"Should I just find a park bench to feed the ducks for my remaining years?" That's what an older frustrated job hunter lamented when explaining how difficult it has been to find employment.
Although the recession is over and hiring has been picking up, workers with the most experience continue to meet great resistance in their job search. Age discrimination, while illegal, clearly is an ever-present fact of life in hiring decisions. There is no surefire way to eliminate it altogether, but there are ways to minimize its effects. To get your next job if you are well advanced in you career, you will need to understand and deal with the psychology and fears behind that discrimination.
The need to have excellent communications skills is not age related. But as a more-seasoned worker, you should take pains to demonstrate that you are up to date with today's terminology and methods of communication. Demonstrate your abilities effectively in your résumé, LinkedIn profile, cover letters and on interviews.
Don't confuse failure to get a job due to poor messaging with failure to get a job because you're an older worker. To get the results you seek, make every effort to understand the overall needs of your target company and hiring manager. Then tailor your message to demonstrate the unique benefit you can provide.
Step back for a moment to examine some of the most common reasons why discrimination takes place to begin with, and then address them in the way you present yourself.
1. Hiring managers are wary of workers with a "been there, done that" attitude. While this attitude doesn't solely belong to older workers, the longer one has worked the more likely he or she is to have actually been there and done it all before. Workers in this frame of mind tend to be bored with their tasks and thereby to become less attentive to their surroundings and what they are doing. This can in turn lead to inaccurate work, failure to attend to details and a variety of kinds of workplace accidents or injuries.
TIP: Take pains in your cover letter and at every point thereafter to explain why you are enthusiastic about actually doing the work associated with the position. Don't just assert it, but explain what about the position fascinates you and why.
2. Hiring managers want people hungry for success. The general perception is that people working their way up the corporate ladder are keener on producing top-flight results to propel their career forward. By contrast, the person nearer retirement is perceived to be more likely to "coast," do what is required, but nothing more.
TIP: Demonstrate that your energy level and intellectual curiosity remain high. Talk about how import it is to be a top producer and why. At every step along the way demonstrate that you are up to date with your skills, and that you don't sit on your laurels.
This applies to your communications as well. Make sure that you have a strong presence on LinkedIn, with a personalized LinkedIn URL on your résumé, business card and letterhead. Keep your language up to date by avoiding outdated terms and expressions, and utilize the latest idioms and jargon.
3. Hiring is about the value you bring, not the length of your career. When you draw attention to a very long work history, you may inadvertently imply that you aren't up to speed with today's technologies and methodologies. Virtually nothing is done today the way it was in the 80s or 90s.
TIP: Don't begin your elevator speech, cover letter or interview with: "I've got 25 years of experience doing…" Instead, lead with your current skills and recent accomplishments.
4. Today's workplace is about teams, sharing and transparency. Business organizational charts are flatter now than ever. Open workspaces and mentalities have won out over closed doors and information silos. This represents a sea change in corporate culture, and hiring managers are concerned about how older workers will fit.
TIP: Be aware of the culture in companies in which you have an interest. Where possible, highlight specific ways you have contributed to team endeavors. And by all means, don't talk about "open-door policies" in a place that has no doors.
Lastly, think about ways in which your age can work to your advantage. Be prepared to tell stories about how your mature, cool-headed response to a situation saved the day. Sprinkle in lessons you've learned that come with age and experience that your younger competition can't match.
When you carefully calibrate your message in such a way as to take into account and allay a hiring manager's fears, you will have taken the extra step required of older workers seeking employment. This way you can go about your search confident that you will ultimately find an employer eager to seize the value you represent by hiring you.
Arnie Fertig is the head coach of JOBHUNTERCOACH.COM, where he utilizes his extensive background in HR Staffing and as owner of a recruiting company to help mid-career job-hunters land their next job. Arnie provides one-to-one coaching services to individuals throughout the U.S. in all aspects of the job hunt, including: resume writing, personal branding, utilizing social media, enhancing networking skills, preparing for interviews, and negotiating compensation.