Work Strategies: Networking as an Older Worker

Amy Lindgren

Are you one of those 60- or 70-year-old workers who has stayed with the same job or company for a decade or two? If so, take a moment to look around: what do you see? Or more precisely, who do you see? Chances are you’ll see a lot of younger faces.

There’s nothing like being last in your cohort to make you feel like you’ve overstayed your welcome. One by one, your longtime colleagues have moved on, perhaps retired or moved to other states.

You may keep in touch on social media, but take a closer look at these posts: anything about work there? Hmm. Updates at this stage are more likely to be personal than professional.

And my point is? You’ll be in trouble if you haven’t built new networks to replace the ones that evaporated with the last few retirements. Otherwise, who will you call when there are layoffs or you need advice on a work issue?

For late bloomers and others who want to continue working into old age—including those whose finances demand it—the professional relationship can be a fraught exercise. It’s not always easy to build casual but professional relationships with co-workers half your age, especially if they have the wrong idea that you’re past the career-building stage.

Not that he’s wrong. It could be true that you are no longer looking for promotions or greater responsibilities than you currently have. But that’s not the same as not wanting to grow in the job or land well elsewhere if this company goes under.

If you’ve never been a networker, I probably won’t convince you to start now. But if you want to keep up with what’s happening while keeping the door open for other opportunities, the following tips can help.

Don’t be old. Despite the theme of this column, age is not a very good basis for choosing networking contacts. Staying open to the gifts and insights you see in others will help you avoid using age as a mental yardstick.

Don’t let others be old. On the other hand, just because you’re open-minded doesn’t mean others are. If you feel you are being treated like an AARP mascot, feel free to connect elsewhere.

Choose the environment. Social media can be a great networking tool if used that way. LinkedIn is usually considered more viable for professional purposes, but many good connections are cultivated on Facebook and other platforms.

If you are not comfortable with social media, there will be other tools and processes. Personal or broadcast emails are another thing when you want to share news or keep up with others. Texts and phone calls are also tried and true.

Cast a wide net. If your cohort is dying out (sadly, perhaps literally), you need a wider pool of potential contacts. Fortunately, it’s now relatively easy to connect with people from different companies, different states, and even different countries—not to mention different levels of the company you’re at.

Join something work-related. A working committee can be a good start; also, workplace social groups can provide relaxed access to others through activities such as a book group or bowling teams (which seem to be making a comeback, thankfully).

If your workplace doesn’t have good options, look further by joining a professional or business group related to the work you do.

Take a training session. This one is tricky – if you take the course online, you won’t have much of a chance to network. Instead, attend an in-person session so you can talk to others during breaks or after class to start networking.

Go to a conference. Conferences are the gold standard when it comes to building connections. By sitting next to others at tables and observing those with similar interests or work problems during sessions, you can quickly develop the foundation for an ongoing relationship.

Be intentional but casual. One of the secrets of networking is to keep relationships alive (that’s the intentional part) without being too intense (occasionally). Simply sending a note every now and then is a really good start and something to lean on if you ever need help with anything.

By now you’ve probably noticed that most of these tips have nothing to do with age. Right. Networks are not age-limited, but that does not mean that networks themselves are not self-limiting in this way. It’s something you can control, even if it means crossing the generational divide as you find new people to connect with.

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