I have received several recent reader questions about job search tips when you’re over 50:
When you are an older unemployed professional in your late 50's how do you survive and what strategies should you use to navigate through these difficult times we are currently in? – Thea
What are the best career pivot options and tactics for workers over 60? — Ken
Is there a point in pursuing/reigniting a career at my age?... Not looking to start a business but I miss being part of something, getting out of the house and feeling productive and saving money for the future. – Wendy
I write about job search tips regularly and don’t normally break out tips by age group. The mechanics of the job search are similar across industries, functions, levels and ages. I recommend a six-step job search approach:
I would still recommend these steps for job seekers over 50 (or right out of school). That said, life circumstances and your career path to date influence your job search, and these will be different when you have decades of life and work experience. Here are five ways I would modify a search plan for a job seeker over 50:
1 - Start reconnecting socially ASAP
Reaching out to people generally comes later in your job search when you are clearer about what you want and have prepared how to talk about yourself. However, you never want your first approach to be about your job search, when you have not been in touch for years (or decades). Furthermore, with more experience comes more connections (hopefully) and more reconnections to be made as you likely have fallen out of touch over the years.
Therefore, while you’re gearing up for your search – identifying your targets, creating your marketing – start reconnecting with your network on a strictly social basis. Just say hello and ask about what people have been up to. Focus on having genuine interactions without talking about your job search at all. An additional practical benefit is that it cleans up your database so you can see how many people you already know and can readily contact when you are ready to kick off your search. Your network, especially with decades of contacts, will be much more critical to landing a job than unsolicited applications to job postings (one reason to stop reading job postings).
2 - Get real about how much flexibility you have for your search
When you’re over 50, you are more likely than a younger person with fewer years to have a life built around multiple relationships. You might have kids to support, elder care responsibilities, even a significant other going through their own career reinvention. You might have purchased a house at this point, making it harder to just pick up and leave. You might be in a job right now that has broad responsibilities.
When your life has multiple obligations to support and moving parts to coordinate, your job search has to accommodate these. How much time do you have to devote to the six activities I outlined? If you are between jobs, how much money do you have to support your financial commitments while you look? Run the numbers on time and money. Gauge your own emotional fortitude and energy level for a search.
3 - Prioritize your goals for this next job
Your job search will be impacted by the time, money and energy that you have, It will also be targeted based on what your immediate career goals are. Are you looking to shore up your retirement so earning potential is key? Are you looking to introduce some fulfillment into your life so passion for the work matters most? Are you finally ready to try something different from your early career, such that you’re flexible on the job, even the money, as long as it takes you in a new direction?
I have posted several real-life career changes over 50, and there is no one path. Karen Rittenhouse pivoted industries and took on more entrepreneurial risk because money was a priority, and she didn’t have time to follow the conventional retirement savings strategy. Melinda Chu leaned on her outside interests and network and ended up making a career change from legal research to affinity marketing. Mark Prygocki was looking for something different and that led to opening a donut franchise.
4 - Summarize your unique value proposition
Whatever you decide to go after, you will have to convince others. To find a job, you need to convince employers. If you go into business for yourself, you need to convince clients. Having decades of experience is one qualifier, but it doesn’t differentiate you from others who also have extensive experience. What is it about your experience, skills and expertise that sets you apart and solves a problem for your employer or client? For example, your decades of work mean that you have experienced both up and down economies. Have you also worked across industries, with big and small companies, in growth market and turnaround situations?
Don’t make hiring managers guess or plow through years’ worth of information to pinpoint what your superpower is. Design your story with the highlights readily available. Have clear examples and metrics to share. Be able to talk about yourself with enthusiasm and confidence. If you don’t feel competitive for a job, then do more work around your marketing, research or interview practice till you feel ready. In order to convince people to hire you, you must first convince yourself.
5 - Address any red flags
Being enthusiastic and confident does not mean glossing over reasonable concerns that you will encounter during your search. Employers are more demanding – a good resume is not enough, and there are typically additional hurdles to landing an interview. Anticipate what might give employers pause about hiring you, and address these red flags directly.
I once coached a mid-career professional who wanted to pivot into business development/ corporate strategy – an area that typically hired either very experienced, longtime dealmakers or recent MBA graduates. My client’s late-stage pivot was an obvious red flag – why is he leaving his current career (i.e., is he being pushed out)? Why should they take a chance on my client rather than continue with the hiring model that has already proven to work? My client had to sell employers without getting defensive. He had to explain his career path and argue that he was the better choice than people 10, 15, even 20 years his junior. He’s now happily working in business development/ corporate strategy, once he learned to address the red flags head-on
Once your job search gets going, focus on keeping multiple leads in play at all times
Every job seeker, from right out of school till right before retirement, needs to keep multiple leads in play at all times, especially in a competitive job market. However, if you tend to second-guess yourself and lose confidence easily, it’s even more important that you make sure your pipeline never goes dry. Continue to apply for additional jobs and reach out to your network and new contacts, even if you’re already in the interview process with other places.
Too many job seekers go after one or two jobs at a time, and if these fall through, then they assume that the search is hopeless. Don’t let yourself off the hook. Continue to put yourself out there. People do get hired – over 50 and in tough job markets.
Caroline Ceniza-Levine - Senior Contributor, Forbes