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5 Essential Keys to Finding Work After Fifty

By Mary Eileen Williams

There is no doubt about it: ageism is alive and well in this country. However, if you're a job seeker who is over fifty, you probably remember the phrase we used to bandy about in our youth with such smug conviction: "Don't trust anyone over thirty!" We can't deny that boomers coined the phrase "generation gap," so ageism is far from new.

Regardless of the challenges grey hair brings, there are certain key strategies you can use that will highlight your skills and experience and make you more attractive to potential employers:

1) Don't focus on the negative aspects of age. Turn these around and consider the wealth of experience you have, the challenges you've faced and overcome, and the skill set you've built up over the years. Don't waste valuable time and energy on organizations that will discriminate against you based on age. Move on to companies and industries where your experience will be valued and market yourself where your time will be best spent.

2) Present a positive, can-do attitude. Stress the fact that you are willing to try new things, possess the required technical knowledge, and are flexible to meet the goals of the organization. Older workers may not need to immediately secure fulltime employment; they can often come in as consultants and work on a project-by-project basis.

In addition, mature workers may no longer need to prove themselves and climb the rungs of the corporate ladder with the level of competitive drive they had in their younger years. Therefore, although you'll certainly make good use of any opportunities for professional growth that come your way, you can also be available to mentor younger workers. Teaching valuable techniques and tools as mentors and guides will translate into ongoing success for the organization-another plus for hiring experienced employees.

3) Know your skill set. You've done your job for years and you know you're good at it. Nevertheless, if you can't name and describe your skills with ease and confidence, you won't be able to attract employers.

Write out a list of your skills in each of these three categories:

  • Your education and/or specialized knowledge: What types of training, formal or informal, did you have for your work and how can your background and specific technical skills benefit organizations?
  • Your personal traits and qualities: What makes you unique as an employee? What is your personal work style? How do you interact with fellow employees? What added value can you create by just being you?
  • Your transferable skills: How can the skills you've acquired in previous positions transfer into working for the new company? Are you good at organizing and coordinating? Are you a leader? Are you skilled at coming up with innovative solutions?

4) Present yourself well on paper. Resumes are generally the key to opening the door for the interview. Make sure yours is in top-notch shape.

  • First, make it eye friendly: use lots of white space and bullets to highlight your skills.
  • Second, have a good template resume and then take the several minutes required to customize it to the specific position you're applying for. If you don't take the time to show your fit and make yourself look like the right candidate for the job, don't bother submitting your resume. It's better to send out a few targeted resumes than hundreds of those that are boilerplate.
  • Third, make sure you back up your skills with examples of how you've used them to make a difference. Did you save the company money or time? Did you oversee successful projects? Did you complete assignments thoroughly and on time? Whenever you can back up your examples with numbers, do so. This adds more weight to your claims.

5) Ace the interview. This is show time and the best opportunity you will have to sell yourself to the position.

  • Much of your initial impression is non verbal, so be sure to have good posture, use a firm handshake, employ appropriate eye contact, and smile. Show a quiet air of confidence. By this age, you know the job and you want to display your ability and personality through your manner.
  • Highlight your skills and back them up with examples of you doing your work at its best. Some of these examples will already appear on your resume and some should be in addition to what is on paper. Examples prove (as much as possible within an interview setting) that you own these skills and that you've used them successfully in the past. People remember stories, and past behavior is the best predictor of future success, so you'll want to wow your interviewer with what you've done.
  • Be certain to follow up a few days later with a thank you note or email stressing how much you enjoyed the interview, how your skill sets match the needs of the position, and expressing your enthusiasm about the job and the organization.

As the mainstay of your marketing strategy-remember that age does have its privileges! You know your stuff, you've got experience, you come with life skills and a mature work ethic, and you'll be a valuable asset to any team or organization that has a need for someone with your talents.

By following these five keys, you're well on your way to demonstrating your unique value as a jobseeker with maturity and confidence. So go out there, anticipate success, and land yourself a great new job!