Fighting Ageism
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24 Job-Hunting Tips for Workers Over 50

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Fighting Ageism
RgStudio/istockphoto

Fighting Ageism

Searching for a job after 50 can be daunting, particularly if you're looking for the first time in years — even decades — and the limitations of a pandemic don't help. But older job seekers who want to stay in the workforce but are unsure of how to navigate today's job market can still stay in (or just get into) the game with some tips and strategies to make the best possible impression with employers. 


Related: How to Deal with Age Discrimination at Work

I Have a Ton of Work Experience
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Make Your Resume Ageless

Give your resume a reboot and take away reasons for employers to dismiss you based on your age — or an outdated resume. Recruiters scan resumes in 20 to 30 seconds, so use traditional fonts such as Times New Roman and condense yours to two pages. Focus on relevant work experiences and awards from the past 10 years, matching your resume skills with the skills an employer is seeking in the job posting. Create different resumes for different job opportunities. Remove key age indicators such as college graduation dates. Pair your resume with a solid cover letter using these cover letter tips for older job seekers — and, of course, remember to proofread everything.


Related: 15 Best Work-From-Home Jobs for Retirees

Gmail
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Establish a Digital Presence

Don't make the mistake of lacking a digital presence. In today's job market, most recruiters are using LinkedIn and other online tools to find talent, so you shouldn't be invisible online if you're serious about job hunting. It's also the perfect place to build a network and brand yourself. Avoid using dated email accounts such as AOL and Yahoo, and set up a professional email address with Gmail or Outlook with your name instead. Build or revamp your LinkedIn profile, and don't be afraid to ask a younger family member or friend for help.


"Being able to communicate electronically is key. If you want to be found, you need to play the game. That means a keyword-enabled LinkedIn profile and having the right job titles in your profile. Once you understand how recruiters in your industry search — and every industry does it differently — adapt to that," says Marc Miller, author of "Repurpose Your Career: A Practical Guide for the Second Half of Life."


Related: The Top Job Search Sites — and Who Should Use Them

LinkedIn | 2012
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Build Your LinkedIn Profile

Review LinkedIn profiles of other professionals in your field for keyword ideas, write a succinct headline, and pick a clear and recent headshot — one that makes you look approachable and energetic — for your profile photo. Add relevant work experience and projects such as presentations or videos of speeches you've given. Also, build your network by connecting with people you've worked with in the past who can recommend you. Pro tip: Turn on the "Open Candidates" feature to signal privately to recruiters that you're open to new opportunities.


Related: 25 Cities With the Most Working Seniors

Income Exclusions
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Research the Company

After moving up the ranks at the same employer over the years or taking a break from a traditional career path, many older workers might be rusty when it comes to the interview process. Research the person interviewing you, the industry, the company, and its competitors — Google makes this easy — so you can focus the conversation on how you can help them achieve their goals based on your own experiences.


Related: Warning Signs a Job Isn't as Good as It Sounds


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Take Some Practice Runs
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Take Some Practice Runs

Nail your next job interview by brushing up on your interviewing skills. If possible, practice interviewing at a low-stakes (not your first choice) company initially or mock interview with a friend, even someone younger. If your interviewer is younger (and seemingly less qualified than you), try to stay upbeat and curious, so you don't come across as condescending without even realizing it.


"Convey that you're experienced and can hit the ground running. You have this knowledge and you know how to get things done. But you have to be careful not to be condescending or bragging in a 'been there, done that' kind of way. It's more that you have this experience that allows you to not be rattled by things in the workplace, and you have this network that you're bringing with you,” says Kerry Hannon, career expert and author of "Great Jobs for Everyone 50+."


Related: 45 Job Search Tips From Experts

Give Yourself a Makeover
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Give Yourself a Makeover

It's a pitfall of human nature, but people will judge you by how you look when you're interviewing — even when you're doing a virtual interview via Zoom or some other video platform. Sprucing up your physical appearance is part of selling the entire package of who you are beyond your work experience and talents. Shop for an interview outfit and accessories that make you feel confident, schedule a haircut and manicure, shine your shoes, and be sure to eat healthy and exercise regularly. Updating your professional image can also help. "When you're physically fit, you can come into an interview with energy and a positive vibe that makes people want you for their team. It's a huge way to fight ageism in the workplace, because people really do judge a book by its cover," Hannon says.


Related: The Warning Signs That You're Turning 50

Coworkers talking on social distancing at work - with face mask
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Expand Your Network

The workplace has changed in many ways since 50-plus workers entered the workforce, but job searching is still "all about who you know." Mature job seekers have an advantage over younger workers just starting out — a robust professional and personal network from years of experience. Reach out to people you know, whether it's connecting with colleagues you worked with years ago, people you've collaborated with on a recent project, former classmates, or even parents of your kids' friends, and stay open to making new connections. "Your most valuable connector could be your chiropractor or your kids' friends' parents," Miller says.


