By Liz Ryan
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
November 18, 2011
Many job seekers have an uphill climb in this economy. And those over 50 have a specific set of job-search issues to surmount. Age discrimination and tortuous hiring processes are beyond their control, but they can improve on any lack of technical skills and their ability to network, among other things.
Here's a list of common job-search struggles for workers over 50, and what they can do:
Your resume is outdated
We don't stop by the print shop anymore and order 100 identical resumes with matching envelopes like we did in the 1980s. Nowadays, you have to tailor your resume to suit the job for which you're applying. The same goes for cover letters.
Your resume won't get a second look if it doesn't speak a potential employer's language. Before revamping it, be sure to research the company thoroughly. Visit the company's website and "About Us" section. Learn who's in charge, what's going on in the company and within the industry, and who the company's key competitors are. Then decide on your career direction and clearly explain that in the "Objective" section, usually located at the top of your resume.
You've lost your competitive edge
Part of the problem for some over 50 is that they aren't used to the hard-core competitive mentality of today's job market.
You can't change the way the marketplace operates, but you can change your approach to it. Seasoned job seekers have a tendency to lose confidence during a search if everything doesn't immediately go their way — especially if laid off from a previous company — and forget that they bring years of experience and industry knowledge to the table. A great way to remind yourself of these things is to jot them down in a journal. This way, when you're preparing for interviews, you'll have an easy go-to reference for stories to help best highlight your professional accomplishments.
You're not web savvy
Today, it's imperative that you build your professional brand via social-networking tools.
This can be a major barrier that requires forcing yourself to establish a comfort level with using sites such as LinkedIn.com in order to move forward in your job search. Setting up a profile will help you to think about how you want to brand yourself to potential employers. This includes creating a professional headline, writing a career summary and listing your various skills and accomplishments. It's a simple step in the job-search process that can help you connect with dozens of former colleagues and business contacts, who may know of job opportunities.
Hiring managers tell many professionals tossing their hats back into the ring after an extended time away that they're overqualified. This can be frustrating, but you can help ease their concerns.
Start by asking the hiring manager whether the company has had a problem with experienced workers getting bored and leaving. Then reassure him or her that as a seasoned professional in your field, you're passionate about this type of work and couldn't see yourself changing professions after so many years.
You could propose an agreement in which you'd commit to remaining employed with the company for a certain period. In turn, the company might assist with professional development by providing you with the tools to learn a new software program.
Hiring managers have pictures in their minds of ideal job candidates, but sometimes your job as a job seeker is to replace that mental picture with a new image — the image of you knocking the ball out of the park on the company's behalf. You can do this best by telling stories of how you've been placed in less-than-ideal work situations and prevailed — for example, by helping a former employer acquire new clients or by bringing in advertising revenue.
You can't keep up
In today's working world, speed matters, including when it comes to writing follow-up emails to job interviews. Of course, it wouldn't be a good idea to send a hurried tweet to the hiring manager on the way out to your car in the parking lot. It also wouldn't be a good idea to take three business days to compose a thank-you message.
You should be sure that you're reasonably reachable during your job search, too. Hiring managers and recruiters shouldn't abuse a job-seeker's private time, but it's not a good idea to be impossible to reach when your brand says, "Ready to solve your problems now!"
You've got tunnel vision
Many baby-boomer-era professionals grew up in companies where, often, people were told what to do. These days, in smaller organizations and even at big companies, that sort of "Do this now" working culture has practically disappeared.
For one thing, global business moves too fast to allow for strictly top-down communication, and hands-on management is expensive. Now, it's common to have a manager supervising 10 or 20 people in different parts of the country — or even different parts of the world.
If you aren't able to distinguish how what you do fits into the bigger picture and how you can contribute across departments, hiring managers won't even bother to bring you in for a second interview.
These days, the work on every person's desk is interconnected. You should be able to see out past your specific job in order to understand the effect that your work has on a company's bottom line. Saying "I have skills X, Y and Z" is out in a job search; saying "Here's how I've made a difference to each employer on my resume" is in.
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