You work all your adult life and are just a few years away from blissful retirement... But, in these uncertain times, there is always a danger that you could lose your job. If you are aged 50+ this can be a daunting prospect; afterall, employers may worry that you won’t stay with the company long-term and expect a higher wage than the more youthful job seekers.
In this article, I will take you through what you should be planning and considering as an older job seeker, how to make your resume and cover letters as engaging and impressive as possible, and how to approach your job search strategy.
- Planning the next stage of your career
- Resume guidelines
- Cover letter guidelines
- Job search strategies
- Interview tips
Planning the next stage of your career
Don’t worry, there are plenty of options for those in need of a new job later in life and it’s possible to thrive in employment at every age. In fact, the global shift towards remote working has made it even easier for older people, willing to embrace these changes, to continue to progress in their careers.
As a mature job seeker reaching the national retirement age, it is wise to do some soul searching, take stock of your life, consider what you want out of your career, and what you can offer employers.
Finances, benefits and expected pay
By this stage in your career you will most likely have a wealth of industry-knowledge and an impressive work history which many would think means their new role should offer their highest salary yet.
However, a study from the Urban Institute revealed the unfortunate truth that after being laid off aged 62, those who return to work earn, on average, 36% less than they did in their last role. Plus, job seekers aged between 50 and 61 earn an average of 20% less.
An older employer may be at the top of their profession in terms of ability and experience, but it’s still difficult to justify for an employer to justify a high wage when their new hire might want to retire all together in a few years.
It is therefore important to be realistic about the pay you expect and think carefully about turning down a job due to the salary alone. Have an open and honest discussion with the hiring manager and ask about the salary and what you can expect in the future in terms of bonuses, commission, pay increase etc. Often, there is more money available for those employees who are able to impress their managers.
Although the above holds true for most older job seekers, perhaps pay isn’t the most important thing for you. Maybe you don’t feel ready for retirement and want a new challenge, or perhaps you are more interested in the healthcare and other benefits employment can bring. Before starting your job search consider the following questions:
- What is the primary reason you need a job?
- How long can you go without a paycheck before you are desperate?
- What level of income do you need in your next role to live comfortably?
Social Security benefits
One more reason to keep working past the age of 60 is the increased Social Security payments you will receive, but whether this is worth it for you depends on your current situation.
Generally speaking if you have a decent bill of health and longevity runs in your family most financial planners will recommend waiting until the full national retirement age until you stop working - in the US that’s 70. This way your Social Security cheques are much larger. If you are unsure how much money you would receive through Social Security, there are online tools like this one available to give you an estimate.
Unfortunately a setback, like losing your job while near to your retirement age, may mean you will have to push your retirement age back a few years. Keep in mind that although you may have to work for a few more years, that does not mean your work has to be as full-on as it was previously.
Many older workers are now dialing back their working hours gradually and achieving what is referred to as ‘phased retirement’, where an agreement is made with your employer that allows you to cut back your hours or switch to a flexible schedule for a few years before your employment ends completely.
We have already discussed the advantages returning to work can bring in terms of Social Security payments, but phased retirement also means you will have more opportunity to enjoy your free time while still making money.
Many phased retirees make this decision so they can start to dedicate more time to passions like volunteering, taking classes, traveling, hobbies and spending time with family rather than waiting until they finish work completely aged 70 when health issues may become more of a concern.
Although you will still receive your Social Security cheques, and they will be a lot less than if you had stayed in full employment until the national retirement age. On top of this, a phased retirement is likely to reduce your pension and 401(k) contributions depending on the specifics of your plan.
Another important disadvantage is that scaling back your work may mean you lose out on vital life insurance benefits and healthcare coverage for you and your family. But keep in mind, if you begin phased retirement before Medicare begins at age 65 you may find yourself uninsured and subject to expensive healthcare.
Despite the considerable disadvantages of phased retirement, this strategy is still worth investigating as everyone's situation is different. Although few employers offer planned phase retirement strategies there is a growing interest and even the US Congress is looking into it for its members and other federal workers. In fact, the Senate recently passed a bill that allows eligible employees nearing retirement to work part-time while receiving retirement annuity payments.
Changing your career
Most older workers who lose their jobs believe that it is far too late to reinvent themselves. However, this is not necessarily the case. It is likely that at this stage in your career you have developed many transferable skills that would mean you can succeed in many different types of roles. Think carefully about what roles you would be qualified for and which would give you the most personal satisfaction.
Setting up shop
Many older job seekers may decide that they have learned enough to go independent and start their own small business. Your startup can be in any field that you think would work for your current situation, a popular option is to leverage your existing network and wealth of experience in your field to provide consulting services for other businesses.
By carefully considering the format, your resume can hide or emphasise your experience. For older workers, the best tactic is to go for the middle ground and choose a format that showcases your experience without making it too obvious how many years you have been working.
