Older Workers: How to Overcome Obstacles to Getting a Job
While your age should ideally have no impact on your chances of employment success, many older workers will agree that their more mature status can be something of an impediment when it comes to finding a job.
That is, in part, because the workplace is still home to a number of baseless stereotypes about older professionals. Fortunately, though, there are ways to get past such myths. If you're from an older generation, and are currently looking to switch jobs or are re-entering the workforce after a break, here's how to overcome obstacles and position yourself effectively to get hired.
1. Rethink your age as an asset, not a drawback
As career coach and best-selling author Sharon Melnick, PhD, points out, "If you go in to a job search thinking, 'They're not going to want me because I'm too old', you're going to put that out." Her advice? Shift your mindset, and instead of focusing on how many years you've been on this planet, think and talk about "how much experience, wisdom and value you bring" in both your resume and interviews.
In a similar vein, Jay Block, motivational career coach and author of "5 Steps to Rapid Employment" and other popular books, stresses that older job seekers should focus on their ability to be a contributing asset. "Employers hire people based on the results they can produce, not on how old they are," he says. So, take time to consider all the reasons why hiring managers should get excited about having you on board — your expertise, reliability and track record of success — and weave these points into your communications.
In order to effectively express your value, you need to truly believe in it, says Block, so there's a need to engage in some self-convincing, too. "What good is a resume in the hands of someone who doesn't believe in themselves and feels, emotionally, that they're too old to get a job?" he asks, adding, "When job seekers know their value — their unique selling proposition — and can clearly and confidently communicate this, it opens up almost unlimited opportunities."
2. Be proactive in your search
Block also firmly believes that job seekers shouldn't conduct a job "search", but rather a high-energy (self-)marketing campaign.
One of the biggest mistakes older workers can make, he says, is "depending on job boards instead of being proactive, aggressive and strategic in networking and target marketing efforts." If you're a mature professional and positions aren't coming your way, it's particularly important to put yourself out there. Research companies that you might want to work for and make contact, attend networking events, arrange informational interviews with hiring managers, and pitch yourself for temporary or part-time work just to get in at organizations that appeal.
Block recommends developing a carefully considered, comprehensive written plan for your job campaign, stipulating weekly tasks, goals and measurement analytics. Working to a detailed agenda, as opposed to just "winging it," can give you a sense of control over the process so that the search for a job becomes more enjoyable and less driven by fear and negativity.
3. Give your resume a youthful makeover
While you certainly shouldn't apologize for your age, you also don't necessarily want to draw too much attention to it and risk opening yourself up to discrimination. Your resume, then, should ideally put the spotlight on your skills and experience, and take it off your senior status.
One way to age-proof this vital job search document is to modernize it by employing these current writing and formatting practices.
- In most circumstances, you'll want to replace a resume objective with a powerful summary statement to better sell yourself and to show you're familiar with the latest trends.
- Similarly, replace outdated fonts, like Times New Roman, with more youthful options, like Cambria or Calibri.
- Substitute large chunks of text with concise bulleted statements.
- Remove your full street address and landline from your resume header.
- Throw out the phrase "References available upon request".
You may also want to consider removing inclusions that explicitly speak to age: the year you graduated from university, for instance. "I also wouldn't put everything you've ever done on your resume; just keep the key things," advises Melnick. Unless you've only held one or two positions, there's likely no need to list roles from, say, the 1980s. Fair or not, doing so might make younger hiring managers pause.
Block warns, however, that simply omitting dates can be dangerous, as it could come off as deceptive. "If you include dates throughout your resume, but not in your education section, hiring managers are going to think you're trying to hide something — they're going to think the worst," he says, stressing that he doesn't believe in giving job seekers hard rules to follow. His recommendation is to approach this issue strategically, so it doesn't look like you're trying to mislead anyone. You could, for instance, split your work history into two sections: one for more recent positions, with dates included, and one that's titled "Employment prior to 2000", without specific years. Then, you can more safely exclude dates from your education section, too.
Taking the above approach means you don't have to list years like 1976, but your omission of such information doesn't appear dishonest.
4. Get active online
Some hiring managers may be concerned that you, as an older worker, may not be tech- or web-savvy. The best way to counter this stereotype? Boost your social media presence.
"If someone doesn't like Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, that's fine, as long as they're really strong on LinkedIn," says Block. That means both having an up-to-date profile — complete with a professional headshot, a compelling summary, detailed accomplishments sections and supporting media — and regularly interacting with others via this platform, too. Connect with leaders in your industry, initiate and engage in conversations, and share content that's relevant to your sector.
"Post links to articles about your profession," suggests Block. "The key is to share appropriate information that would make potential employers or customers think, 'Wow, this person is a true professional.'" Sharing industry-related content via social media is the best way to show that you have the kind of passion and enthusiasm usually attributed to younger workers. It also positions you as a subject matter expert — someone who's on top of the latest developments in their field and is actively contributing to the current conversation.
"You could even start a blog," says Block. "And it doesn't have to be lengthy. You could publish a 75-word blog post twice a week, so that people can see that you're interested, engaged and cutting-edge."
5. Pursue additional training to develop and refresh skills
What if you have fallen behind the times? What if you're not familiar with the latest thinking or software in your industry? If that's the case, it's imperative to update your skills and gain up-to-the-minute knowledge through additional training.
"Identify areas where you need to improve, and do something about it," Block says. "You've got to be able to produce the results, so if you're behind the times, catch up with the times."
When you start looking for education options, you'll likely find that there are community colleges in your area offering relevant classes. Alternatively, you could register for an online short course through one of many different reputable institutions — today, hundreds of schools around the world offer digital instruction in everything from fintech to artificial intelligence.
6. Bring lots of energy to your search
Some employers may also think that older professionals are likely to be a little tired and burned out. Melnick suggests you show them that "age is a state of mind" by approaching every touch point with energy and charisma.
Talk enthusiastically about your hobbies and passions, she says. Engage in spirited discussions about projects you've worked on, innovations that excite you and the latest apps you're using, and generally show that you are a lively, dynamic individual.
7. Be future-focused
While marketing yourself in a job search requires covering where you've been, Melnick recommends that older workers, in particular, spend more time looking forward than back.
"I'd talk about what you've done, but always immediately link it to what you will do," she says.
This is important to do, both in an interview and in the summary statement of your resume, because it indicates that your best times aren't behind you. "I'd paint a really clear picture — create a mental movie — of a future state," says Melnick, "so that hiring managers can 'see' the contribution you're going to make and focus on that, not your past or your age."