Re-invent yourself for job search

Leah McCourt recalls the panic she felt when her employer of 21 years restructured her out of a job. A busy and highly skilled manager in the communications industry, she hadn’t looked at her resumé seriously in years.

“I had a friend help me get it together and I was kind of taken aback by the boldness of the language. I was brought up to be modest about myself and this seemed like bragging. Looking at my accomplishments on paper gave me a boost of confidence, though. It’s a matter of selling yourself in the marketplace and, unfortunately, that can be tough for someone over 50.”

Age an excuse
“Everybody has got to do something in terms of getting prepared for the market,” says Reg Pirie of Calgary. A former partner in a re-employment consulting firm and author of From Fired to Hired: The Middle Manager’s Job Search Guide, he believes the majority of 50-plus people can re-enter the work force successfully.

“Some companies, usually in the typical job market, have their prejudices about age,” he concedes but, he says bluntly, “the other group that creates a problem for itself is the 50-plus group. ‘I’m not getting work because m 50’ is an excuse. While there’s an element of truth to that, if you keep on saying it, it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Apply for programs
What do the Leah McCourts of the work world do when their seemingly secure job vanishes? First, if eligible, they should apply for employment insurance as soon as possible, says Bob Watson. He’s the manager of The Danforth Human Resource Centre in Toronto, run by the federal government’s Human Resources Development Canada.

Registering can open the door to programs that can help them develop a re-employment game plan. Although HRDC continues to post jobs on its website, its primary role now is to help people undertake their own job search.

For example, there’s a three-week course offered to those 45 and older by Humber College’s Centre for Experienced Workers (CEW) in Toronto. Funded by HRDC, the centre is a hive of energy-and hope.

Next page: Placement rates high

Placement rates high
Initiatives tailored to the needs of people 45 and older develop confidence and motivation -and usually placement rates of approximately 70 per cent. (Contact HRDC for information on programs in your area.)

Although most people are attracted to the CEW’s free computer instruction, they find the first week-a compulsory series of workshops aimed at preparing them for the job search-is surprisingly helpful and builds confidence.

Jean Davidson, director of the centre, sees clients when they first come for orientation. At this stage, they’re usually discouraged, depressed and unmotivated.

“They think they’re alone,” she says. “We also see a lot of anger because many of them have been working for 25 or 30 years and this is the first time they have been unemployed.”

Learn marketing skills
That first week transforms them. They learn to deal with such issues as coping with job loss, stress, overcoming employers’ misconceptions, even discrimination toward older workers-and the nitty-gritty of turning themselves into credible candidates for a good position.

In effect, they learn how to market themselves. But it’s an examination of their existing skills that usually surprises and galvanizes them.

“It’s often the first time they’ve actually taken stock of what they can offer an employer,” notes Davidson. “That alone is so motivating, because they think ‘Wow. I do have a lot of experience to offer a company.'”

Facing ageism
Before they can tackle the prejudices of employers who are looking for younger people, older job hunters first have to confront their own misconceptions, says Evelyn Sloboda, a job search instructor in Surrey, B.C. She runs HRDC-funded weeklong workshops for 45-plus job seekers at the Surrey Community Services’ Job Search Central.

“We can’t stop the clock,” she allows, “but if we believe age is a negative factor, then that’s just what it will become.”

She encourages people in the 45-plus workshop to emphasize the skills, strengths and the value they bring to the employer-and to negate and address the stereotyping.

Self-esteem nosedives
Sloboda also addresses the often stunning impact of change. For instance, it’s hard for someone to be upbeat and confident in an interview if they haven’t emotionally come to terms with the fact that they’ve in effect been put out to pasture.

Their self-esteem has taken a steep nosedive. For some, the loss of a vocational role coincides with midlife issues such as the challenges of health changes, empty nests and concerns about aging parents.  

A positive attitude is more likely to produce positive results and this is especially true when trying to land a job.

Importance of attitude
“The main barrier to employment is attitude,” says Jean Davidson of Humber College’s Centre for Experienced Workers. She notes the computer workshops have a huge impact on clients’ confidence levels.

“Very often they come in thinking ‘I can’t keep up to the young people out there,’ but when they leave, they’re proud of themselves. They think ‘I’ve faced my fear and now I can actually do this.'”

Next page: Advantages of 50+

Advantages of 50+
Executive search consultant Christine Thomas points out 50-plus people today are healthier than in the past and many want to work longer.

“Being 50-plus is really an advantage these days in certain areas,” she says.

Employers who as recently as five years ago wanted young people with MBAs have come to recognize that they need people with life skills and wisdom.

“The tide is changing. You’ll often see the senior management team will have some people on the younger side bringing ideas but you’re typically going to see the other half of the team coming from an experienced work force.

How to ace the job interview

  • Do your homework on the company. If possible, talk to a former employee. Be prepared with questions about the position and the corporation.
  • Arrange with a friend to interview you on videotape. Practice until body language and performance are polished and you can answer tough questions comfortably.
  • First impressions count. Dress conservatively. No jeans-business casual is appropriate in some cases.
  • Be rested and alert.
  • If unavoidably delayed, call ahead. (Carry a cellphone or change for a pay phone.)
  • Bring references and extra copies of your resumé and cover letter.
  • Don’t ask about benefits and pensions on the first interview.
  • Eliminate distractions such as cellphones, beeping watches, strong colognes.
  • Be honest. The point is to find a position that fits, so you and your new employer will both be satisfied.
  • Send a thank-you letter.