This means taking a functional approach to your resume format. To do this, bring your skills section to the top of your resume alongside your latest and greatest accomplishments, then move your previous experience section to the second half of your resume where your employment dates, and therefore age, will be less obvious at a glance.
In your experience section, it is still a good idea to include your employment dates as this can hint at dishonesty if you leave them out. However, do not play up your length of experience. For each role, just include a small note on the year you started and ended your employment.
Setting a time limit on work history can also work well, as most of the experience you gained a decade ago is likely to be obsolete by now. Traditionally, this section was laid out in a chronological order, but for older job seekers it can be a good idea to include the most impressive roles first.
As a mature job seeker, your technical skills are likely to be a concern for any hiring manager. The stereotype of older people not being able to use technology runs deep, so you should do everything possible to assure potential employers that you are fully capable of handling all the technical aspects of your job. Emphasise your technical skills and accomplishments and make sure to reference any training or certifications you have on software and industry technology.
Cover letter guidelines
By this time in your career, you are likely to have plenty of experience writing cover letters for previous job applications. However, as a mature job seeker there are some unique things you should consider before firing off those cover letters to potential employers. Below are some specific cover letter guidelines to help your skills and experience catch the attention of a hiring manager without emphasizing your age.
Customize to conquer
Taking the time to make each cover letter you send customized is an essential step in your job applications. Try include role-specific details in the first two sentences, to make it clear you are seriously interested in this particular job and company.
Other than obvious ones like mentioning the company by name and discussing specifics about the industry, carefully read the job advertisement and work some of the phrases they use into your cover letter. For example, if it mentions ‘client’, ‘customer’ or ‘consumer’ use the same word in your letter, this will help to subtly promote the idea that you are a good match for them.
Length and content
The goal of every cover letter you write will be to help you stand out as the perfect candidate for the job - they are important, so make every word count. This means picking a few relevant examples of why you would be a good fit for the role, not going through your entire employment history. Keep it on topic, although divulging a small amount about your life can be a good idea if it is relevant, nobody is going to want to read your life story.
For help on length, keep in mind the following:
- Your cover letter should fit one A4 page (preferably less)
- It should have four paragraphs: introduction, two paragraphs that relate your experience to the job you’re applying for, and a conclusion
- If you have trouble editing yourself write your cover letter as if it was your script for a 60-second elevator pitch to describe yourself to the hiring manager.
Although discriminating against applicants based on age is illegal, you can expect hiring managers to take your age into account and assume you will have difficulties in some areas that the younger competition may not.
Luckily, the cover letter provides the perfect channel to getting any of these concerns out in the open and addressing them head on. To do so, emphasize your current skills and give relevant, recent examples of your achievements. If possible include examples of how you have used cutting-edge tools, software and techniques. Also, make it clear that you are open and motivated to learn new skills, tactics and processes and continue your professional development.
Update your style
Choose a modern-looking, easily-legible font for your cover letter. Avoid outdated fonts like Times New Roman and Garamond in favour of rounded modern styles like Cambria and Arial. Fonts like the latter are sans-serif fonts, which are typefaces that don’t have the old-fashioned short tails on the end of letters. Not only are these easier to read at a quick glance, they are also easier for a computer program to run, so your application is more likely to make it through the first few hurdles in the recruitment process.
Another stylistic choice that hints at an elderly computer user is using a double space after a period. This is no longer the standard and should be avoided at all costs.
Check your email address
Nowadays, email platforms like AOL, Hotmail and Yahoo are no longer the norm and using one will be enough to raise eyebrows and call into question your age. Instead, use a platform like Gmail, the free email platform from Google.
When creating your new email address don’t try to be funny or unusual, the best tactic is to simply use your name with a series of numbers afterwards if required to make it unique - it goes without saying that the numbers you choose should not be your date of birth. Here are some examples of new email address templates that will allow you to be both unique and professional:
Although using industry language is a good idea, your cover letter should not be overdone with the expected buzzwords and jargon - too much of this can overcomplicate things and the last thing you want your cover letter to be is a difficult read. Things may have changed since you last wrote a cover letter, so here are some tips for phrasing you should avoid this time:
- Never start your letter with ‘To whom it may concern’ or ‘Dear sir’: whenever possible, use the name of the specific person you want to read your letter, whether that’s the hiring manager, HR director or your new boss. If you really can’t find the recipient's name, it is acceptable to use ‘Hiring Manager’.
- There’s no need to include a ‘references available on request’ note: this is expected and unnecessary to mention.
- When describing your skills, avoid using phrases like ‘experienced in’: saying you are experienced in something makes it sound like you have previous experience but are not necessarily very accomplished in it.
- Do not mention your expertise in using basic software like MS Word: this is a given for most office workers.
- Try not to focus too heavily on your wealth of experience in the field: there is always a danger that this might call to mind the old adage ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’, instead try to focus on your enthusiasm and adaptability to learn new skills and processes.
