When you are job searching, you sometimes feel like you are the only one who is struggling. You aren't. Read more about the common concerns older job seekers have and some strategies for feeling more confident and prepared.
Do I have the skills needed to get a job?
How has job-hunting changed since my last search?
How do I overcome age discrimination?
How do I handle the gaps in my employment history?
Will my disability be a factor while searching for a job?
What if I have to work for a boss younger than I am?
All job-seekers want to know which skills employers are looking for. If you learn which skills you possess, and which skills are in demand, you’ll identify where you have strengths and where you can improve your skills. Learning new skills will serve you well in your career and new job. There are several ways to assess your skills.
The AARP’s WorkSearch Assessment System will help you identify the types of jobs you may be best suited for based on your work interests, personality characteristics, and the work and life skills you already have. You can also learn more about what a skill set is and which skills you possess. The WorkSearch Assessment System includes types of skill sets such as transferable skills, personal skills, and work-specific skills, as well as examples of each.
Employability skills are generally divided into three types: basic academic skills, critical thinking skills, and personal qualities. Basic skills include things like reading and writing. Critical thinking skills include things like decision making and planning. Personal qualities include things like integrity and team spirit. Learn more about these skills and see day-to-day life examples of how these are used on our page on Inside the Employer’s Mind -- What Skills Are Employers Looking for?
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You may have been out of the workforce awhile, or perhaps recently laid off, and it seems like years since you’ve gone through this process. Plenty of people are in the same boat. The job-hunting process has changed. Today, most job listings are on the Internet. Resumes and job applications are submitted online. You’ll need multiple resumes based on the different jobs you pursue. You may be applying to work for someone younger than you. Because the job market has changed, it’s not enough to focus on what you have done in the past. Employers want to know what you offer today. You just need to know how to adjust your approach and use the resources available to you.
Resources on this Website can help you get up-to-date. Review our Get Started section for guidance on the top five steps to get you on your way. Take a look at what’s Inside the Employer’s Mind. Learn how to make Social Media and Job Searching work for you on our Job Search Process page.
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Workers 55 and over have been especially hard hit in the economic downturn. Older workers are not only enduring high levels of unemployment, but also staying jobless longer than others. There are also many euphemisms for age discrimination, such as being “overqualified,” “having high salary requirements,” and applying for a job that’s a “step down.”
You can challenge these charges in your resume, at the job interview, and with your attitude. Craft your resume to show how you’ve used your skills and the results you’ve produced. Limit your work history to 10 or 15 years. In an interview, explain that your top priorities are not title or money, but the nature and challenge of the job. Emphasize your attitude, skills, and interests that led you to apply for the job. Show confidence, stress your enthusiasm for the job, and express the reasons why you are uniquely qualified.
Take a look at our page on Inside the Employer’s Mind – Employers and the Older Worker.
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There are common reasons for gaps in employment history. For example, some parents take time off to raise their children. Or, perhaps you had to reenter the workforce after retirement for financial reasons. Many employers expect some gaps in employment history and will accept most reasonable explanations.
There are small gaps in employment and large gaps. Although there are no clear definitions for what constitutes small or large, small gaps are generally no more than a few months. These gaps require little or no explanation. Large gaps are 10 months or more.
It is possible for a job seeker to be unemployed for a year or maybe longer given the state of the economy. Most employers understand how difficult the current job market is and may be more forgiving about lengthy gaps, but they will expect you to talk about how you’ve spent your time. In addition to searching for work, what else did you do? Some suggestions include updating your skills, returning to college, working part time, and volunteering.
Here are some common reasons and explanations for employment gaps.
Laid Off or Fired: Employers understand that layoffs are sometimes a part of life and have compassion for those whose jobs may end abruptly. Explain the reason for the layoff, whether downsizing, restructuring, or something else and let them know a bit about how it left you feeling (scared, overwhelmed, perhaps excited about the possibility for change). The most important thing is to be honest.
If you were fired from a previous job, be honest about the reason and explain that whatever resulted in your firing is something you have worked on and fixed. For example, if you had trouble completing tasks on time let the potential employer know how you’ve taken steps to fix the issue by learning to budget your time better and that you’re confident it won’t be an problem in the future.
It’s important to remember that regardless of how you may feel about your previous employer, it’s never a good idea to speak negatively about the company to anyone, especially the new employer you’re interested in working with. Potential employers want to know you’ve maintained a positive attitude even under challenging circumstances.
