Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate
The last few years of high unemployment have hit seniors especially hard. While there is some good news, the job market remains rough for people 55 and up.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that senior unemployment was 5.6 percent in 2011. That’s lower than the overall average in the U.S., but it’s doubled from 2.3 percent in 1990. This is because more seniors than ever are working. So many more seniors are looking for work. Some are succeeding, but more are not.
The average duration of unemployment for those 55 is hovering just over 58 weeks – that’s over a year. Consider that at the start of the recession, the average length of unemployment for older workers was just 20.2 weeks. The percentage of senior workers unemployed for 27 weeks or more, called the long-term unemployed, is 58.8 percent. Unemployed younger workers by contrast are out of work an average of 38 weeks.
What older workers have going for themselves is years of knowledge, wisdom, a great work ethic, and the ability to reinvent themselves. They have done it many times over a long career, learning new skills and adopting new technology.
There are five keys to increasing your odds of getting a job more quickly when you are over 55.
1. Build Your Network
The more people know you are looking for a job, the more they can help you with referrals and tips abut openings. Telling your family, friends and neighbors is a good start. But you need to expand your reach by becoming active on the three big social networks online: Facebook, Twitter, and especially LinkedIn. Social media is the fastest, most efficient way to spread the word about your job hunt. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the number of companies using sites like LinkedIn to recruit job candidates has increased 50 percent in the last three years.
If you are unsure how to use these tools, there is plenty of advice available on these sites, and free seminars are frequently available. The single more important site for job seekers is LinkedIn, used primary for career and professional networking. It is a must for job seekers. You can post an online resume, join career specific networking groups, and get in touch with former colleagues, clients, and contacts.
2. Stay Focused
While you need to network online, avoid wasting time on huge job databases and sending resumes into a cyberspace black hole. Instead, use your networks to find the websites of companies you might like to work for, places where you may have personal connections. Review the job listings, usually posted under “Careers” or “Employment Opportunities.” If you belong to a professional association or organization, its website may have a job banks with openings in your career field. And if you don’t belong to a professional association, now is the time to join.
Take a tip from college graduates and contact key decision makers and leaders for informational interviews. Find out what associations and groups they belong to, and contact them there. Attend their presentations and speeches for the opportunity to meet them.
3. Prepare and Make the Most of Your Interview
Job interviews present special challenges to older candidates. But you can meet and beat any objections with just attention to a few important details. First, stay upbeat. Forget past rejections. The interviewer doesn’t know about them (and doesn’t need to know). Show energy, be dynamic and interesting. The stereotype of older workers is that they will tire out. Look alive! Sit up straight, literally at the edge of your seat. Do your homework about the company and ask smart questions of the interviewer. Be knowledgeable and inquisitive.
Dress professionally and up-to-date. If you haven’t bought a new suit or gotten a new hairstyle in several years, invest in them. Nothing screams irrelevant to a younger interview than an out-of-date fashion image. It may seem superficial, but why not give yourself every chance to get the job? Show on the outside what you have to offer on the inside.
4. Stay Engaged
Whether you are offered a temporary, contract or part-time position or a full-time, long-term position, be engaged and involved in all aspects of your workplace. Be on time, volunteer to learn something new, get to know your colleagues. Be a team player. This is important for success at any age. Keep in mind your age may make you seem intimidating or harsh to younger co-workers. Be friendly and approach them as peers, never superior. Keep things light and genuine. They will appreciate your respect and you will have it returned.
Try to avoid resisting new ideas and techniques. Don’t display resentment toward younger supervisors or managers. Be open to learning, and offer your experience sparingly.
5. Know Your Value
An experienced, seasoned senior employee has a lot to offer. You have seen it all. You don’t sweat the small stuff. You don’t crumble under pressure. You are not likely to call in sick Monday morning because you have been out at the club dancing and drinking all night. (Although we should never assume or stereotype). You are reliable, diligent, and adaptable. Be confident, make contacts with assurance, and you will be able to show anyone that they need you more than you need them.
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!