Modern careers seem like a revolving door that pushes you into different jobs every few years—until you reach a certain age. Then, many older workers feel that the door shuts. Overqualified, too expensive, or out of touch with modern technology are just a few of the stereotypes facing senior-level employees on the job hunt.
To help you find a new job to finance your golden years, U.S. News asked companies on AARP's list of best employers for workers over age 50 what they look for in an older worker. Here's how you can impress hiring managers:
Demonstrate your experience. As an older worker, you bring a lifetime of accumulated experiences to a job that a younger person can't. Dale Sweere, the director of human resources for Stanley Consultants in Muscatine, Iowa, looks for technical abilities and client relationships in prospective employees. "If we are interviewing an experienced worker who has developed strong client relationships and can speak of the results of those relationships, it carries a lot of weight with us," says Sweere. But don't exaggerate your network of connections. "Often we will check those as part of our reference checking," says Sweere.
Use examples. The best way to convey your rich experiences is with stories of how you improved the bottom line of the company at your past jobs. "We might ask you to give an example of a time when you were asked to juggle multiple priorities and how you handled the situation," says Kristy Rigot, system director for recruitment and retention at Lee Memorial Health System in Fort Myers, Fla. "We are really looking at past performance to predict future performance." Be prepared to pepper the conversation with stories about how you found a way to improve customer service or increased sales by 3 percent.
"I'm going to ask you questions about what you valued in your last job, what your successes were, and what you attribute your successes to," says John Daniel, executive vice president of human resources for First Horizon National Corp. in Memphis, where 26 percent of employees are over age 50. "I listen for enthusiasm, passion, the ability to adapt to change, and something that is demonstrating that you want to be there for more than the pay."
Relate to customers. Consumers are getting older. Senior workers can often better relate to aging customers buying financial products to save for retirement or utilizing healthcare. "When you have people that are facing the same life stage as our customers are, it adds credibility when we are talking about enjoying retirement and that can be a great message to our customers," says Kathleen Souhrada, assistant vice president of recruiting and diversity for the Principal Financial Group in Des Moines.
Chances are by age 50, you've also navigated the healthcare system for at least one illness or ailment. "Many older workers can relate very well to many of the patients in healthcare who need that care," says Kathy Harris, vice president for human resources at Mercy Health System in Janesville, Wis., where about 30 percent of the workforce is over the age of 45. Older workers are employed as home health aids, valets, pharmacists, medical transcriptions, and "sitters" who interact with patients bedside. "They have a lot in common with our patients who are coming here," says Harris.
Emphasize adaptability. Many people have the perception that older workers are set in their ways and resistant to new technology. "I think it's important for a candidate who is out looking for a new opportunity that they are open to new ideas and new training and they should present themselves as eager to try new things," says Sweere. "If they can demonstrate through their past experience or give examples of how they have adapted to new experiences even late in their career, that is all the better."
Don't stereotype younger workers (or bosses). You shouldn't assume that you know something about a coworker simply because of their age. Misty Johnson, assistant director of recruiting and diversity at the Principal Financial Group, noticed that some of the older workers automatically assumed that all the summer interns would be technology savvy, which is not always the case and can be off-putting to younger employees. The same goes for younger supervisors. "Remain positive and remain focused on what you can do for an organization to add value rather than operating with a chip on their shoulder," advises Sweere. "Focus on the accomplishments of the past that you can bring forward and apply to future opportunities you are presented with."
Pass your knowledge on. Companies want older workers willing to coach and mentor younger workers. "We're basically looking for the ability to share ideas, good interpersonal skills, and good communications skills," says Walter Caldwell, manager of staffing resources at the Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo, Calif. "Not only do we have to come up with solutions, we have to be able to explain how we got to a certain point and explain what needs to be done to fix a problem."