For six months, Rick Waxman of Omaha has made a full-time job out of seeking a full-time job — and there's one question he never hears.
“No one asks how old you are,” he said. “But I think it's kind of the elephant in the room.”
A former Air Force colonel who has held management jobs in civilian life since his military retirement two decades ago, Rick is now in his 60s. (He declined to give his exact age.)
At the end of 2012, he lost his job as a business-development director with a Bellevue company. A new vice president, he said, dismissed a number of staffers and brought in his own team.
Rick says he is healthy and energetic with “fire in my tummy,” eager to use his management skill and experience.
He not only is physically fit at 5-foot-9˝ and 170 pounds, he says, but also mentally fit. “I feel like I'm 27.”
Last fall, Rick and I met for the first time at a dinner of retired military officers. In April, he called me, not to seek an article but as part of his job-search networking. (He has accumulated 80 to 100 business cards from people he has sought out as contacts.)
We chatted, and he left me his résumé. What could I say other than good luck and I'll let you know if I hear of anything?
Last week, I called him to check in on his job search, and Rick told me he had come in second on one job.
At another company, he interviewed with a husband and wife — two hours with him, 90 minutes with her — and thought they were “really excited” about offering him a position.
He hasn't heard back.
He also interviewed with an information technology company. It was 3 p.m. on a “super-casual, not business casual” Friday, and employees wore shorts, flip-flops and T-shirts.
“I wore a jacket and tie,” he said. “When I walked in, I felt like a dinosaur.”
Rick is not in financial distress, he said, and he has basic health insurance as a military retiree. But he says a more comprehensive insurance plan through a job is part of his motivation.
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Mostly, he said, he just likes to work.
“I get my sense of self-worth out of my job,” he said. “Being excited about what I'm going to do when I get out of bed in the morning is really important to me.”
With people living longer, more and more are working later in life. Compared to 1990, the U.S. Census Bureau said in January, the percentage of workers over 65 has increased by a third, from 12 percent to 16 percent.
That doesn't mean that in trying to land a good job, age doesn't matter. The Urban Institute said in a 2012 report that many employers believe that older workers lack creativity and often are unwilling to learn new things.
“With some employers, there is a perception,” Rick said. “Perceptions may not be right, but they are real.”
Another common notion, he said, is that employers can hire a younger worker for half of what they would pay an experienced person. Though Rick doesn't want to undervalue himself, he said, compensation is negotiable.
“And I believe our generation has a better work ethic than some of the new Millennials,” he said. “We have faced a lot of challenges, so (on a new job) we wouldn't have a big learning curve.”
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Paula Wells, an Omaha engineer who has worked into her 70s, wrote in a letter of reference saying Rick is independent and self-directed, calling him “an energetic, experienced and knowledgeable leader and manager.”
I called Paul Cohen, a retired Air Force brigadier general and the administrator of the Omaha Douglas Building Commission, which oversees the City-County Building and Douglas County Courthouse.
“Rick is a hardworking, dedicated, very focused individual,” Paul told me. “He'd be a credit to any organization.”
Paul has administered the building commission for 13 years. Next month he turns 75.
“I love coming to work every day,” he said. “I love being involved in the action day to day.”
Richard Waxman, who was born in the Bronx and grew up in Yonkers, N.Y., feels the same way. He has worked since he was 14, when he swept, mopped, cleaned bathrooms and took out the garbage at a shoe store.
A business-degree graduate of New York University, he had top-secret clearance in the Air Force. He served in Korea and enjoyed the people he met in three stints at Offutt Air Force Base, which is why he decided to retire in Omaha. He and wife Marylyn live in the Millard area.
Yes, he colors his hair.
“It's just part of the persona— plus, I'm pretty vain,” he said with a smile. “I just don't see myself retired. I like to tell the funny story that I will die at 88 bending over to tie my shoes to go to work.
“I can definitely see myself working past 75. I need a challenge, and I need variety. And I don't think I'm unique.”