Looking for employment when you are over 50 years of age can be a humbling experience. Although you have amassed a lifetime of knowledge in your profession, it can feel like you have two strikes against you.
Age bias is something very difficult to prove, and focusing on it can be extremely counterproductive – therefore, rather than becoming angry or depressed, take the proactive route and do something about it. With a few changes to your approach, resume, social media presence, and self-image, you can make yourself the front-runner, even among younger candidates.
1. Update Your Skills
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” You might have heard this and dismissed it with a chuckle, but this is an attitude (and a misconception) you may need to confront or address. Updating your skills can keep you at the top of your game, and also show potential employers your willingness to learn new things. Here are several ways to go about doing this.
Taking classes can advance your knowledge and help you to establish yourself as an expert in your field. With all the options available, it has become easier than ever to do.
Community colleges offer a good way to pursue a degree or certification regardless of previous academic experience. If your schedule conflicts with class hours, many institutions offer continuing education programs, with the classes taking place at night. Take a look at the useful community college finder at the American Association of Community Colleges.
Taking online classes is another option, as many major colleges and universities offer multiple courses, and even the option to earn a degree via the Internet. For-profit schools, such as University of Phoenix and Kaplan University, offer online courses as well, as do massive open online courses (MOOCs), a source of free or low-cost education in a wide range of subjects. However, if your goal is to obtain a certificate or degree of some kind, make sure the courses you take will count as credit toward what you eventually want to achieve, and that the institution you take it through is accredited.
Update Certifications & Licenses
While you may not see the need to re-certify yourself because of your experience in your profession, it may still be helpful. Employers want to hire people who are as up-to-date as possible. For example, even if you have been working with the latest versions of Microsoft Word and Excel since they hit the market, an employer may still choose someone with the latest Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification over you.
Many licenses and certifications are easy to upgrade, as often, no more than a single test is required as long as you possess previous certification or license. With minimal effort, you can upgrade your credentials and show potential employers your desire to stay on top of the new developments in your career.
2. Update Your Old Resume
The mechanics of the modern resume have changed somewhat in the last several decades. The biggest changes are due to the lack of time on the part of the reader, which has resulted in shortened resumes with information presented in a more succinct manner. Therefore, if you have not sent out a resume recently, it may be time to modernize it.
Modernizing Your Resume
Although the details of an effective, modern resume can vary from person to person, the basics are fairly straightforward:
- Length. Keep it as short as possible, no more than one or two pages. Employers receive and skim hundreds of resumes, so the easier you make it for them to quickly get to the important information, the more likely your resume will make the final cut.
- Style. Use common fonts like Times New Roman, and do not use colors. Also, avoid using graphics or images. Unless you are applying for a position where arts skills are valued (such as a graphic artist), stick to a conservative style.
- Bullet Points. Avoid long paragraphs by organizing your information in bullet points whenever possible. Again, this helps the employer quickly scan for relevant information.
- White Space. Be sure to leave spaces between blocks of text, and format your resume evenly. This gives it the look of a professional document and makes it easier on the employer’s eyes.
Many professional resume samples are available online. For example, Monster.com features information on making a pleasing, modern resume.
Making Your Resume Age-Neutral
You do not want your resume to be passed over because the employer has a stereotypical view of mature employees. Making your resume age-neutral can ensure that you are not disqualified by misconceptions before the interview has even taken place.
- Do Not Include Dates of Milestones. Remove your date of birth if you have not already done so. Also, take out any dates that signify milestones unless completed in the last 10 years. Your graduation date or the date you received a professional certificate can be a tip-off as to your age.
- Eliminate Older Work Experience. You cannot remove the dates from your individual job entries, but there is something you can do to draw the attention away from your age: Focus on the positions you have held in the last 10 years only, eliminating positions you have held at earlier dates. If some of your earlier jobs are crucial to what you will be applying for, include them in as skills in your “summary” section, where a date is not necessary.
- Don’t Give Too Much Information. Be selective with what you include in your resume, especially regarding clues that might hint at your age. For example, dated words no longer frequently used in your profession are a dead giveaway.
As a final step, reread your resume with an employer’s eye, scrutinizing everything you have written, not just the dates. Make sure there is nothing that will hint at your age, giving the employer a chance to pass on you without even meeting for an interview.
Also, to get maximum exposure, post your resume online. With job sites such as Monster.com, Indeed, CareerBuilder, and even Craigslist, you can post your resume for free and make it searchable so that recruiters and employers can find you based on your skills.
