Securing a high paying and professionally fulfilling job in a competitive market is challenging enough, but the hurdles are even higher for job seekers over 50. The 2019 Hiscox Ageism in the Workplace Study uncovered some troubling statistics about the prevalence of ageism in the workplace, citing that age-related discrimination charges filed with employers and the EEOC by workers aged 65+ have doubled from 1990 to 2017.
While age discrimination exists across the board, and plagues some industries more than others, there are several ways that 50-plus job-seekers can combat ‘age-old’ stereotypes and increase their chances of success of landing that next job. Here are the best tips and strategies for getting a job if you’re over 50 years old.
An effective resume is a compelling synopsis that whets the reader’s appetite and entices recruiters to get in touch. The document need not list every single job, task, responsibility, and project you can remember – instead, think of it as just the highlight reel. For seasoned candidates with several decades of experience, including the most recent 15 years or so should suffice. Most recruiters, if they even read that far into the resume, will not be concerned with accomplishments from the 1980’s or 90’s, no matter how impressive. Keep things short and sweet. A length of 1 to 2 pages is standard, with some leeway for CVs in the case of academic or scientific professions.
If you do happen to have highly relevant experience from eons ago, consider including a section at the bottom of the Experience section called “Additional Relevant Experience”, where you summarize the company, job title, and accomplishments, but leave out the date.
Additionally, consider removing college graduation dates if they’re over 15 years old, otherwise you’ll be dating yourself. If you have completed any recent coursework, be it academic or professional, or have received any formal certifications within the last 5-7 years, dates are fine to include.
Because first impressions count, make the document visually appealing. Utilize a modern font and format. Don’t be afraid to use a strategic pop of color or a few graphic design elements, depending on the industry to which you’re applying. This can help you stand out against a sea of drab black-and-white resumes written in overused Times New Roman or Calibri fonts.
And don’t forget the small details. AOL email addresses or emails with your birth year included (johnsmith1955…) make you seem dated. Making the resume appear youthful and vibrant will increase the chance of grabbing the recruiter’s attention. But this is just the first step.
With more and more recruiters utilizing social media platforms like LinkedIn to find and vet job candidates, 50+ candidates would be remiss not to take advantage. The same rules about experience and dates in the resume (see above) apply on LinkedIn.
Additionally, consider how your profile photo comes across. Does it feel dated? Are you wearing ill-fitting or outmoded clothing? Does your facial expression communicate vigor and confidence or cynicism and exhaustion? Profiles with photos receive 10-20x more attention on LinkedIn than profiles without a pic, but if the photo isn’t presenting the best version of yourself, it could be doing more damage than good. If in doubt, ask a handful of your most candid friends or relatives what they think about your current profile photo. If everyone says the photo makes you look like a jaded, tired curmudgeon wearing a frown, perhaps it’s time to freshen up your brand.
Finally, consider posting content (i.e. blog posts) on LinkedIn in areas of your expertise or professional aspirations. This shows that you’re current, that you’re plugged into industry trends. Leverage those years upon years of experience to brand yourself as a thought leader, instead of someone left behind in the dust.
If you’re not much of a writer, at the very least re-share interesting articles or thoughtfully comment on posts from your LinkedIn connections and industry thought leaders. If you’re not an expert in a given field, demonstrating your interest and engagement is the next best thing.
Few things are more attractive to an employer than a candidate who engages in continuous professional development — in other words, a job seeker who never stops learning. As technology evolves at a rapid clip, it’s important to keep up to date. The unfortunate stereotype, of course, is that older candidates aren’t willing or able to stay current, and often fall behind when it comes to technical prowess.
To combat this stereotype, carefully study job descriptions and identify any in-demand software or other technical skills that keep recurring. Then, make a commitment to learn those skills, whether through formal classes (online, like General Assembly, or in a physical classroom), or at least via a YouTube tutorial or book, just to gain familiarity with the platform.
