The recession’s been rough on everyone, but especially for older people. They have less time left to save and more to risk by investing. They face higher health care costs. They’ve seen their existing retirement accounts take hits or get completely wiped out.
To make matters worse, when older Americans fall out of the workforce, they find it tougher to get back in. A January AARP Public Policy Institute fact sheet pointed out that the average length of unemployment for all ages is about 35 weeks. But for those over 55, it’s 56 weeks.
It’s true older workers are holding onto their jobs better than most – last year’s average unemployment rate for older workers, 6 to 7 percent, was lower than the national average of about 9 percent. And just last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an increase of about 1.7 million workers over 55 in the past year.
But good news doesn’t do much for you if you’re one of those still on the sidelines. Here are some tips to shorten the search…
1. Play your age up, not down. There’s no hiding your age in an interview, so make it an asset. But instead of focusing on the number, highlight what comes with it: your experience and reliability. Career counselor Vernon Bailey, interviewed in the video above, adds, “Younger people might not have that experience, and you’re demonstrating you can do it, because you’ve already done it.”
2. Learn the tech. If anyone thinks you’re “behind the times” or “out of touch,” prove them wrong. If 81-year-old media mogul @RupertMurdoch can learn to use Twitter, so can you. Behind on industry-specific skills and software? Brush up with some courses or teach yourself. AARP WorkSearch, one of the resources we mentioned in 4 Places for Free Job Training, has an education and training section to help decide what’s right for you and where you can get it.
3. Settle for less – at first. Go easy on salary negotiations and aim for performance-based bonuses rather than a higher base pay. Bailey says, “Consider what they’re offering with the caveat to renegotiate after six months,” once you’ve proven you deserve more. Focus on getting your foot in the door. If you sense that the employer is wavering because of money, explain you’re flexible and just want to prove yourself – and that they’ll spend less time and money training you than someone younger. If you’re looking to change fields, you might even consider an internship – they’re not just for college kids anymore. According to this Public Radio International story, more than half of companies would consider hiring older workers, but only about 7 percent say they get over-50 applicants.
4. Prove you’re a good fit. Any decent job candidate has to show they can adapt to the culture and be a team player. For older workers, this might mean persuading a younger boss you’re not out for his job. Ever worked for a start-up or some other company with a younger culture? Mentioning that might help. If not, make it clear in the interview you’re not there to challenge authority – and don’t imply that you can teach junior a lot of life lessons.
5. Update and trim your resume. Here’s the AARP’s resume advice, which includes some samples in different styles. But however you choose to organize your work history, don’t include it all – only go back 10 to 15 years. No matter how much experience you have, employers probably won’t skim through more than two pages. The exception is if they specifically ask for a full run-down — like in academia, where you probably need a curriculum vitae. Also be careful with your language. Some terms and phrases that were common and accepted the last time you had to look for work may have become cliche. Try looking at the resume of a younger professional (but not a new college grad’s, because they’re terrible) for guidance.
Bottom line? Think young, act mature. Most of the qualities that may make you seem vulnerable can actually give you the edge when presented properly. And, of course, some job advice is useful no matter what your age: Check out Job Interviewing: 8 Things to Do and 8 Things to Avoid and 5 Tips for Writing a Terrific Cover Letter for more.
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