Health Problems: Health problems can strike anyone of any age without warning. If you had to take extensive time off for a serious health issue, either yours or a close family member’s, explain that to the potential employer. Explain to them that in your down time, you learned new skills or expanded upon old ones. Let them know you used the time wisely once you were able.
Incarceration: Despite how you may be feeling, it is entirely reasonable to expect that you can get a job after having been incarcerated. You must be honest. Be honest about the time you served and why you had to serve it. Expand upon any kind of training or education you may have pursued while incarcerated. Let employers know you are regretful of your actions and are interested in starting over. Be prepared to explain that you are willing to work hard in an entry level position as that is often what starting over means. And, if possible, have solid references who are willing to speak highly of you to show the employer other people believe you’ve been rehabilitated as well.
Retirement: Coming out of retirement is becoming more common as retirees decide that they can no longer afford retirement or simply need more to do with their time than relax. If you are re-entering the workforce after retirement, use your employment history as an advantage. Point out your experience, wisdom and skills as a boost. Explain that you are willing to commit to a position long-term to address the possible fear that you will retire again after being hired. Learn more about Inside the Employer's Mind -- Employers and the Older Worker.
Personal Issues: A death in the family, divorce or some other personal issue can be reasons why people take time off from working. If your employment history has a gap due to a personal issue, spend some time before you begin a job search to ensure that you are ready to reenter the workforce. When you make the decision to return to work, explain to potential employers that you took time off to resolve personal matters and then point to your previous employment history. Some employers will want more information about your personal crisis. Try to explain without getting too personal. Express how excited you are to return to work and what you can contribute to a particular company or position.
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Having a disability shouldn’t hinder your job search. However, knowing your disability rights will help you feel more confident as you search. Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a qualified applicant with a disability. The ADA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees and to state and local government employers.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published a list of facts regarding ADA effects on job applicants. Read over this list of facts to familiarize yourself with your rights. Knowing your rights will help you determine how informed a potential employer is about disability rights, assess an employer and decide if the company is right for you, and understand your options if you feel your rights are violated during a job search.
The Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency Program is an employment program for people with disabilities who are interested in going to work. If you currently receive Social Security disability benefits, this program may help you to obtain employment, vocational rehabilitation, and other support services.
This “ticket” entitles you to receive employment-related services at no cost from your choice of approved service providers. These services will help you prepare for returning to work.
Resources for individuals with disabilities include:
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If you are someone who has to delay retirement or maybe needs to re-enter the workforce after some period of not working, you may encounter a boss or manager younger than you. Increasingly, baby boomers are going to work for individuals ten, fifteen or even twenty years younger. Don't worry; there are ways to make this work. You may see yourself as smarter, more experienced, and better qualified than a younger boss, but consider a shift in focus for a minute. Your success, and your very job, might be dependent on how quickly you start considering these tips:
It's okay to slowly and carefully teach your boss what works for you. Through your years in the workforce, you've probably figured out what motivates you best. It may be a specific kind of feedback, praise or communication style. For example, you may be the person who appreciates a short meeting once a week to get feedback from your boss. Consider sharing this and asking for what works. Don't assume they know. Most importantly, avoid focusing on what doesn't work; you'll just be branded as negative. Focus on the positive and they'll be grateful to learn what works best for you.
Don't act like a parent or mentor. You may want to relate to your younger boss as you would relate to a child or someone you've mentored perhaps. Avoid doing so. Your younger boss does not want to be talked down to or hovered over.
Point out your efforts and results to your boss. No matter how old your boss is, you should make a point of tactfully highlighting the results of your efforts. Instead of going on about your years of past experience, talk about the expectations you have exceeded over the past month or six months. Keep it current.
Update your technical skills and continue to show enthusiasm for change. Don't be afraid to learn something new on the job. Think of it as a way to get paid while you learn new software or technical skills. Becoming confident in the latest technology is key to communicating to a younger boss you're here to stay. Act your age.
Avoid comparing your younger boss to your adult children or talking about what you were doing at his or her age. As well, there's no need to prove you're hip. Don't act or dress younger than your age. And avoid trying to disguise yourself as younger to fit in with a younger crowd. Embrace the strengths that age brings you and use them on the job. Your younger boss will appreciate it.
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