3. Rehearse for the Interview
Rehearsing for your interview can help you more smoothly and confidently answer questions. If your answers are peppered with pauses or delays, it could make you sound like you have something to hide.
How to Rehearse
Although you cannot anticipate every question you may be asked, you can guess at many topics your interviewer will touch upon. Why did you leave your last job? How do you see yourself fitting in with our company? What relevant contributions have you made in previous organizations you have worked for? You may be surprised at how many questions stay the same from interview to interview.
Writing down questions to help you practice can work wonders – just don’t write down the answers, so you can learn to respond without memorizing or sounding canned. Have a friend or family member help by asking the questions in a random order. While practicing, aim to answer questions with confidence and conviction, while maintaining a friendly, forthright demeanor.
Anticipating Age-Related Questions
You can prepare for answering age-related questions by highlighting how your experience and wisdom would be an asset to the organization. Focus on the expertise and skills you have acquired over the years, rather than merely listing the positions you have held.
Additionally, focus on your past experiences that demonstrate your ability to be a team player, to quickly learn and adapt to new situations, and to aggressively meet challenges head-on. These are key selling points designed to alleviate the employer’s fears of mature candidates.
4. Use Social Media
Social media is a constantly evolving phenomenon that has become an indispensable tool for the job seeker. It can play a major part in securing employment for people above 50 by putting them in contact with recruiters and human resources professionals – and if used right, social media can also effectively break down age-related barriers.
How Social Media Is Used in the Job Market
According to the Social Recruiting Survey put out by Jobvite, 92% of recruiters use social media in their recruiting process. A social media site is a good source to make preliminary evaluations on character, skill-set, experience, and temperament even before contacting potential candidates.
In the Jobvite survey, the top three social media platforms used by recruiters were LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Each of these are classified as social media sites, but with some interesting variations:
- LinkedIn is the winner with an impressive 87% of recruiters using it in their recruiting process – no surprise, as LinkedIn is geared toward careers and professional networking. According to Social Media Today, 77% of all jobs are posted on LinkedIn.
- Facebook is second on the list, with 55% of recruiters making use of it. With an impressive 1.59 billion monthly active users as stated by Statista, Facebook is not only a good way to keep in touch with family and friends, it is an indispensable tool for candidate recruiting.
- Twitter is a close third, and is popular with 47% of recruiters. Twitter is known as a microblogging site since text posts can only be 140 characters in length.
Even though the statistics in the surveys above focus on recruiters, you can be sure that employers have begun to use social media to vet their candidates as well. 52% of all employers use social media to screen potential employees, as stated in a survey by CareerBuilder. This is a substantially lower percentage than recruiters, but still a fairly large number.
The reason less employers use this technique in their hiring practices is because of legal issues. As of January 2016, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 23 states (plus Guam) have enacted legislation prohibiting employers from requesting access to the social media accounts of applicants and employees.
Joining a Social Media Platform
Joining a social media site is easy and quick. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are free, though LinkedIn does offer options for paid subscriptions with added functionality. The job seeker premium plan starts at $29.99 per month and includes extras like a visually enhanced profile to help you get noticed, a full 90-day list of everybody who has viewed your profile, and a set of useful analytics, such as how you stack up against other applicants.
Generally, you can sign up for an account with most social media sites within 20 minutes. However, that’s not to say you should start uploading images and posting your thoughts right away.
There are three things you should pay special attention to before you dive in, especially if you want to establish yourself career-wise:
- Review Your Account’s Privacy Settings. Maybe you don’t want everybody to see everything you post, or perhaps you don’t want to receive emails from your contacts. Browse through your account settings and confirm your preferences, especially those concerning personal data.
- Create a Sharp Profile. Since it is almost guaranteed that recruiters and employers will look at your profile, you have to painstakingly create one that showcases your skills, lists your work experience, and presents you as a professional in your line of work. Your polished profile should be in place before you send out your first invitation to connect with anyone.
- Build Your Social Network. Before you can interact on any social media site, you need to have a social network. Each platform has a different name for them. LinkedIn calls them “connections,” Facebook calls them “friends,” Twitter calls them “followers.” Your social network should be put together selectively and with an eye toward creating relationships with members having the same goals as you.
Remember to treat your social media presence like a work in progress – it can take a while to build up the amount of connections you desire. Keep in mind the accepted protocols of the social media platform you are on, confidently engaging in thought-provoking or amusing discussions. Before you start to post, watch and learn from popular members that always seem to take a leading role.
