Looking for a new opportunity? We see a lot of doom and gloom in the news about how tough the market can be for older workers. They’re often the first ones laid off, plus it will take them longer to find a new job and they often have to take a pay cut as well. Ageism can also be a serious obstacle.

However, there’s another side to this story: job loss or not, many people are embracing change and seeking newer and better opportunities. Call them “mature workers” or “seasoned applicants”, people over the age of 50 have a lot to offer. They’re three times more likely to stick with their jobs than younger workers — which translates to big savings for companies — not to mention their expertise.

“Seasoned applicants bring many strengths to the marketplace — not just knowledge and experience, but lifestyle skills and people skills like how to deal with difficult clients,” says Mary Eileen Williams, veteran career counsellor and author of Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50. “I don’t think you can beat us.”

Then there’s that breaking-through-barriers spirit baby boomers are known for.

“In mid-life, especially for women, we want a fresh start,” says Williams in an interview with 50Plus.com. “We want to get out there in new, unique ways. There’s more opportunity to focus on ‘what are my dreams and goals?’ There’s also a sense of ‘if not now, then when?’ to spur us on.”

In short, you don’t have to let the negative news dissuade you from seeking new opportunities. However, it may be time to beef up the job hunting skills, warns Williams.

“Many seasoned applicants are looking for work using outmoded methods,” she explains. “They don’t realize they need to customize their resume or don’t appreciate the importance of networking.”

Here are five quick ways Williams says seasoned applicants can get smarter about their job search:

Research companies carefully

It’s not just about what employers want: an ideal match is good on both sides. While you’re thinking about the skills and experience you can offer, don’t overlook your values and priorities. For instance, are you looking for leadership opportunities or the chance to express your creativity? How far are you willing to commute, and are you willing to travel for your job? What kind of work environment suits you best? Are you looking for flexible hours or part time work?

Why is this step crucial? “Often, it’s the environment, culture and lifestyle people hate, not the work itself,” says Williams. “If you’re working at a job that’s draining you, it’s like writing with your non-dominant hand all day. It’s doable, but it takes a lot of extra energy.”

To get started on your search, Williams advises to doing your homework first and coming up with a list of 10-15 companies or businesses you would like to work for — it doesn’t matter if they have a job posted or not. For example, learn more about the business, the work environment and company culture by doing research online or speaking with someone at the company. You may not find an opportunity that meets all your “wants”, but this information can help you narrow your search.

Learn how to market yourself

Ever heard of a “personal brand statement” or a “60 second elevator pitch?” You should know what they are — and use them.

Consider job hunting an exercise in marketing and you’re a product competing with other products, says Williams. Get to know your best attributes, like what skills and experience you bring to the table. Write them down, and back them up with specific examples of your accomplishments. Not only will this help you to craft your “marketing campaign”, it will also help you answer those tricky behaviour-based job interview questions later on.

However, there’s more to the process than just a resume and cover letter. Williams also advises preparing a series of brief pitches or “catchy commercials” — 10, 30 or 60 second speeches that highlight your skills, interests and qualifications. These speeches may seem silly, but they’re assets when it comes to networking. You’ll be ready to introduce yourself with relevant details, and won’t get tongue-tied when asked, “What do you do?”

Customize your resume

These days, a generic resume and cover letter won’t cut it. Experts recommend customizing them for each company and job opportunity, including such techniques like using keywords from job postings and tailoring your list of accomplishments according to job requirements.

However, resume writing isn’t the same for all ages. For seasoned applicants, handling their wealth of experience without giving away their age can be tricky. While most people rely on a chronological or functional resume, Williams notes a “hybrid/combination” resume can be a boon to seasoned applicants. This type of resume puts skills and accomplishments first — such as leading with a “special accomplishments” or “career highlights” section, followed by “professional experience”.

Changing careers? A few tweaks can help you focus on transferable skills and relevant experience. The bottom line is to find a format that fits your goals and information, not the other way around.

What about those tricky dates? Yes, you should use them (with caution) so you aren’t misleading a potential employer. However, Williams warns not to go too far back — especially more than 20 years. You don’t have to include everything — try to focus on experiences that relate to the job.

Put more effort into networking

It’s called a “hidden job market” for a reason. Statistics show about 75 per cent of jobs are obtained through a personal referral and 80 per cent of jobs are never advertised at all, especially opportunities with smaller organizations. When it comes time to hire, many companies talk to their employees first.

Networking is even more important for seasoned applicants because it forms a “presence” with the company and helps overcome ageism. Seasoned applicants have an additional advantage: they’ve built up a significant network of contacts over the years, many of who are now decision makers in companies.

Williams recommends starting with your close contacts, including friends and family. Not sure what to say? Try something like this: “I’m currently in career transition, and I’m interested in working for Company X. Do you know anyone who works there with whom I can speak? I’ll only take 15-20 minutes of their time.” Let your contact know you’ll keep them apprised of your search and be sure to send a thank you — both will help keep you top of mind.

“You have to be proactive,” says Williams. “Remember, you’re not asking for a job. It’s about getting information.”

Manage stress

Make no mistake: finding a job can be a long and stressful process, warns Williams. While there are many advantages to being a seasoned applicant, there is some truth behind the media negativity and older workers do need to be realistic about their prospects and expectations.

While self-confidence and a positive outlook go a long way, the ups and downs of job hunting affect your marriage and family as well as your well being. It’s important to start with realistic expectations, and to keep your goals manageable. You’ll need to look after yourself too during the process, like getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet.

Some other ways you can beat stress include:

- Find a support. Friends and family can be a source of moral support as well as someone who will simply listen. Williams suggests going outside your family too — someone who doesn’t have a stake in the process can offer a fresh perspective, and it can help reduce the burden on your loved ones.

- Tackle a project where you’ll see results. Find success in other areas, like finishing a project or cleaning out a closet.

- Take a break. Yes, you’re allowed. If you can, book a short getaway or take a day trip for a little time off.

- Reward yourself. That “final” yes shouldn’t be the only reward: be sure to enjoy your successes along the way. Find ways to celebrate meeting modest goals to help keep you motivated.

Overall, there are positives and negatives to being an older worker in today’s job market — but that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing a new opportunity. The key is to learn how to use your age to its best advantage, and to prepare yourself with some smart strategies to help smooth the way.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Victor Correia

ON THE WEB
For more information and tips, visit Williams’ website at www.feistysideoffifty.com.

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by:
Elizabeth Rogers