Many workers over 50 know the feeling of a hiring manager looking across the desk at them and seeing their “expiration” date. They think you aren’t in it for the long haul. You won’t play well with younger workers (or bosses). You’re set in your ways. You are a techno-averse. And, worst of all, you don’t have the stamina for the job.But there are ways to ramp up your chances of being hired, and it starts with a few smart moves on your part.
1. Set-up a Linked-In profile. Your Linked-in profile is your living résumé. A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 77 percent of employers are using social networks to recruit, a sharp increase from the 56 percent who reported doing so in 2011. Among the recruiters using social tools, 94 percent said they use LinkedIn.
Put together a profile. You can change it anytime; put up videos of speeches you’ve done, PowerPoint presentations, a video résumé even. Highlight your volunteer work that you might being doing to fill the gaps in your résumé while you’re job hunting, and frame it in business terms. For example, you were a project manager, a fundraiser, or public relations pro.
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Choose a recent photo for your headshot. Pick one that’s not blurry and where you’re smiling, or at least looking approachable and energetic.
Search for people you know who work at firms where you might want to work, or you know is hiring and send an invitation to connect to them. Ask if they can lend you a helping hand in some way. For more of my LinkedIn tips, check out my Great Jobs column here. For more on online job board help, check out this post.
2. Give your résumé a facelift. Rein your résumé in to two pages. Most recruiters will eyeball it in 20 or 30 seconds. Choose a plain font, such as Times New Roman, in 9- to 12-point size, and use black type on white paper. Other fonts to consider are Arial, Calibri, Cambria and Tahoma. Highlight the most recent 10 to 15 years of experience.
Your résumé must tell a story, not simply provide a list of job titles and dates. Slide in short snatches such as you cut costs by a certain percentage, increased sales by 25 percent, or delivered project months ahead of schedule.
Proofread it–over and over again. Print it out. Read it out loud. Ask someone else you trust to read it.
Bonus tip: If you’re applying online, never put down your current salary. That’s no one’s business. When the form asks, put down your target salary.
3. Network like crazy. It’s highly unlikely that you will get hired from an online application sent into a vacuum. Employers hire people they know, or people they know, know. The concern of making a bad hire, which can be costly for an employer, makes them extremely risk adverse. Tap into your Facebook friends, your kid’s friend’s parents, your church congregation—leave no stone unturned. Connections can spring from unlikely sources.
Pick up the phone. Ask for help and advice. Networking, as I like to say, is just one letter off from not working. If you don’t establish any personal connection to the company, you’re probably wasting your time even applying.
Get out of the house. If there’s a certain industry you’re interested in, join an association connected with it and seek out volunteer openings. Attend industry and professional meetings and conferences. You never know who will know someone who is hiring. And many college and university career centers are helping alumni, too. You may be able to tap into career counseling there or, workshops on resume writing, job fairs, and retraining programs.
4. Open up your bandwidth. Many of us hit our boomer years and the pay is not high enough for all our experience, or the job description to narrow for all the things we can do. Or we try to replicate the same job we had before. When it comes to landing a new job, so many people I talk to are so stuck in the idea that they need to replace the job they had before.
Not so. Look at your skill set and past experience as exchangeable to lots of different fields. If you’re switching industries, you’re “redeploying” skills you already have in place.
Turn off that negative vibe that’s running through your head. If the pay is not up to snuff, there may be ways to negotiate for more flextime, vacation days, and other perks that can make it more palatable.
Consider taking a contract job that can lead to a full-time post, or gives you the ability to weave together a patchwork of jobs in the Me Inc. mode.
All jobs are a work in progress. There’s a good chance once you get in the door, you can make it your own and grow the position to fit your talents.
5. Image matters. Get in shape. You probably don’t need to dye your hair or get a Botox injection–unless that will really make you feel youthful and confident. Ageism does exist in the workplace, but you can fight back. People will judge you by how you look.
When you’re physically fit, it sends the message subliminally that you’re up for the job. You have a certain vibrancy and energy that people want to be around. Your attitude is positive. It works. I don’t mean you have to run a fast mile. Eating a healthier diet will help you, too. You’re selling the entire package of who you are–not just your work experience and talent.
6. Never sit around and feel sorry for yourself. If you’re unemployed, try volunteering for a nonprofit organization, or do pro-bono work that keeps your skills current. It will allow you to network and potentially get your foot in the door with a future employer. It also fills in gaps in your résumé. Moreover, you might meet someone who will lead you to a job opening elsewhere.
Search for prospects at VolunteerMatch.org, HandsOnNetwork.org and AARP’s Giving Back. Seek out nonprofits that need your particular professional expertise through Taproot Foundation, and the Executive Service Corps. Bridgespan.org runs an online job board for nonprofit positions. Idealist.org has a searchable database of both volunteer and paid positions.
7. Learn something new. If you can show a hiring manager that you’re taking classes, a workshop, working toward a professional certification, it shows that you are not stuck in your ways and are open to learning. Plus, the very activity of learning makes you feel unstuck, more alive. It re-fires your brain.
Kerry Hannon has spent more than 25 years covering personal finance and careers for Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today. She is a contributor and retirement columnist for The New York Times. She is AARP’s Jobs Expert.
Kerry is the author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … And Pays the Bills (John Wiley & Sons), available at www.kerryhannon.com. Her latest book is What’s Next?: Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond. Follow her on Twitter, @KerryHannon.