Seven job-hunting tips for older workers

If you listen to the experts, North America is facing a dire labour shortage.

“There are now more people retiring out of the workforce than there are younger workers entering it,” says Sarah Welstead of Retired Worker, a website for retired people who want to work on a part-time or contract basis. “Employers who used to resist hiring older workers are now realizing that they represent a great source of highly skilled, experienced and flexible employees that they simply can’t afford to overlook any more.”

And with more boomers saying they either need or want to work past conventional retirement age, it seems a win-win situation. Yet age discrimination and negative stereotypes about older workers continue to exist.

“According to our recent survey, 64 per cent of our job-seekers have experienced age discrimination in the workplace,” Welstead says. “Many employers are reluctant even to consider applicants aged 50+. In many ways, looking for a job after retirement is a lot like looking for your first real job right out of school: you have to work a little harder to get your foot in the door and tell employers why they should hire you.”

Addressing age discrimination in the workplace

Older job-seekers can address age discrimination and find meaningful employment by following these 7 tips.

1. Update your appearance. If your clothing and hairstyle aren’t current, many employers will assume your skills are also out of date. If you haven’t worked recently, you’ll find offices more casual than they used to be. In most industries, the days of the power suit are long past.
“You don’t have to be a fashion plate or spend a lot of money: a pair of khakis and a couple of shirts from Gap can cost less than $100 and will ensure that employers aren’t distracted by wondering whether you’re too ‘old-fashioned’ for their company,” Welstead says. “And don’t forget to stay in shape!”

2. Be patient. While finding a job can be hard work at any age, older workers need to be even more patient and diligent. Many older workers assume that after 35+ years of experience, a job will fall into their lap. Unfortunately, however, many employers are reluctant to consider older workers.

3. Be confident – but not too much. Don’t be shy about a little self-promotion. Tell employers what your strengths are and how they will benefit by hiring you. Remember, however, that while confidence is key, cockiness can work against you.

4. Flash the BlackBerry. Older workers often get a bad rap for their unwillingness or inability to adapt to change – particularly when it comes to technology. While you don’t need to be a computer genius, most employers expect you to feel comfortable with a computer and accessing the internet.

If you’re a computer novice, and if you don’t have one at home, you could benefit from a visit to your local library. Most have computers with free internet access as well as a library staff to help you get started. Another option would be to improve your skills by taking a course. Mastering such software programs as Excel and PowerPoint could be a real plus.

5. Network, network, network. Many job leads come from friends, family or colleagues. In addition to your personal network (and, of course, the Classified section of the newspaper), find job opportunities on employment websites, job boards, corporate websites, temporary agencies, networking and job clubs, career fairs and headhunters. The more avenues you pursue, the better your chances of finding the right job.

6. Focus on experience, not age. Fight negative age stereotypes by focusing on your knowledge and real-world experience. Take pride in your achievements, maturity, and wisdom. When it comes to updating your resume, some experts advise focusing on the most relevant experience of the past 10 to 20 years and when listing university or college degrees, leaving off the year of graduation.

7. Consider a career change. Many older people find meaningful work consulting for businesses (particularly small businesses) in their area of expertise. Others may decide to start their own small business.