoted to year 2000 issues. And he is optimistic that his two-year jobless stint is about to end. He has had three interviews with a major data-processing company and believes an offer could be forthcoming.
But it has been a tough lesson. In years past, experience like his counted for everything, Herb says. Now he believes it does not.
"That's been a big blow," Herb says.