Related: How to Prepare for Working Past Retirement

Spread the Word
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Spread the Word

Let your contacts know you're open to new opportunities, and ask for referrals. You never know who might be in a position to help or introduce you to someone who can. Accelerate your search using the modern Rolodex: social networks. LinkedIn and even Facebook can put connections at your target companies and in your field at your fingertips.


Related: Most Annoying Issues Boomers Encounter When Looking for Work

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Stay Active by Sharpening Your Skills

Employers look for self-starters, so it's important to stay active by participating in industry events and associations, taking continuing education workshops or courses to stay current and develop new skills, blogging, consulting, or even skill-based volunteering at a local organization (check VolunteerMatch, Points of Light's HandsOn Network, Idealist, and AARP). You'll find free classes online for various skills, particularly in technology. Staying busy is a good way to impress people who may be in a position to hire or recommend you, and it demonstrates that you're willing to learn things. 


"I always tell people, 'Get out of your head and get into the world.' People often sit in front of the computer to redo their resume and blindly send it out for jobs. If you can get out and start skill-based volunteering (not just stuffing envelopes), you never know who you'll meet," Hannon says.


Related: 20 Hacks and Tips for Video Chatting on Zoom, Hangouts, and More

Don't Write Off Temporary Or Part-Time Work
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Don't Write Off Temporary or Part-Time Work

Project-based work is often an effective strategy for getting a job as an older worker, particularly if you're unemployed. Consider part-time or temp-to-hire roles to keep money coming in, close resume gaps, and boost confidence during the interview process — all of which improve your odds of getting hired. Offer to start as a contractor instead of as a direct employee to give the employer the opportunity to see your work ethic and abilities before hiring you on as a full-time employee with benefits. Many people enjoy working as freelancers or consultants so they can focus more on the work instead of office politics. You might even be able to negotiate the role and a higher salary by forgoing the benefits. 


"Contract work is like 'dating to get the job,'" Miller says. "If an employer isn't sure about bringing you on full time, say you'll commit to 30 days, 40 hours a week at a decent rate to give it a try. You'll quickly learn if it's something you really want to do, and you'll both get to test things out before they hire." 


Related: 16 Millennial Jobs That Are Perfect for Seniors

Highlight Your Age As An Asset
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Highlight Your Age as an Asset

While you shouldn't focus solely on your age, you also don't have to run from it. Your job application and interviews can help highlight the various valuable experiences you've gained over the years, which will set you apart from younger talent. Reframe the conversation around your age to emphasize your strengths: critical problem-solving skills, work ethic, leadership abilities, sound judgment, etc. Concrete examples of times you've displayed these skills and qualities — and how you can be a solution to your employer — will help prove that your experience is an asset. "Reframe what you've done at a previous job and give it a shiny coat so that it doesn't look like something you did 20 years ago. Relate it to what's going on right now," Hannon advises. 


Related: 35 Great Jobs for Retirees

Combat The "Overqualified" Label
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Combat the 'Overqualified' Label

If an older job candidate has more experience than the position they've applied for entails, an employer might be concerned about the risk. A company doesn't want to invest time interviewing an "overqualified" person if they want too much money, plus they don't want to train and onboard someone who will grow bored of the role quickly, leave, be resistant to change, or overstep their bounds because they've been in higher roles before. Your goal is to look like someone who wants exactly what that job is offering.


Related: 23 Entry-Level Jobs You Can Do From Home With No Experience

Brighten Up Your Resume
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Be Focused on Your Target

Tailor your resume to the position so your experience isn't too far above the role for which you're applying. If it comes up during the hiring process, let a potential employer know if you're willing to take a pay cut and help put your potential boss at ease by explaining why you're interested in that particular role. Use phrases such as "At this stage in my career, I'd like to apply my skills to a new position or field." You could also share specific examples of when you've taken on a new protocol, interacted with all levels of colleagues, or let others take the lead.


Related: Hiring Managers' Advice for Landing a Work-From-Home Job

Get Job Search Help
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Get Job Search Help

If you're struggling with a job search or don't even know where to start, consider asking for help before it becomes too overwhelming. There are free workshops and tools — many now online — offered by public libraries and other local nonprofits and career exploration and training programs through CareerOneStop, with neighborhood workforce centers across the country. "You don't have to go back for an advanced degree," Hannon says. "Start with a class or two to make sure that's the direction you want to go."


Related: 22 Things to Do Now to Land a Job in a Recession

Don't Rule Out Jobs Based On Postings
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Don't Rule Out Jobs Based on Postings

It's easy to fall into the trap of overthinking job posting descriptions. Remember that exhaustive rundowns of job duties, required skill sets, and the necessary educational background are often just wishlists for employers. Don't shy away from a job based entirely on its specific description, particularly if you like the company. Treat postings as an ideal, and convey through your resume, cover letter, and interviews that you can manage the essential responsibilities based on a solid work history, ability to learn things, and positive attitude.


Related: How Finding a Job Has Changed in the Past 50 Years

Stop Waiting For The Perfect Job
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Stop Waiting for the Perfect Job

Don't get stuck waiting for the perfect job to come along. Holding out for a specific management position, the elusive dream job, or even a job to replace the one you had before could prevent you from looking at future possibilities that could be a great fit. Look at your skill set and experience as transferable to many different challenges and fields, even in other industries. 


