Job Search Strategies for Older Workers

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I'm always a little surprised at how young can be considered old by employers. In some industries, especially high-tech, even mid-thirties can be considered old. In fact, I spoke to one computer programmer who described the workers in his office who were over thirty as “old.” Unfortunately for older job seekers, the older you are, the longer it can take to get a job and the harder it can be to get hired.

What can you do to address age discrimination and promote your candidacy for employment? There are strategies older job seekers can implement to help expedite a job search and to find gainful, and meaningful, employment. 

Stand Out in the Job Market

Despite all the skills and experience that you bring to the table, you will still need to convince employers that you are the right person for the job. However, you also have a number of qualities that make you very hirable. Here are some tips for standing out in this competitive job market:

Emphasize your experience. Older job seekers have so much experience they can draw on. If they have been previously employed, they have decades of work experience. This work history is something younger workers simply do not have. Highlight your years of experience in your job materials and interviews.

Highlight your skills. Make a list of all of the skills you have developed, both in the workplace and outside of work. Then, look at job listings in the fields you want. Circle any skills on your own list that fit the requirements of the job. Pay particular attention to the transferable skills you have (such as communication or managerial skills) that will be useful in almost any job. Also think about skills and qualities you have as a result of your years of experience.

Whether or not you have been in the labor force recently, you likely have qualities gained from experience that employers will want. For example, studies have shown that employees over 50 are particularly reliable, detail-oriented, and patient. They also have strong leadership skills.

Consider developing new skills. Think about any skills that will be necessary for the job, but that you either lack or have not used in a while. Take some time to develop these skills. For example, if many jobs in your field now require some experience with coding, consider taking a class. There are many free classes online for various skills, particularly in technology. 

Network. Even though you likely already have a number of contacts in your field, you can always make more. Consider joining (or rejoining) a professional association in your field. Revamp your LinkedIn profile. Send a letter to your friends and family and let them know about your job search. Networking is an ideal way to make connections that could lead to a job.

Follow your passion. Especially if you are beginning a second career, try to find a job that allows you to fulfill a lifelong passion. Perhaps you have always wanted to work with kids – if so, then search for a job as a teacher.

Maybe you have always had a woodworking hobby – consider a job as a furniture finisher. Think carefully about what you want to do with this period of your life, and follow your passion!

Age-Proof Your Resume and Cover Letter

One way to overcome the perception that your age is an issue is to age-proof and edit your resume. Limiting what you include on your resume, from a chronological perspective, can help job seekers avoid the stigma of being considered "too old" by a prospective employer. Make sure your references to job skills and accomplishments use contemporary vocabulary. For example, you should use the term “formatted documents” rather than “typed documents.”

Your cover letter is critical, as well. Review these cover letter tips for older job seekers to learn what to include in your cover letter, how to showcase your skills, and how to effectively market your candidacy to employers.

When writing your resume and your cover letters, there's no need to mention every job you've ever had. Include only the most recent positions and, if you attended college, don't list your graduation dates.

Update Your Professional Image

You can strategically write your resume and cover letter, but you can't change the basic facts - your actual age and your employment history are etched in stone. However, there are ways you can work on your appearance when you are job searching. And that can make a significant difference when you're interviewing. Here's how to update your job search image.

Ace a Job Interview

Even though employers can't legally ask you directly about your age, they sometimes ask questions during a job interview to try to determine how old you are. Here are some age-related interview questions and advice on how to respond. Anticipate these questions and have non-defensive, upbeat answers. Review tips and advice for successful interviewing for older seekers, including how to make experience an asset, what to wear, how to address age issues, and how to stay positive at a time when interviewing can be especially challenging.

Consider a Career Change

It can be easier than you might think to change careers. Here's advice on how to successfully implement a mid-life ​career change. Also consider “try before you buy” contract work in order to reduce the risk of hiring you for the employer.

Get Job Search Help

If you're struggling with your job search, consider seeking assistance. There are no-cost programs provided by OneStop Career Centers, non-profit groups, and local libraries, for example, that can assist. Also, seek out employers who advertise the fact that they value life experience in their hiring strategies. Some companies candidly do not value older workers, but many others do.

Don't Give Up

Keep in mind that it's not just you who is having a challenging job search. The Federal Reserve reports that most of the increase in employment since 2000 (approximately 17 million jobs) has been among workers aged 55 and older. In 2017, 39% of people 55 and over were working, compared to 31% in 2000. The increase is due to the aging of the baby boomer generation and isn't expected to last. However, workers 55 and over are expected to be almost 24% of the workforce through 2027.

Job searching typically isn't always easy, regardless of how old you are. If you think age is hindering your job search, there are strategies you can use to address the situation. So, don't give up. It might take a while to find a job, but there are employers who understand the value of an older worker with maturity, life experience, and skills.