How Women Can Avoid the 'Gray Ceiling' at Work

Be proud of your achievements, maturity, wisdom and real-world experience that can only come from age. Instead of shying away from it, use it to your advantage: "I have 20 years of experience in this industry. I'd love to apply that insight to solving problems and creating successes for this company."

"Many older women tell me that at this stage in their careers their children are grown, they're more patient with clients and colleagues, they're less concerned with office gossip and politics, and they're not necessarily looking to climb the ladder," Johnson says. "Sounds like the ideal candidate to me!"

Anticipate industry-specific opposition. In fields such as law and accounting, many recruiters look for high potential candidates for the partner track. This can often work against older candidates. For example, a woman might have solid professional experience at a prestigious law firm, but she's never made partner. There's an immediate inclination on behalf of a recruiter to assume that something must be wrong with her. If you fall into this category, be proactive about explaining that you never aspired to become a partner. In fact, you've been perfectly content -- and successful -- being an associate who has always put in an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.

Consider consulting work and small businesses. Most job seekers, regardless of age, apply for positions based on what's advertised online or in their Sunday paper. Think beyond that basic model. Instead of applying online for full-time jobs where there's clearly going to be enormous competition, offer yourself up as a consultant to companies of all sizes, especially small businesses -- even those outside of your most recent industry.

Small businesses routinely hire consultants to work on projects where they can take advantage of their expertise, but could not have afforded them on a full-time basis. The challenge with finding these opportunities is that they're rarely advertised -- they're filled through word of mouth and networking. In some cities, you can touch base with the local Small Business Association office in your area to find out about new businesses that are starting that could benefit from your expertise and experience -- whether it's setting up an office or managing all of the marketing.

Networking is still the best method for finding fresh job leads. No matter how long you've been searching, don't hide in shame that you're still unemployed. Be positive and visible -- connecting with other people is your best source of landing an offer.

On Wednesday, June 8, 2005, Women For Hire will hold the first-ever Moms and Mature Employees Career Expo in New York. For details on this event, as well as additional advice from Johnson, visit www.womenforhire.com.

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