"So many people get overwhelmed by the whole process, particularly with career transitions," Hannon says. "They often get bogged down with 'I'm reinventing myself,' but you're not entirely. You're re-deploying the skills you've been developing your whole career and just shifting into a new arena."


Related: 30 Ways Your Employer Could Be Cheating You

Be Flexible with Salary
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Be Flexible With Salary

Lacking salary flexibility can be a common mistake among older workers seeking employment. Many find it insulting to be offered less than they were making in their last job. But employers will eliminate candidates with high salary expectations, so you should temper your salary demands. Try to negotiate more flextime, vacation days, and other perks for a better compensation package. You could also take a lower upfront salary in exchange for a higher potential bonus based on meeting or exceeding performance goals after you're hired. 


"If you've been out of work or are changing careers, there's a chance you're not going to be making what you made previously," Hannon says. "If you're financially fit, you'll be able to accept the job, which might not have the salary that you hoped for, but gets you back in the workforce."


Related: What Your Salary Is Really Worth in Every State

Find a Younger Mentor
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Find a Younger Mentor

Toss out the notion that a good mentor should be someone older than you. Find a young person who has a skill you value or are curious about adopting, and ask them to mentor you. Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, came up with the concept of reverse mentoring, in which top executives were paired with younger employees to educate one another. If a younger colleague gives riveting presentations, connect with them to see how they can help you improve your own. Remember, you're not asking for a lifetime commitment; a mentorship can be a day, a week, or a month.


Related: 15 Things That Seniors Can Learn From Teenagers

Demonstrate That You're Tech Savvy
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Demonstrate That You're Tech Savvy

One of the biggest differences between younger and older workers is the perceived ability to keep up with changing technology. Show potential employers that you can adapt and navigate the latest technology, and are still eager to learn tech skills for your role or industry. In addition to doing video interviews, link to your professional social media accounts such as LinkedIn or Twitter, and incorporate tech skills and software you've used (such as Salesforce, if you're a sales person) in your resume — but avoid mentioning any outdated data systems.


Related: 26 Ways Social Media Can Land or Lose You a Job

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Show You're a Team Player

Organizations look for team players, regardless of age. But a younger manager might have reservations about managing someone their parent's age, or feel that an older applicant won't be able to collaborate with a younger team. When writing your cover letter and interviewing, talk about how you're comfortable taking direction from or learning from those much younger than you, in addition to your technical proficiency and ability to learn new skills. 


Show you're a team player by sharing concrete examples of ways you've adopted new ideas and helped manage or execute change recently in your career. "Employers are concerned you won't get along with the other kids or work well with a younger boss, so you need to show how you've worked on projects with younger people," Hannon says. "Studies show that intergenerational teams really are the most productive ones."


Related: 25 Pieces of Advice from Seniors to Millennials

Focus On The Right Employers
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Focus on the Right Employers

You can have all the skills and experience in the world, but employers will dismiss a candidate who isn't a good fit for their company culture. But why would you want that job anyway? Look for age-friendly employers and focus on growing fields or small companies hungry for experienced workers. They'll be less concerned with age and more concerned with finding individuals with great experience who can help them grow their business. Scour career sites geared toward older workers: RetirementJobs.com, Retired Brains, Seniors4Hire, and Workforce50.com.


Related: Companies That Have Been Accused of Having a Toxic Work Culture

Make a Career Change
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Make a Career Change

If you're at a point in your life where you want to try something new or pursue a different passion, consider a career change. A Merrill Lynch and Age Wave retirement study found that 58% of working retirees saw retirement as a chance to try a different line of work and the Michigan Retirement Research Center discovered 40% to 50% of people over 50 change occupations after turning 50. 


"Think about three key questions: 'What do you do well?' 'What do you love to do?' 'What do you find most meaningful?' It's the answers to those three questions — combined with the needs of the marketplace — that will lead you to your next act," says Nancy Collamer, semi-retirement coach and author of "Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement."


Related: 35 Hobbies That Pay Off in Jobs

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Try Before You Buy

It can be easier than you think to make a midlife career switch, particularly if you're open to contract work, or a "try before you buy" mentality, which reduces the risk for the employer hiring you. Build your resume around skills that are transferable to your new pursuit and be transparent about why you want to change careers. Go to career fairs and professional conferences to network with people and learn about the industry you want to enter.


Related: Great Second Careers That Don't Require More School

Stay Positive
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Stay Positive

Job hunting can be challenging for people of all ages, so don't take it personally if your search takes longer than expected. It might be difficult to stay positive if you're unsatisfied with your current job situation or unemployed while searching, but maintaining a positive attitude and focusing on networking and enhancing your skills will land you a job more quickly than appearing to be disgruntled in interviews. 


"Keeping upbeat during an extended job search is a real challenge. Joining a job search group, volunteering, and finding a job search buddy can all be useful ways to keep your spirits up," Collamer says. 


Related: Why It's Good to Be Retired During the Pandemic