The Big Picture

Portrait of older womanOver 45 is far from over the hill. Still, some employers may quietly view older workers as technologically challenged, skeptical of the unknown and expensive.

Of course, all of these attributes can be seen in younger workers as well, but they seem to be applied more often to workers beyond even 40 years old. Age discrimination is an issue that is growing louder as baby boomers move into their 50s and face obstacles they once thought were only reserved for their parents.

The AARP and RetirementJobs.com found in two studies in 2009 that 80 to 95 percent of respondents see "age bias as a fact of life." Even the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) can't deny the reality that some employers consciously or subconsciously avoid hiring older workers.

Bob Skladany, an online columnist for the AARP.org website, notes: "While the ADEA makes age-based discrimination in hiring, pay, benefits, training, advancement and termination illegal, many people over 50, and increasingly older than 40, believe that age bias still exists and affects them."

But don't get discouraged. The website G060.com says older workers get new jobs at an annual rate of 4.1 percent — double the rate of the general population — and account for 22 percent of the nation's job growth despite being only 10 percent of its workforce. By 2015 the number of employees 55 and older will nearly double to more than 31 million.

The best approach to finding a job at any age is to face it head on and make changes as needed. The proverb "you're only as old as you feel" is applicable in job hunting. You want to recapture the energy of your youth and mix it with the toughness and experience of age.

And you may want to adopt slightly different tactics from those used by younger workers in dealing with research, resumes and interviewing.

Research 

Applying everywhere probably isn't going to work, if it ever did. Whenever you're networking or speaking to friends, family and acquaintances, ask if they know anyone in a position to hire, or more specifically, any employers who prefer hiring older workers.

Networking is how most people find employment; older job seekers tend to know more people who have been working or are working than younger job seekers, which is a distinct advantage. In your community, it is likely that most companies care less about age and more about quality of work. Try to find out who they are and then begin making contacts.

There are several online resources available for older job seekers, in particular two sponsored by the AARP. One lists major national employers that abide by age-neutral policies and another lists employers recognized by the AARP for "exceptional practices" regarding older workers.

Both can be found at www.aarp.org. Job boards worth checking out include Retirementjobs.com, which lists jobs and offers "Age Friendly Certification" to employers that are open to hiring older workers.

Others include RetiredBrains.com, seniorjobbank.com, Jobs40.com, workforce50.com, yourencore.com, the AARP Message Board at Vault.com, Age Issues Message Board at Monster.com and Seniors4hire.org.

Resumes 

Older workers who have had many positions and years of work could obviously fill up many pages of a resume. The temptation is to showcase your entire career to make the point that no one else applying has been in the trenches as long as you. Avoid this strategy at all costs.

A resume is not a history. It's a tactical, "living" tool to showcase how your skills and accomplishments make you the top candidate for the position/occupation you're applying for today.

Older workers should limit and focus their experience depending on what they are applying for. If it's a managerial job, go back 15 years; a technical job, 10 years; and a high-tech job, three years. You might place older jobs into the "Other Experience" category or eliminate them altogether.

Write a "functional" or "combination" resume that de-emphasizes your career chronology and emphasizes skills and accomplishments. List your employment history beneath that.

You can cluster your skills under three or four headings/categories that you know are important to anyone working in the position you are applying for, such as leadership, teamwork, innovation, computer skills, communication skills, supervisory skills and so forth.

When writing your resume, it's OK to leave a few things out, especially irrelevant jobs you held in the distant past. List where you went to school and your degrees, not the years you received them. Emphasize your flexibility in the cover letter and on the resume. After all, you've spent "a few years" managing and adjusting to change.

Other key points to get across in the resume or cover letter:

  • Your desire for a long-term position
  • Your solid attendance history,
  • Your reliability and honesty
  • Your flexibility
  • Your ability to learn new skills
  • Your training and professional development courses and programs you have attended.

Computer skills are important in nearly all positions these days. Some employers may assume folks in mid-career lack these skills, so it's your job to dispel this myth early and clearly.

List your computer software and technology-related skills as close to the top of Page 1 of your resume as possible.

Go ahead and set up free LinkedIn, Twitter or other social media accounts and include these, along with your email address, in your contact information at the top of Page 1.

If your resume is several years old, there is a good chance it needs a new format. Update your template. Remember to save it as both a plain text file for uploading to websites and as a Word file for physical distribution through the mail, or as an attachment.

Show you're up to date. Make sure the words in your resume reflect terminology that is currently used in your field. If you're uncertain about current terminology, you could do some research by reading industry publications, checking out association websites and, if you're not a member, joining a professional group.

The whole focus of an older worker s resume should be on matching skills and accomplishments with the open position, not a recap of a long career.

Cover Letters 

Katherine Hansen, associate publisher of Quint Careers, says writing autobiographical letters that specify the number of years you have spent in a field can backfire. "Significant experience" works just as well.

Use a cover letter to accentuate your adaptability to new situations, your enthusiasm, your "willingness to learn," as well as your reputation as a proven talent and team player.

The AARP says cover letters should be as short as half a page and mention who referred you to the job (if this is the case), two or three accomplishments from your career that would make a good impression and your strong interest in the position. Be self-confident but not too boastful or too desperate, the organization suggests.

Interviews 

It's important to dress well and look sharp on the day of the interview.

As the questioning begins, always stress your skills and your experience. Stay away from starting any sentence with "When I was your age..." or "This is how we used to do that."

Tell the interviewer you have significant problem-solving experience and would be happy to share your expertise with others. Hone in on a few examples revealing your prowess in getting things done.

Prior to entering the interview you should have updated your skills if necessary. As noted above, if the job requires computer skills, understanding the Microsoft Office suite, email and any other relevant programs is very important.

If an application that you have not used comes up during the conversation, express solidly your willingness and eagerness to learn. Have one or two stories or examples in mind about how you were able to quickly master a new skill or task to solve an employer's problem.

The adage "show, don't tell" is worth revisiting during job interviews. People like stories, not just a dry recitation of facts from a long and fruitful career.

It is illegal for the interviewer to ask your age, unless you are interviewing for certain jobs such as an airline pilot. If you are asked about your age, the AARP suggests you respond by saying, "How do you see my age affecting my ability to do the job?" Do so in a polite, conservational, not-angry tone.

Finally, if you get the interview and you're speaking to a contemporary around your age, your comfort level will grow. But keep on guard in sharing too much about your career or your personal life. Stick to the topic at hand.

A former newspaper boss recounts an excellent job candidate who lapsed into stories about her divorce. The interviewer felt a bit unnerved by the episode and worried that the same things could happen when she dealt with sources and with staff. After all, the interview only lasted an hour and he knew her entire life story.

Interviewees should not reveal details about their personal lives and should stay away from sharing gossip about people in their industries, even though they may think they're speaking to a confidante. When you've been in business for decades and you interview with a colleague, getting too chummy could backfire.

Remember, how you come across in an interview reveals your attitude — and to many employers, your attitude is just as important as your job skills when making an employment decision. Stay positive. Don't come across as a know-it-all, but do communicate that you can add value immediately.

Another issue in interviews is, of course, wages and benefits. Just because you have 30 years of experience doesn't mean you will receive more pay than a younger candidate.

Case Studies 
Learn how Tom Bjorgum refashioned his resume to highlight his experience rather than his age. Read Tom's story.

Learn how an online portfolio — or efolio — helped Joseph Schufman find a new job after he was laid off at age 63. Read Joseph's story.

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