Many workers over 50 know what it feels like to have a hiring manager peer across the desk wearing a skeptical expression. You can guess what they are thinking — that you aren’t in it for the long haul, that you won’t play well with younger workers (or bosses). You’re set in your ways. You are tech-averse. And, worst of all, you don’t have the stamina for the job.
But there are ways you can combat those stereotypes and ramp up your chances of being hired. It starts with a few smart moves on your part:
1. Set-up a LinkedIn profile. Your LinkedIn 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. Include videos of speeches you’ve given, PowerPoint presentations, a video résumé even. Highlight any volunteer work you’re doing to fill the gaps in your résumé and frame it in business terms. For example, you were a project manager, a fundraiser, or public relations pro. Choose a recent photo for your headshot. Pick one that’s not blurry and where you’re smiling and looking approachable and energetic.
Search for people you know who work at firms where you might want to work and send them an invitation to connect. Be careful as you sign up not to allow LinkedIn to send a request to everyone on your contact list, which can seem unprofessional.
2. Give your résumé a facelift. Trim your résumé 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 some metrics, 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 aloud. 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. Tap into your Facebook friends, your kid’s friend’s parents, your church congregation — leave no stone unturned. Connections can spring from unlikely sources. 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. Many college and university career centers are helping alumni, too. You may be able to tap into career counseling, workshops, job fairs, and retraining programs.
4. Expand your horizons. When it comes to landing a new job, so many people I talk to get stuck thinking that they need to replace the job they had before. Not so. Look at your skill set and past experience as relevant 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 a job more palatable.
Consider taking a contract job that can lead to a full-time position, or that gives you the ability to weave together a patchwork of jobs. 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. People will judge you by how you look. 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.
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.
6. Ride the age wave. You can find good opportunities in your 50s and 60s by doing jobs that serve people in their 70s and 80s. Consider fields like physical therapy, home renovation, healthcare and financial planning.
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, or working towards a professional certification, it shows that you are not stuck in your ways. Plus, the very activity of learning makes you feel less stuck, more optimistic and energetic. Then you can turn that energy and confidence and apply it to your job search.
Kerry Hannon is a career and retirement expert and author of What’s Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyondand Great Jobs for Everyone 50+