Landing a new job is a daunting task when you’re in your 50s or 60s. The prospect of transitioning to a new company or perhaps rejoining the workforce after some time away can feel like having to reinvent yourself from the ground up.
It doesn’t help that, despite the passage of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) in 1967, ageism is still very much a part of our professional landscape.
Workplace discrimination against someone on the basis of age can take many forms from being passed over for assignments and promotions to being excluded from key meetings to being denied training experiences. And—yes—it can also show up in the hiring process.
Discriminating against older job candidates is a bad idea on many fronts.
- It’s bad for the businesses, which miss out on the experience, confidence, and maturity that seasoned professionals bring to the table.
- And it’s bad professionals over 50 who face limited employment opportunities alongside rising expenses.
- Being unable to find work can also contribute to serious physical and mental health issues that can lead to depression or reduce longevity.
If you or someone you love is seeking a new job and feeling a little extra daunted by the task because of age concerns, the following list of tips provide some clear and helpful guidance for getting through the experience successfully.
There’s no time like today. If you’re currently on unemployment, don’t wait until it runs out to start your search. Long gaps on your resume can raise questions. And if you’re returning to work after a hiatus or starting a whole new career journey, the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll find what you’re looking for.
2. Sharpen and shorten your resume.
Just because you have decades of experience under your belt doesn’t mean you need to include every single job you’ve ever held. Prospective employers aren’t looking for your entire life history; they just want to know if you have the skills they need. To keep your resume to two pages max, consider culling your work experience to focus on the last 10 to 15 years of relevant experience. This might mean cherry picking which roles you highlight based on the type of position you’re seeking.
You also want to be sure to format your resume appropriately for today’s digital technologies. Many companies use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to scan and organize resumes using keywords and other data. Many job search sites have handy guides with formatting tips to ensure your resume is designed to work with these systems.
You also want to make sure your online presence is updated and looks great. Most employers use LinkedIn at some point in the hiring process. Brush up your profile (including your photo) to make a great impression.
3. Tap into your network.
While company websites and online job search engines can be a great resource, the most effective way to land a new gig is still having a personal connection. Pitching yourself to friends, past colleagues, and even casual acquaintances makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but the truth is most people love to lend a helping hand.
Spend some time creating an “elevator pitch” about your job search. This is a 30- to 60-second summary of the job you’re looking for, and why you’re the perfect candidate. Make it personal and captivating. Go ahead and share your unbridled enthusiasm. Then, when you’re talking with someone, you’ll know exactly what to say to let them know you’re in the market.
4. Showcase your experience and knowledge—past and present.
When talking with a prospective employer, don’t be afraid to toot your own horn a little. Your breadth and depth of experience is one of your main selling points. Use it wisely.
At the same time, you want to demonstrate that you are plugged in and up to date on what’s happening now. Weave things into the conversation that show you’re keeping up with what’s happening in the industry. Maybe mention one of the latest tweets from the company’s Twitter account. Know what the hot topics are, and be prepared to discuss them in the context of your valuable experience.
5. Avoid focusing on age—yours or anyone else’s.
There’s no need to call attention to your age, even in a humorous or self-deprecating way. Think of it as a non-issue, and your prospective employer will likely do the same. It’s also worth noting that there’s nothing to be gained by commenting on anyone else’s age either. Even if, for instance, you are old enough to be the interviewer’s parent, don’t say that out loud.
The only exception is if you sense that a younger interviewer is feeling insecure about supervising someone who has more experience or a deeper skillset. In that case, it can be worthwhile to subtly let them know that you are not looking to take over anyone’s job, and are prepared to work for someone younger than yourself.
Older folks are often assumed to be inept with today’s technology. It’s an unfortunate stereotype, but one that’s relatively easy to overcome.
While you may not want to list any specific technologies on your resume, there are other, more subtle ways to let a prospective employer know that you are comfortable with the digital tools of the trade. For instance, you can include your LinkedIn URL and Twitter handle on your resume, you can offer to meet via Zoom or other video platforms, and you can mention your favorite digital tools.
If you’re feeling unsure about your level of tech savvy, there are plenty of places to learn. There are many organizations that offer training (often for free), and you can often find great tutorials on YouTube. If an employer mentions using a specific software, you can check out the software company’s training materials.
7. Prepare for the most common push back.
Older candidates often face tricky conversations about being “overqualified,” which basically translates to “too expensive.” Other times, an interviewer might push hard to know more about why you’re currently out of work or have been out of the workforce for an extended period of time. It’s important to really think through how you’d like to answer these questions so that you aren’t caught out stumbling through a half-baked response.
For example, when facing the overqualified/too expensive objection, you might talk about why the particular role is so interesting to you, how your priorities actually align with both the organization and the salary they are willing to pay, the different ways you can contribute and deliver value, and so forth. In other words, have a plan to gently but firmly refocus the conversation on why you are the perfect fit for what they need.
8. Keep an open mind when it comes to types of positions.
While you might ultimately be seeking a full-time position, don’t discount the value of part-time and even contract or freelance work. These kinds of positions can be the foot in the door that you need to maneuver into the exact role you want. And, even if you don’t end up converting a freelance assignment into a long-term position, the skills you learn, experience you gain, and people you add to your network can go a long way toward getting you closer to your next great opportunity.
9. Find the right kind of organization.
Try to avoid having too many preconceived notions about the kind of company you hope will hire you. You might start out thinking you want to work for a big-name corporation, but end up discovering your best professional opportunity at a non-profit, startup, or academic institution.
It’s also important to pay attention to an organization’s mission, values, and company culture. Don’t be afraid to ask about these elements of an organization. They can make all the difference in the quality of your experience.
10. Believe the right job is out there.
Last, but certainly not least, be optimistic and positive about your prospects. You have a lot to offer the right employer, you just need to make the right match. Job searches can be long and frustrating, but giving in to the frustration won’t do you any good.
If you hit a rough patch, try learning something new or tapping into a new network. See if you can find other people who are going through a similar process and willing to share their experiences. You are definitely not in this alone, and it can be cathartic to trade war stories, whether you are in your twenties or your sixties.
At the end of the day, as with most things, patience and perseverance will win out. And then you will have the pleasure of embarking on a whole new adventure, sharing your expertise with others and learning new things along the way.