Navigating the Digital Job Market When You're Not Tech Savvy

How boomers can compete in the online job hunt.


The job search is becoming increasingly digital, with companies and recruiters turning to Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs to find candidates. But where does that leave older, less tech-savvy job seekers.

In many cases, it leaves them without jobs. Though the economy has begun to pick up, workers between the ages of 45 and 54 are still losing jobs overall, with a decline of about 364,000 jobs nationwide for that age group so far this year. And while that demographic isn't getting hired for many reasons, one contributing factor is their lack of comfort with the online world, specifically social media.

Of course, plenty of baby boomers are Internet-fluent. But for the ones who aren't, it can be fatal for a job search.

Take Carol Castle, for example, who's been looking for a receptionist position near her home outside of Portland, Ore., since 2009, when she was laid off from her administrative assistant job at a paper mill. Until appearing as a guest on Oregon Public Broadcasting's Think Out Loud for a segment on job searching in March, she knew little about social networking and how it can be used for a job hunt. "I wasn't even aware that you could look for work that way," says Castle, 57, who was with her last company for 24 years. "It never even occurred to me."

[See The Most Effective Ways to Look for a Job.]

Job seekers like Castle know all too well how much the world of job search has changed over the last decade. The last time many of them looked for a job, filling out an application and shaking a few hands could do the trick. Now, job candidates get a leg up by using digital tools to research the company before the interview, learning about company culture and preferences of the hiring manager. They position themselves as experts on Twitter and LinkedIn. Some even create unique Internet campaigns to catch a hiring manager's eye.

Yet the way people get jobs, in a broader sense, hasn't changed: networking.

"[Boomers] think they have to learn a whole new system, and it will make people shut down," says Anne Messenger, president of Messenger Associates, a company that helps clients with career management. But she says boomers might not be as bad off as they think. "They have experience under their belt, they know what politics are like in the workplace, they really understand [in-person] networking," she says. "If we can just help them understand that social media is just another tool to use to help them do all of that other stuff that they're so good at, they are double ahead of the game."

People who aren't tech savvy actually have some advantages over job seekers who spend a lot of time on the Internet, says Skip Freeman, a headhunter who self-published a book called The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed... Forever! "The tech-savvy people oftentimes let themselves get lulled to sleep behind what they think is the safety of their computer … blasting out resume to online postings, joining a group on LinkedIn, joining discussion groups," he says. "The next thing you know, the whole day has passed and all you've done is been in a virtual world. You've never actually communicated with a human being, and that's what it's going to take to get hired."

Boomers who manage to land a job without online networking, however, may find they lack the technology know-how to succeed in the position. "If you don't have the skills to navigate the digital job market," says Pam Lassiter, career coach and author of The New Job Security, "ask yourself whether you have the skills to perform the job."

[See When Using Job Boards, It Pays to Go Niche.]

How should boomers—or anyone who's not comfortable online—wade through the digital job market? A few tips:

Turn to in-person networking. This age-old strategy still works, so continue to broaden your network by attending in-person events and following up with interesting people. "The most important thing you can be doing is networking," says Phyllis Mufson, a career and small-business consultant. "But," she added, "you can be using the Internet to facilitate that."