With their many decades of experience and wisdom, many 50+ candidates have an abundance of interpersonal “soft” skills, but if you happen to feel rusty on skills like management, leadership, communication, or collaboration, consider taking a workshop to improve your proficiency in those areas. And don’t forget to add those courses to your resume and LinkedIn. Many of these courses are very short term (i.e., on the order of hours or days), but for any professional development that takes months, or even years, you can still include it in your documents even if you have just enrolled – just make sure to be transparent and say “currently enrolled” or “anticipating completion on [date].”
Rather than shying away from the ever-revolving door of technological advancement, by diving in headfirst and picking up new skills, you’ll brand yourself as someone who is proactive and who stays updated. It’ll give you a leg up against other candidates, young or old, who are busy keeping their head down and doing the bare minimum.
It’s no big secret that finding a gig through a personal connection is easier than applying blindly online. This is true irrespective of a candidate’s age. Whether you’re looking to find a job in the same profession, or considering a major career switch, talking to other professionals will give you more insight and ideas than just reading (ahem) online articles or applying to endless job postings.
Make sure you’re getting out there. Attend conferences, trade shows, expos, meetups, and even local events sponsored by the companies you’re targeting. At worst, this demonstrates industry engagement that you can list in your resume and on your LinkedIn profile. At best, you’ll make meaningful connections, sharpen your communication skills, and possibly hear about job openings before they’re formally posted online.
If networking doesn’t come naturally to you, or it’s been decades since you’ve had to look for a job and your skills are a bit rusty, consider these networking tips to help you tap into new professional communities, boost your confidence, and pave the way for more interviews.
Just as a LinkedIn profile photo can speak volumes about your confidence and experience and either attract or repel recruiters, your physical appearance during an interview can make or break your chances of landing the job. 50-plus candidates who have won over the recruiter via their resume or strong phone presence may still be worried they’ll look too old in person. Here are a few things that can help mitigate the impact of your age during an interview:
Dress for success. Make sure your clothing is modern and youthful — and, of course, appropriate for the industry / company to which you’re applying. If you’re wearing an ill-fitting business suit that has lost its color vibrancy or was trendy in the previous decade, it might be time for a change. You don’t necessarily need to hire a personal stylist to redo your entire wardrobe but investing in a few of-the-moment business suits can help you look and feel more confident. Your fashion choices don’t have to be the focus of every interview, but at least don’t let them date you.
Practice self-care. This is probably a good idea anyway, but make sure your nutrition habits and fitness regimen leading up to the interview are in tip-top shape. Eat well, exercise, and get proper rest. Doing anything but will only contribute to you feeling, and possibly looking, older.
Identify companies that value experienced workers. Check out AARP’s job board, which includes jobs from organizations that embrace older candidates. Research industries that are growing and have a shortage of qualified employees. Read up on local and national news, and check out updates from The Bureau of Labor Statistics as a potential guide for your professional next steps.
Employers who are desperate for qualified talent might be more open to hiring more seasoned candidates. Of course, you may not wish to work at a company if the average employee is, say, less than half your age. Do the research. Scope out the company’s social media accounts to get a sense of their cultural vibe. Consider whether the organization’s mission and values align with yours. If in doubt, attend the interview, and see with your own eyes.
If you’re struggling to find a stable 9-to-5 gig, expand your horizons by considering part-time, consulting, or remote/work-from-home opportunities. Give back: if seeking a job at a non-profit, attend or volunteer at one of their local events, introduce yourself to the staff, and mention it in your resume and cover letter. Or turn your passion into a business. Your hobbies – be it furniture making, crocheting, toy collecting, or a million others – can all be monetized on sites like Etsy.
While getting older is a fact of life, letting it stand in the way of your professional advancement is not. Leverage your decades-old experience, wisdom, and adaptability to give yourself the best possible chance for success.
Note: If you believe you were discriminated on the basis of age or other legally protected status, check out the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website for information and resources.
David Wiacek is an accomplished career coach, resume writer and professional brand strategist. He crushes his clients’ fears and brings joy back into their professional lives by helping them network effectively, interview powerfully and negotiate higher salaries. In short, he helps people across Westchester County (and beyond) find more fulfilling, better-paying careers. For more information, visit: www.davidthefixer.com