Q: I am over 50, and just got laid off after working in the same place for 15 years. How should I approach prospective employers and deal with the age issue? I have a lot of experience, but the age thing seems like a big deal.
No one doubts it is difficult to find a job after working in one place for over a decade. The job market is different today than 10 years ago. Employers have higher expectations, they source candidates differently and job seekers apply and have materials screened using new tools. That's a lot of obstacles for mature job seekers to overcome. The solution? Stop worrying about the "age issue" and start addressing the real reasons why you may not be landing opportunities:
Your resume is old fashioned and untargeted.
If you're worried about age discrimination, don't start your resume with, "Over 25 years of experience in ______." Don't purposely hide experience in a "functional" resume that mashes up your skills without detailing when and where you gained them. The solution? Focus on your most recent and relevant 10 years of work history and make a strong case for your candidacy.
A human being is unlikely to review your resume unless the automated Applicant Tracking System (ATS) identifies your materials as a good match to pass along to hiring managers. Fill your resume with keywords relevant to the job and incorporate specifics regarding your skills and accomplishments to win a chance to interview.
You balk at technology.
If an employer invites you to interview via Skype, and you hesitate because you don't know how to use it, expect the organization to move on to the next candidate. When you ask if you can fax your resume instead of applying using your (non-existent) LinkedIn profile, assume you've lost an opportunity.
Some employers will jump to the conclusion that anyone over 50 is not technologically savvy. Do not embrace that stereotype – even if it is true for you. Ask your neighbors or grown children for help, or take a class to be sure you are up on the latest "must have" tools. Learn how to use online networks and applications and dispel the myth that older workers cannot learn new things.
Recruiters are looking on social media, and you're not there.
The 2012 Jobvite study shows employers are using social media to recruit, with 92% of U.S. companies using social networks and media to find talent in 2012, up from 78% five years ago.
In the past, engaging with recruiters may have meant attending a lot of in-person networking events. While the in-person event has its place, the statistics don't lie; social media is key to job search success. You need an optimized LinkedIn profile at the very least, and if you're really concerned your age is a factor, take advantage of other social media tools, such as Google+ and Twitter, to demonstrate you are an expert in your field and relevant for today's workplace.
If your industry suffered a lot of layoffs or shrunk in the recession, do not bang your head against the wall trying to find jobs that do not exist. If there are no jobs, it doesn't matter if you're 25 or 55. Identify new fields and organizations where you can market your skills.
You're applying for jobs in organizations where no one is over 30.
Yes, ageism exists; many companies prefer younger, less expensive workers. Look for organizations that value maturity. For example, if you're interested in a non-profit career, investigate resources at Encore.org, which highlights organizations interested in tapping mature workers' wisdom and experience. Review the AARP's list of "best employers for workers over 50" and apply to organizations known to value your years of experience.
Your mindset is holding you back.
It's understandable if you are angry, or even bitter; you worked hard, and now no one seems to appreciate it. Instead of railing against the system, recognize your best hope to succeed is to embrace change. When you interview with someone young enough to be your child, don't mention your grandchildren or discuss the "good old days." Take a hard look at yourself, your demeanor and how you engage when you're being evaluated. It can't hurt to casually mention the 5K you are training for or to ask if the interviewer has tried the latest Google calendar application.
Adjust your approach; instead of complaining that no one wants to hire someone over 50, use your energy to identify and emphasize your unique value proposition – what makes you more qualified than anyone else for the job. If you can't hone in on why you're the natural choice, that may be the reason you are not getting work, not your age.
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