6 Tips for Job Seekers Over 50

Advice for older workers on how to keep age from interfering with an effective job search

With employers hiring at a snail’s pace these days, many job seekers have an uphill climb in the current marketplace. And those over 50 have a very specific set of job-search issues to surmount. While some, such as age discrimination and tortuous hiring processes, are beyond their control, others, including a lack of technical skills, the ability to network and not being on the job market for years, are things they can improve upon.

SEE ALSO: ON THE JOB: The New Rules of Job Interviewing for Boomers (and All of Us)

Here’s our list of common job-search struggles for workers over 50, and what they can do to overcome these hurdles:

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Problem: Your Resume Is Out-of-Date

Almost every part of the job-search process has changed dramatically since people like me -- born as Kennedy was taking office -- entered the workforce. We don't stop by the print shop anymore and order 100 identical resumes with matching envelopes like we did in the 1980s. Nowadays, every resume is its own unique creation, because you have to tailor it to suit the particular job for which you’re applying. The same goes for cover letters.

Your resume won’t get a second look if it doesn’t speak a potential employer’s language. Therefore, before revamping it, you’ll want to be sure to research the company thoroughly. Start by visiting the company’s Web site and reading the “About Us” section. Learn who’s in charge, what’s going on in the company and within the industry, and who the company’s key competitors are. Then decide on your career direction and clearly explain what that is in the “Objective” section, usually located at the top of your resume.

Problem: You’ve Lost Your Competitive Edge

Job seekers of all ages have run into this issue, but questions on this topic pop up in my in-box from workers over 50 almost twice as often as from less-seasoned job applicants. They’ll often write saying, "I don't know whether I still have it. I don't know whether I can compete." Part of the problem is that they aren’t used to the hardcore competitive mentality of today’s job market. If older workers didn’t think of finding a job as if it were a death match for scarce opportunities, they might not be so freaked out.

It’s important to remember that you can’t change the way the marketplace operates, but you can change your approach to it. Seasoned job seekers have a tendency to lose confidence during a search if everything doesn’t immediately go their way -- especially if laid off from a previous company -- and forget that they bring years of experience and industry knowledge to the table. A great way to remind yourself of these things is to jot them down in a journal. This way, when you’re preparing for interviews, you’ll have an easy go-to reference for stories to help best highlight your professional accomplishments.

Problem: You’re Not Web-Savvy

Job-seekers over 50 are oftentimes the ones who tell me, “I'd be more active on LinkedIn, but I worry about privacy." There are certainly situations where it's wise to keep a low profile on the Internet. However, when it comes to job searching, in this day and age it’s imperative that you build your professional brand via social-networking tools.

This can be a major barrier that requires forcing yourself to establish a comfort level with using sites such as LinkedIn.com in order to move forward in your job search. Setting up a profile will help you to think about how you want to brand yourself to potential employers. This includes creating a professional headline, writing a career summary, and listing your various skills and accomplishments. It’s a simple step in the job-search process that can help you connect with dozens of former colleagues and business contacts, who may know of job opportunities.

Problem: You’re Overqualified

Many professionals tossing their hats back into the ring after an extended time away have been told that they’re overqualified by hiring managers. This can be frustrating, but there are a few things you can do to help ease their concerns.

Start by asking the hiring manager whether in the past the company has had a problem with experienced workers getting bored and leaving. Then reassure him or her that as a seasoned professional in your field, you’re passionate about this type of work and couldn’t see yourself changing professions after so many years.

If you feel strongly that this is the only obstacle stopping you from receiving an offer, propose an agreement in which you’d commit to remaining employed with the company for a certain period of time. In turn, the company might assist with professional development by providing you with the tools necessary to learn a new software program.

We make the "overqualified" label a much bigger deal than it needs to be. Hiring managers have pictures in their minds of ideal job candidates, but sometimes your job as a job seeker is to replace that mental picture with a new image -- the image of you knocking the ball out of the park on the company’s behalf. You can do this best by telling stories of how you’ve been placed in less-than-ideal work situations and prevailed -- for example, by helping a former employer acquire new clients or by bringing in advertising revenue.

Problem: You Can’t Keep Up With the Pace of Business

A 32-year-old hiring manager told me: "I was really interested in this guy who is about your age. We had a great conversation, and he said he'd send me an e-mail message to follow up. I thought I'd really found my new hire. I met the guy on a Tuesday, and on Friday afternoon I decided to e-mail him to ask about that follow-up message. He said he was still working on it. That pace simply doesn't work in the business world anymore." As much as I sympathize with the job seeker's desire to write the perfect follow-up note, I've got to side with the hiring manager on this one.

When communication in today’s working world is close to 24/7 and we have more ways than ever to be in touch outside of the office, speed matters. Of course, it wouldn't be a good idea to send a hurried tweet to the hiring manager on the way out to your car in the parking lot. But it's also going to the opposite extreme by taking three business days to compose a thank-you message.

You should be sure that you're reasonably reachable during your job search, too -- apart from being on a planned vacation to an off-the-grid destination. Hiring managers and recruiters shouldn't abuse a job-seeker's private time, but it's not a good idea to be impossible to reach when your brand says, "Ready to solve your problems now!"

Problem: You’ve Got Tunnel Vision

Many baby-boomer-era professionals grew up in companies where, oftentimes, people were told what to do. These days, in smaller organizations and even at big companies, that sort of “Do this now” working culture has practically disappeared.

For one thing, global business moves too fast to allow for strictly top-down communication, and hands-on management is very expensive. Now, it's common to have a manager supervising ten or 20 people in different parts of the country -- or even different parts of the world. If you aren’t able to distinguish how what you do fits into the bigger picture and how you can contribute across departments, hiring managers won’t even bother to bring you in for a second interview.

Here’s an example of a job interview gone wrong:

Hiring manager: So, Carl, you're an ace at technical writing. You created a user manual from scratch over at Acme Explosives, correct?

Interviewee: That's correct. It was quite an undertaking.

Hiring manger: And what was the urgency for that project at the time?

Interviewee: Well, the VP really wanted a new manual.

Hiring manager: What was wrong with the old one?

Interviewee: I'm not totally sure. It was just the big project for the year. I just was happy we were able to get it completed.

These days, the work on every person's desk is interconnected. You should be able to see out past your specific job in order to understand the impact that your work and the work of your colleagues has on a company’s bottom line. Saying "I have skills X, Y and Z" is out in a job search; saying "Here's how I've made a difference to each employer on my resume" is in.

Liz Ryan
Contributing Columnist, Kiplinger.com