This article originally appeared in the November 2019 edition of Senior Scope. Article and photos by Seth Thomas.
Older workers have a lifetime of skills and practical experience, yet many struggle when it’s time to search for a job.
For a closer look at some of the concerns of older job seekers – and how to overcome these obstacles – Senior Scope spoke with Janice Harris, an employment coordinator for Coastline’s Senior Community Service Employment Program, and James Daniels from the MassHire Greater New Bedford Career Center.
The Career Center, which is located on Acushnet Avenue, offers job training, coordinates with employers who are hiring, and provides regular workshops on résumé writing, interviewing, and basic computer skills.
Daniels, who works as a system director at the Career Center, said older job seekers are often confronted with ageism despite being excellent candidates.
“It’s a stereotype they face – that as we get older, we’re not as quick, we’re not as sharp, we’re not flexible,” said Daniels. “I think that our role in the Career Center is to correct that view. The older job seeker is motivated, they know career readiness and they have so much experience.”
The following are tips for those who are looking to secure a job in today’s market.
Tailor Your Résumé to Each Job Posting
Harris recommends that applicants never send identical résumés to every employer. Instead, look at the job posting and identify what specific skills the employer is seeking. Those skills should appear toward the top of your résumé and cover letter.
The reason for doing so has less to do with making a strong first impression and more to do with technology. Many employers now use computer software called “applicant tracking systems” that will screen an application for keywords. If the tracking system analyzes your résumé and doesn’t find any of the desired words or phrases, your application may never be viewed by human eyes.
“I remember when you used to walk into a business and ask them for an application, they would hand you a piece of paper and you would fill it out,” said Harris. “Sometimes, before you even finished filling it out, you could talk to the boss. Now, everything is computerized.”
Due to these applicant tracking systems, she said the words you use toward the top of your résumé should be exactly the same as the words in the original job posting. For example, if the employer is searching for a “multitasker,” use that phrase. Do not write something similar, such as “I work well in a fast-paced environment.”
Take Stock of All Your Skills
While the top of your résumé and cover letter should incorporate the key phrases found in the original job posting, don’t forget to mention all the other skills you can bring to a job. These include talents or personality traits that employers may not specify in a want ad.
“I always start with history. Look at all the things you’ve done in your life,” said Daniels. “You’ve spent your life building knowledge, skills and abilities that are still useful in the world. Technology can’t do everything. The hardest part about running a business is the people.”
Harris said there are two types of skills employers are looking for: “hard skills” and “soft skills.”
Hard skills are what you can do, such as basic computer skills or being familiar with medical terminology. Soft skills represent how you work – they’re who you are, part of your character.
Daniels has found that some of the skills older job seekers may consider to be “common sense” – like how to get along with others, how to shake a hand or how to maintain eye contact during a conversation – can be lost on younger generations.
These skills may not get top billing on your cover letter, but they are well worth mentioning.
Beware of Negative Words
“A job search is really a sales or marketing campaign,” said Harris. “First you have to know what skills you have, and then you have to be able to market them on an application.”
She recommends that you beware of negative words and phrases when “selling your product,” which can overshadow all that you have to offer.
A negative phrase often contains the word “no” or “not.”
“We do this all the time. We say things like, ‘I’m not very good with computers’ instead of ‘Yes, I have basic computer skills,’” said Harris.
Phrases that limit or diminish the breadth of your skills should also be avoided. Instead of saying ‘I only answered the phones at my last job’ you could write ‘I operated a multi-line switchboard and screened and directed calls.’ If you attended college but did not graduate, you can include information on the courses you completed.
“The hardest part of the job search is within you,” said Daniels. “The hardest part is building self-confidence, that belief in what you do and how you do it, and getting past the mental block that you’re not worthy.”
Stay Up-to-Date with the Latest Technology
What does your email address look like? Does it include your first and last name, or does it incorporate a nickname, a quirky phrase or a chain of numbers?
Harris recommends you create a new email account that is intended for professional use only. This professional email address should include your name or initials. These kinds of email address (like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org) may already be taken. However, you can try some variation of that formula, such as email@example.com.
Also, think about getting an account on LinkedIn, a website similar to social media sites in which you create a custom profile and connect with others.
LinkedIn’s primary purpose is for networking online. Users can upload their work experience and employers can search the site for potential employees.
Daniels said the Career Center will frequently host classes and workshops on computer skills and résumé writing, including how to draft a professional-looking résumé on a computer and how to send it to employers via the Internet.
“We help them get through all of that,” he said.
Attitude is Everything
When it comes time to interview for a job, Harris compared the experience to a first date.
“The first interview is in many ways similar to a first date. You don’t know the other person, you’re presenting your best self, and you’re exchanging information: that’s exactly what’s going on at a job interview,” she said.
She noted that at the end of a first date, you may find that you have nothing in common with the other person, but they may like you regardless.
“It’s called likability. There was chemistry,” she said. “Sometimes they hire people who may not have all the qualifications for a job, but they like you. You’re trainable. You come across as someone they want to work with every day.”
For more information, visit the MassHire Greater New Bedford Career Center, where they frequently hold workshops that can help in a job search. The center is located at 618 Acushnet Avenue, New Bedford, MA 02740. Visit the center online at masshiregnbcc.com.
Call Coastline to learn more about the Senior Community Service Employment Program at 508-999-6400 or visit the program’s website by clicking here.
Get started on your job search by creating a profile on LinkedIn at linkedin.com.