How an Older Worker Can Get the Interview

Employers say they want experienced workers, but job seekers should be strategic in their search.

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If résumés are rundowns of an individual's lifetime of work experience, then getting an interview should be a cinch for older workers.

Not quite.

While the economy is rocky for all age groups and jobs are scarcer than they were a year ago, older workers may face employers who think they're overqualified, too expensive, or—not to put too fine a point on it—just too old. That's a tough reality for nearly 30 percent of older workers who are rolling back their plans to retire, a figure recently reported by AARP.

Many companies, however, are becoming less focused on the potential drawbacks as baby boomers reach retirement age and create talent shortages, says Jon Zion, president of eastern operations for Robert Half International. Job seekers who are 55 or 60 should not fear they have lost their value or become unemployable, Zion says: "That is a myth; that is untrue."

Here are a few strategies for nabbing the interview as an older worker:

Keep it short. If you've been working for 30 years, you may be tempted to craft a résumé that really shows it. Don't. "In a perfect world, your résumé shouldn't be any longer than 1 1/2 to two pages," Zion says. So how do you keep it brief but still an accurate reflection of your experience? You bullet-point your most recent jobs: title, date, location, and a few accomplishments. "Not a lot," Zion says. "You don't want to say too much. You just want to create some interest."

As you move back to older jobs—beyond your past few roles or 10 to 12 years back—you should merely list the positions with a title, date, and location. The key, Zion says, is to understand that your résumé is not going to secure you a position, so you're not tempted to include everything.

Don't ignore your age. Renée Rosenberg, author of Achieving the Good Life After 50 and a career coach with the Five O 'Clock Club, says older workers need to accept that some employers could have an objection to their age and she recommends addressing it immediately. Her clients have had success using statements like: "You can see that I've been around more years than you have, and let me tell you how that can help you." On a résumé, frankness about experience and maturity can top your summary statement.

Zion recommends that workers consider temporary or contract employment, which can broaden exposure and may lead to a permanent position. (His employer, staffing company Robert Half International, places many clients in temporary or contract jobs.)

Be strategic. The job search is a job in itself, and it's not well compensated, Zion says: "There are no easy quick fixes, no silver bullet." You need to do difficult things, like write out a list of all the connections you've made in your career—coworkers, family members, colleagues in associations to which you've belonged—and make contact. That could take some time, but networking is still the best way to find a job, Zion says. Today you can tap a social network online like LinkedIn for job leads, but you should also still use your local chamber of commerce.

Show off online. One way to display the color and variety of your career—as well as your cutting-edge Web savvy—is to supplement your traditional résumé with a multimedia résumé, such as VisualCV. The free, Web-based résumé allows users to build a colorful portfolio of document proposals, PDFs, blueprints, PowerPoint documents—"anything you might have done that shows some applicability to the position you're applying for," says Doug Meadows, vice president and general manager of operations for VisualCV (you can see his résumé online).

In the text of your résumé, viewers can scroll over names of former employers or colleges and scan pop-ups with basic details and Web links—particularly useful if the employer was small or the college somewhat obscure. Each VisualCV résumé has a URL, so you can print the Web address on your business card or include the link in your contact with a potential employer.

Don't go overboard. You can add video to your VisualCV—maybe a speech given at an industry conference. But Meadows is not too keen on the often-awkward, and potentially self-destructive, video résumé. He suggests taking advantage of the available application and including a "video handshake." In 60 seconds or less, introduce yourself, quickly explain your background and what you're looking for, and then stop talking. You're trying to communicate personality and communication skills, but you shouldn't be trying to anticipate and speak to a potential employer's needs.