How To Leverage Your Experience as an Over-50 Job Seeker

If you’re over 50, ageism is real and it could be getting in the way of your job search. Illegal or not, age discrimination happens all too often in a labor market where employers have preconceived notions about the longevity, tech-savviness, and financial cost of candidates over a certain age. Or, they may have concerns that an older employee will struggle reporting to a boss half their age. Regardless of the fact that these negative stereotypes have no proven merit, fighting against them can feel like an uphill battle. The good news is, hiring trends are beginning to show a change in thinking.

Recent data reveals a marked shift in the hiring of mature candidates. As more people over 65 are working than ever before, hiring managers are beginning to see the advantage of having a diverse staff that includes people with years of experience across numerous industries. A study by U.S News and World Report showed that 70 percent of human resource experts believe older workers have a strong work ethic and while younger job seekers may have more current “hard” skills, such as tech competency, it’s much harder to teach job engagement and commitment. A growing number of companies are intentionally recruiting mature candidates and even creating specialized programs to attract older workers with the knowledge that they can provide an important mentorship role to those just starting their careers.

Does this mean that there suddenly won’t be ageism in hiring practices anymore? Probably not, but the tide is turning. Now, more than ever, it’s important to actively showcase the advantages your many years of experience will bring to an employer. To do this, you first need to be convinced yourself. It can be easy to underestimate the wealth of knowledge, discernment, and critical thinking you have accumulated over your career, so it’s essential that you take the time to unpack it all and repackage it to impress prospective employers. Here are some key ways to leverage your experience.

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Translate Your Years of Experience into Clearly Defined Skills

Stand out from other applicants by clearly addressing what matters to an employer. Studies show that transferable skills such as communication and teamwork consistently rank highest on the list of desirable traits in a candidate. Not only should you lead with your accomplishments, you should specify your abundance of strongly developed skills—facilitating teams, anticipating and solving problems, assuming responsibility, resolving conflict—and how they are invaluable to the job in question. A great resource for translating relevant proficiencies is Portland State University’s Transferable Skills Worksheet from their Advising and Career Services center.

Make sure your resume grabs the attention of recruiters. It needs to be customized and specific to each position you apply for. It’s not necessary to list every job you’ve ever had. In fact, you should probably limit your resume to the last 10-15 years worth and only showcase what’s related to the job you’re hoping to land. Take some time to update your resume, if it looks pretty much the same as it did ten years ago, it probably needs some freshening up. You want to communicate that you’re current and aware of modern hiring trends and expectations—the smallest details, like what font and format you use, can make all the difference.

Address Employers Concerns When Discussing Your Experience

It’s important to be proactive and address an employer’s potential doubts right off the bat. Use your cover letter to highlight your record of results and successes but, also to focus on how you’ve been successful. Emphasize your flexible management style, your adeptness at learning new skills, and your capacity for working with people of all ages. Further, you may already know you’re lacking certain skills—take the time to become proficient in an area that employers will want to see.

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If you’re not utilizing social media as a major part of building your professional brand, you should be. It’s critical that you address any assumptions that you’re out of touch with technology by displaying an engagement with social networking platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter.

Focus On Smaller Companies and Non-profit Organizations

While it’s true that more companies are hiring mature candidates, change takes longer in larger corporations. Smaller organizations tend to be not overly concerned with age and more focused on an individual’s experience and ability to achieve results. Additionally, non-profit organizations are far less likely to discriminate and actually welcome a more mature knowledge base. Organizations such as the Encore Fellowship offer opportunities to candidates 50 and over to work at a non-profit for 6 months to a year. About half of their fellows have gone on to find careers in the non-profit sector.

Network

At the end of the day, no matter what age you are, it’s still about who you know and making those important connections. Attend events and job fairs, volunteer, join social media networking communities and above all, be confident in communicating the wealth of experience and professionalism you bring to the table—it will be contagious.