Getting hired in today’s job market is getting harder, especially for the employees with decades of experience: If you’re a job seeker in your 40s or older, your extensive work background might lead to you being labeled as “overqualified,” and cost-cutting companies could be scared off by your salary history. Or, on the flip side, an employer looking at the old-school skills on your résumé might decide you’re out of touch, unprepared for a digitally dependent workplace.
In the current economy, as companies keep cutting jobs and the unemployment rate mounts, it’s more likely than ever that you’ll be competing for scarce job openings against a legion of new college grads — twenty-somethings who are younger than you, more comfortable with computers and new technologies, and who may be more willing to take a position with an entry-level salary and a demanding work schedule.
But with the right strategy, there are ways to use your age to your advantage. Here are six tips, along with advice from professionals and the hiring managers themselves, to help you get your years of experience to work for you during the application process and in the interview.
(Quotes below taken from U.S. News & World Report: “How an Older Worker Can Get the Interview” by Liz Wolgemuth and “6 Ways for Older Workers to Impress Hiring Managers” by Emily Brandon.)
1) Keep your résumé short.
As an older worker, you have a wealth of work experience that a recent grad doesn’t. While it’s good to drive that point home, “your résumé shouldn’t be any longer than one-and-a-half to two pages,” says Jon Zion, president of Eastern operations for Robert Half International, the world’s largest specialized staffing firm and the parent company for staffing agencies Accountemps, OfficeTeam, and The Creative Group.
Use bullets to get in information like job title, date, location, and a few accomplishments.
“You don’t want to say too much,” Zion says. “You just want to create some interest.”
While keeping it to-the-point, make sure you’ve peppered your résumé with the right high-impact words and action verbs. Many large companies now use computer programs that scan your résumé and cover letter for target key words in order to weed out the applications that don’t cut it. Don’t make it past this automated gatekeeper, and a human being may never even see your application. For some extensive lists of résumé key words you can draw on, try Résumé Help, Quintessential Careers, and Professional Résumés.
2) Zero in on your relevant skills.
The longer you’ve been in the work force, the more likely you are to have held multiple jobs at various companies. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you’ve worked in a range of different industries, slapping every job you’ve ever had on your résumé and listing all your responsibilities for each and every position will make you look well-rounded and experienced. Your résumé will just end up being unfocused and likely passed over by busy hiring managers who can’t find the job-relevant info they’re looking for right off the bat.
Instead, highlight only the work experience that applies directly to the job you’re applying for. This usually means you’ll need to custom-tailor your résumé for each position you’re applying for.
You should still provide prospective employers with a reasonably full work history — you don’t want to have a bunch of gaps in your employment history. Just be very deliberate about how you arrange your information: Consider listing your most relevant work experience first, and spend more time describing your work responsibilities at relevant jobs than at non-relevant ones. For those jobs that don’t relate to what you’re currently applying for, you may just want to list your employer and your title; you can answer any questions about what you did there during an interview.
3) Get specific.
The best way to convey just how much value you can bring to a new company is by giving specific examples of how you improved the bottom line for previous companies you’ve worked for, whether an idea you came up with led to the company making bigger profits or streamlined workflow. Use specific numbers whenever you have them.
“We are really looking at past performance to predict future performance,” says Kristy Rigot, system director for recruitment and retention at Lee Memorial Health System in Fort Myers, Fla.
4) Emphasize your ability to adapt.
Show employers you’re not resistant to new technologies or other changes. The more you embrace learning and support the evolution of a company, the better your chances are of competing with a bunch of young go-getters.
Give examples of how you adapted when your last company implemented a new software program or marketing campaign strategy, or when one of your employers joined forces with a new business partner that completely changed the way your company did business.
It’s important for job applicants, particularly seasoned ones, to “present themselves as eager to try new things,” says Dale Sweere, the director of human resources for Stanley Consultants in Muscatine, Iowa. “If they can demonstrate through their past experience or give examples of how they adapted to new experiences even late in their career, that is all the better.”
5) Develop your Web savvy.
Establish an online presence. Join professional social networking sites like LinkedIn and XING, where you can connect with past and current colleagues and use these connections to search and get recommended for jobs. Previous bosses and colleagues can post comments about your past work performance for prospective employers to see.
You can even go one step further and create a VisualCV, an online multimedia résumé that allows you to include video, pictures, and a portfolio of your best work. Securely share different versions of your résumé with different companies, and control who sees what. Each visual résumé has its own unique Web address, which you could print on a business card or e-mail to a potential employer.
6) Talk about your leadership skills.
Companies usually want to see that, as an experienced worker, you bring more to the table than just your knowledge. Businesses may look to older or seasoned workplace veterans to teach newbies the ropes and to help them learn how to effectively convey their ideas to senior executives and upper management.
“We’re basically looking for the ability to share ideas, good interpersonal skills, and good communication skills,” says Walter Caldwell, manager of staffing resources at The Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo, Calif. “Not only do we have to come up with solutions, we have to be able to explain how we got to a certain point and explain what needs to be done to fix a problem.”