When you’re trying to find a new job after 50, you face unique challenges that can get in the way of a prospective employer understanding just how perfect you are for the role. Your job-hunting skills may be rusty. Your industry could be changing or contracting. And then there’s the Big One: good, old-fashioned age discrimination.
Fortunately, says Jo Weech, founder of Exemplary Consultants in Washington, D.C., there are smart strategies you can use to push past those obstacles and nail that dream job. With more than 15 years in senior leadership roles in recruiting, human resources, and employee engagement, Weech regularly speaks and conducts workshops on career transitions for older workers.
Here is Weech’s advice for workers of a certain age who are looking for their next career move.
What are the most difficult challenges for job seekers over 50, and how can they be overcome?
Most people in this age category have not job hunted for a long time, and the rules keep changing, almost by the minute. It’s like trying to perform CPR without any training.
The good news is there are so many resources today, like workitdaily.com, where you can get coaching and counseling for a nominal fee; and hirepool.io, a free service that helps you keep track of job searches and offers support and guidance.
You can also use meetup.com to find job-hunting meetings, which are usually heavily skewed toward the over-40 crowd. They often have high-caliber volunteers there—people who normally get $1,200 to write a resume.
You don’t have to feel like you’re all by yourself in this.
How has the landscape changed?
Everything is done online now, even at small companies. So networking is more important than ever, to make sure your application is being seriously considered.
If you’re not on LinkedIn, create a profile and use your contacts to find people who work at the company you’re applying to. Don’t ask them to help you get a job—that’s a turnoff. Ask for a 15-minute call to see if they like it there, what problems they are solving, what the challenges are, and get a feel for the culture.
All that intel can be invaluable in crafting your resume and using the right terminology. Follow up with a thank you, then get in touch when you’re ready to apply and ask if they would feel comfortable providing a referral. The worst scenario is they say no, but they might say yes.
We all know social media is important for networking. What’s the best way to use it?
You have to create your own personal brand.
Use Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to share articles pertinent to your industry, promote people you admire, post comments, and answer questions in group discussions. Being constantly engaged will cause your name to turn up in Google searches.
Don’t forget old-fashioned face-to-face contact, like showing up at industry networking events, even speaking if possible. Then engage with people, especially during lunch and breaks, hand out your card, and tweet during the event.
It’s a lot of work, but if you don’t do it, you’re irrelevant.
Given the reality of age discrimination, should older job-hunters try to mask their age or proudly emphasize it and let the chips fall?
The discussion of age has to be neutralized.
Delete any experience on your resume that is more than 15 years old. For relevant experience before that, list the job and company with one or two things you want to highlight, but with no dates. And no graduation dates, ever!
If they say you’re overqualified and might get bored, you say, “That’s amazing that I’ve fulfilled all the requirements for the job! When do I start? Trust me, I won’t be bored.”
Take control of the interview, and don’t let them take you down rabbit holes.
Some employers seem to have no intention of hiring older candidates, but need to check off that box to show their commitment to “diversity.” How can job-hunters sniff these out and avoid wasting their time?
That’s happened to me four times, when I realized that I was the diversity interview.
To avoid this, go to the company’s website and social media and look at employee pictures to see how many have grey hair. Check for words like “young” and “energetic” and what perks they offer, like extreme sports, unlimited snacks with gummy bears, and benefits geared to young people.
Older job-hunters are often coming off their peak earning years. Do they have to brace for a pay cut?
Reduced pay is usually a given, since older workers are often let go because of their high salary. Not only won’t you get your peak salary, but it will probably be $30,000 to $50,000 less.
This is a huge pride issue for those over 50, who think, “With all my experience I’m worth this money!” But they’re only worth it in their own minds, not in the minds of the employer. Go to Salary.com or Glassdoor to learn what these positions are paying.
And never put your salary objective on your resume. If an interviewer asks what salary you expect, say it depends on total compensation—health benefits, 401(k) match, etc.—then ask what salary range they have placed on the position. Remember to factor in the cost of living for that city.
Some mature job-seekers worry about looking or acting old. What should they do?
If you’ve had the same hairstyle for the last 20 years, change it. Otherwise, you’ll walk in looking like someone’s mother or father.
Women should spend $50 at Sephora to get their face made up. Balding men can shave their heads—that’s what guys in their 30s do, and it looks much better than a comb-over. Or ask a stylist for a contemporary look. No polyester pants suits. And sweaters are never okay at a job interview.
Expand your social circle beyond people of your own age. Check social media to see what’s trendy [so your references aren’t dated].
Older people don’t like this kind of advice—they push back fiercely. So, I say, “Fine, continue to be unemployed and see how that works for you.”
What are the biggest resume and cover letter mistakes by older job seekers?
They still put their home address on their resumes; nobody does that anymore. The employer doesn’t need that information until you get the job. Don’t put two phone numbers, home and cell, just one.
Don’t use old email services like AOL and Earthlink—recruiters will make fun of you. Get a gmail account because it’s more current and the most secure. And don’t use names like firstname.lastname@example.org. Use some version of your real name. For more, read my article, “Before you hit Apply For This Job”.
Looking for work can be especially humiliating and depressing for older people. How can you create a more positive attitude?
I’m actually working both sides right now, recruiting and interviewing for jobs myself. So I know there’s definitely a sense of deep panic, thinking you’re unhireable.
You can’t change your circumstances, but you can change your reaction to them. When you wake up, think about three things you are grateful for, even if it’s just coffee at the end of the day. It can change your neurology.
And you have to take care of yourself physically. Get up from your computer every hour, just to get your circulation going. Stay away from junk food. And volunteer, using your area of expertise. That keeps your skills sharp and makes you feel good.
I know a guy who worked at Starbucks and drove an Uber on weekends, whatever it took. After 16 months, he finally got the job he wanted. Why? Because he was not sitting around feeling sorry for himself, he was out there hustling, being tenacious.