- Similarly, don’t mention the number of years of experience you have: rather than writing ‘for the last 15 years, I’ve led a team of 12 people’ which emphasises your age, just say ‘I lead a team of 12 people.’
- Avoid sounding desperate for the job: ‘I’m looking for any paying position freelance, part-time, or full-time’ will make it seem you are not particularly interested in the specific job on offer and are clearly running out of options.
- Be confident, but not arrogant: ‘I have done X, Y, and Z. I know these will be perfect strategies for your company’ is a bit too strong - how do you know what worked for a previous role would work for another company?
- Appear flexible and not stuck in your ways when explaining how you approach a certain task: ‘I have developed an optimal way to approach the task but am always eager to learn and improve’, not ‘I do it this way because I believe it’s the absolute best way to do it’.
Job search strategies
If you're able to adapt to the current job search strategies, the chances of being succesful drastically improve.
Social media now plays a vital role in the job hunt. Websites like Facebook and LinkedIn especially are a fantastic way to present yourself to future employers. Social media can be used to connect and network with people and companies in the industry, and even help you quickly apply for roles directly. It is therefore a good idea to set up some profiles, these are quick, easy and free to create and will help portray you as youthful, up-to-date and employable regardless of your age.
Facebook is the largest social networking platform in the world and is a great way to stay connected with friends, family and old colleagues. However, it is designed more for entertainment than for work. Despite this, employers are likely to look you up on Facebook and will expect you to have a profile, so having an up-to-date profile will help to come across as normal, trustworthy and current with nothing to hide.
Just remember, although Facebook is designed for you to freely share the details of your life and personal views, stay away from posting anything controversial or political that may put off a future employer. Or simply set your profile to 'private'.
On the other hand, LinkedIn is the social media site for work and a vital part of the modern job hunt. It combines the functionality of Facebook with an employment focus and can work as an engaging, electronic version of your resume. The platform is dominated by recruiters and you will find many old colleagues to connect with, companies to follow and jobs to apply for.
It’s estimated that around 87% of recruiters will search for you on LinkedIn before they read your application and, even if you are not active on other social media sites like Facebook, recruiters will expect you to have a LinkedIn profile and include links to it on your resume or cover letters. Failing to set one up will make you appear out-of-date, out-of-touch and less attractive for potential employers.
When creating your LinkedIn profile there are several steps to completion that you will need to do in order to help your profile show up when recruiters or employers are searching for available candidates. Here are some things to focus on as a mature job seeker:
- Profile pictures - Although these are sure to give your age away this is a crucial part of your profile. Try and use a professional looking photo taken within the last 5 years.
- Experience - Add all relevant roles to this section of your profile to showcase your experience. You will need to include your employment dates that will show your age, but it’s important to showcase your experience so this section is very worthwhile.
- Summary - This section is the best place to sell yourself. Focus on your skills and experience and what you can offer a new employer, but do not mention all the experience you have - limiting yourself to the previous 10-15 years is a good way to keep it relevant in most cases.
- Professionalism - Unlike Facebook everything you post should be professional and relevant to your work. This means no posting pictures of your grandchildren or any updates on your personal life.
Online job boards
Thanks to the internet, there are a huge selection of industry-specific and general job boards to help you connect with employers and recruiters, apply for jobs at the touch of a button and find a new role quickly and for free.
It’s also a good idea to find local and industry-specific jobs boards. Local jobs boards are often associated with your local newspaper, so try looking on their website. As for industry-specific options, try looking them up on Google or visiting any industry news or resources website as they may also include links to jobs and job boards.
Networking is not only a great way to learn about the latest changes in your industry, but also a fantastic way to find employment. We have already mentioned how useful LinkedIn can be for networking but there are plenty of more personal ways to establish or re-establish a strong and productive network of industry professionals.
- Conferences and industry events - many industries will run free and paid events, either online or in person, that are a great way to meet new people and hear about upcoming work opportunities.
- Informational interviews - it is commonplace to reach out to professionals in your field and offer to invite them for a coffee or arrange a phone call. Unlike job interviews, these are informal conversations where you can gather vital information about the latest developments in the industry and sound out the current job market and hear about any employment opportunities.
- Reconnect with old colleagues - colleagues from previous jobs or ex-bosses are often a great place to start when looking for a new role.
The job hunt can be a scary and overwhelming prospect for anyone, but especially for those who are already nearing retirement. Although you are likely to have a lot of experience, it is important to keep a levelhead and be realistic in the employment you are likely to find.
For many mature job seekers, losing a job can turn out to be a blessing in disguise by providing the opportunity to evaluate their current position, try something new or slow down their pace of work and take a less stressful role.
With the tips and resources shared in this article you will be able to promote your best attributes, create impressive opportunities and get your career back on track in no time.
As a professional recruiter, I have over 10 years of experience helping candidates find work with businesses that match their skills, personalities and goals. Here on Resume Supply, I share some of the key things I have learned over my career to help job seekers with resumes, applications and interviews.