The job market for those over 50 is especially challenging. As companies have downsized, merged, and reorganized, the casualties were often older employees. Long years spent with the company only count for so much when it comes down to dollars and cents.
Once older workers lose a job, they will typically spend more time than younger workers searching for their next gig. Those over 55 can expect to spend an average of 35 weeks looking for employment, while younger job seekers tend to find something within 26 weeks.
What can you do if, in spite of your best efforts and dedicated hard work, you find yourself unemployed? I recently found myself out of work due to my company being acquired by a larger entity. At age 54 I was less than excited about the prospect of having to once again market myself and my skills to new companies. But I have learned a thing or two over the years that helped in past job searches:
Networking, first and foremost. Many jobs are never advertised to the public. Availability of a new position is often shared with employees who then assess their network of contacts to see if there might be a good fit. You want to be in front of as many friends, family, and acquaintances as possible, because you never know what opportunities might arise. And when something does open up you want to be there right away. Take old co-workers out for coffee, have lunch with old bosses, reach out to contacts on LinkedIn to update your search status, and tell your story when you meet new people at events. Don’t keep it a secret that you are looking for a job.
Have your elevator pitch prepared. If you do run into someone who might be able to assist you, be ready with a short, precise description of what you have done in the past and what you are looking for. You will want to highlight significant accomplishments you achieved while also painting a picture of the ideal job you would like to find. Keep it brief, but remember you are selling your capabilities and worth. Practice your lines so you can recite them without effort, and continue to fine tune the message over time.
Become your own recruiter. You know what you are capable of doing and what you want to be doing. Who is better qualified to search for the best fit possible? Look for companies within your commute zone that do what interests you. Check out career listings on websites to see if there might be a position that matches your skills. If not, create a cover letter that sells you and will intrigue potential employers, something that allows you to rise above all of the other applicants. Include a resume and send it to the human resources department. You can take it one step further by finding the particular executive who manages the department you are interested in working for and sending him or her a powerful cover letter to pique interest. Just search under the "about" or "company" link on the website to get a listing of the management team. Chances are you will be routed back to HR, but you may catch their eye in the process. Realize that by approaching the company directly they will not have to pay a recruiting fee that can be 10 to 30 percent of your first year salary.
Be better prepared for the interview than the next person. Take your time before the interview to learn as much about the company as you can. Watch the videos on the website to become familiar with the positioning and messaging for services offered. Read the news releases to be familiar with recent significant activities. Research the history of your interviewers and potential boss on LinkedIn and Google. Know who the competition is. Have good questions to ask tailored for the different interviewers you are scheduled to meet. Practice your standard interview questions, and have quality answers ready on the tip of your tongue.
You only get one first impression. When you meet for your interview you will have a first impression of the interviewer, as they will of you. What you wear, your hair style, the firmness of your handshake, the eye contact you maintain, and even the shine on your shoes can be important. Don’t be guilty of wearing outdated clothes or hairstyles. Put a few eye drops in before your meeting since red or tired eyes are not a plus. Answer questions clearly and confidently. Don’t speak too fast, but remain confident. As an older worker, you should be confident that you know the skills you possess, you know the job requirements, and you know you can do the job. If you didn’t, you would not be here talking with these people.
Dave Bernard is the author of Are You Just Existing and Calling it a Life?, which offers guidelines to discover your personal passion and live a life of purpose. Not yet retired, Dave has begun his due diligence to plan for a fulfilling retirement. With a focus on the non-financial aspects of retiring, he shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement–Only the Beginning.