Your Life on Display
According to another CareerBuilder survey, 51% of employers researching job candidates on social media found information that caused them not to hire the candidate. Inappropriate photographs, information on drinking or using drugs, and bad-mouthing previous employers are some of the most common reasons candidates have been disqualified.
The topic of online privacy is a big issue these days. You want to be able to freely post what you think, but you do not want to be disqualified from a job simply because the employer holds different views. In response to this problem, some people create two separate profiles on the same social media site.
For example, some people have one Facebook account that is reserved for close friends, and then a completely different “professional” Facebook account reserved for public posts. Facebook frowns on this practice, and may close down these accounts if they are discovered. However, some people can get around this by using separate email addresses for each account. Facebook aficionados stress the fact that the same effect can be achieved with one account if handled correctly.
One way to do this is to separate your friends into different groups. When posting a message, a drop-down menu lets you specify whether all your friends or only a certain group can view the post. By using this feature, you can always be sure only your closest group of friends sees your most personal thoughts.
5. Create a Professional Network
In the past, the size and scope of the hidden job market was not very clear. It has always been very difficult to gauge exactly how employers fill open positions. Many written articles state that 80% of all jobs are filled without ever being advertised.
A report by CareerXroads takes a closer look. The most important findings from this report are that 41% of employers fill open positions from current employees, and about 20% of employers fill open positions via employee referrals. That’s less than 80%, but still an extremely significant number. Considering these statistics, cultivating an effective professional network is a good way to tap into the hidden job market. You may be surprised at how easy it can be to set up your own network of contacts.
Leverage Friends Into a Professional Network
The easiest way to start creating a professional network is to identify the people with whom you have an existing relationship. Good candidates include family, friends, past and present coworkers, previous employers, neighbors, old professors, and college friends. You may be surprised at the job leads you can get just by chatting with a neighbor. These acquaintances can be a goldmine for finding work.
There are a number of ways to keep track of and leverage your professional network. Keep a list of names on an old-fashioned Rolodex, or simply add contacts to your Facebook friends list. Ask questions, listen, and let people know about your job search – this is key to obtaining information that can turn into a job lead.
There are many different ways you can grow your existing network. Social media sites, trade shows, conferences, and online bulletin boards (like the forums at Indeed.com) are good places to make connections by joining conversations with people in your area of expertise.
6. Create a New Self-Image
The importance of creating a new self-image is not just about physical appearance – it is about changing your inner-self and supercharging your personal attitude. Upgrading key parts of your self-image can have a definite impact on your employment prospects.
Improve Your Health
We all know the virtues of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Physical activity, eating right, and getting enough sleep is paramount to physical and mental health, especially in middle age and beyond.
However, many people seem to discount the importance it can have when meeting a potential employer. During the interview, would you rather look like a tired, lethargic senior, or a vital, clear-eyed, mature candidate who looks sharp enough to take over the position that same afternoon?
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not as difficult as you might think. It can be as easy as taking a walk each day, making smart choices at the grocery store, and eating more vegetables. And if you feel you would like to shed a few pounds, you might want to join a local gym – just be sure to check with your doctor first.
Work on Your Outward Appearance
As with your health, changing your appearance can have a direct impact on your self-image by boosting your confidence, contributing to a positive attitude, and raising your self-esteem level. Pay attention to all the details: shine your shoes, ensure that your clothes are ironed, trim your nails, and style your hair. Also, be sure to have at least two sets of interview clothes in case you are scheduled for back-to-back interviews.
You may also want to consider a more drastic change, such as dyeing your hair. For some people, just a touch-up that leaves some gray hair behind is not a bad option for producing a more natural look. To remove facial wrinkles, injectable cosmetic fillers can do the trick. These are soft tissue fillers that smooth and soften facial features when injected into the skin. Keep in mind that this must be done by a plastic surgeon, making it something that should be carefully considered before acting upon. Please consult your family doctor to get all the facts on risks, side effects, and safety before undertaking such a procedure.
It may not be fair, but age bias exists. Projecting a positive attitude and alleviating any fears or questions the employer may have about hiring a mature worker should be your goal. By making minor modifications in yourself and your job search techniques, you can achieve an edge and compete successfully in an increasingly difficult and demanding job market.
What additional tips can you suggest for folks over 50 who are searching for work?