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Job-hunting over 50: The dos and don'ts

18 February 2020

Learn more about the issues of job-hunting over 50 with these independent insights, including 21 essential hints and tips to help older workers seeking employment.

Career spelt out in wooden blocks
Use your age to your advantage when applying for a job

Applying for a job can be a scary prospect, with older candidates often having to work harder to overcome barriers. And no: it's not fair. But that doesn't mean every employer is determined to shut out all candidates over 35.

There are, however, some key points that older people should take note of when applying for work. Here are 21 handy tips to remember when job-hunting over 50:

1. Make your CV super relevant

Cramming too much information onto your CV is a big mistake. It's important to clear the clutter and remove information irrelevant or unspecific to the position for which you’re applying. You should instead adjust your CV to each job every time, to show you have relevant experience.

A couple of pages – maximum, and preferably just one page - showing 12 years' relevant experience is more than enough to sell yourself to an employer.

It’s important not to feel constrained by your CV. Unpick it and see all the underlying skills - and not just those gained from work. What about the ones gained from home, hobbies and other interests? A skills-based CV makes it easier to include our wider experience.

Read our CV writing tips

2. Use your age to your advantage

Age can be a useful tool when applying for jobs, because it implies experience. With age comes dependability, wisdom, fortitude, a strong work ethic, dedication, promptness, a wealth of knowledge, resilience, plus organisational and communication skills.

You may also have good customer service skills and be able to advise and train younger staff. For employers, your past track record is the best indicator of your future performance. So think about key accomplishments throughout your career and use them to promote yourself.

Being mature is a plus. As we get older we have much more experience, can often stay calm when dealing with problems and can draw on our knowledge. This means we are less likely to be affected by setbacks. We know we have come through these before and will be able to do so again.

3. Tap up your contacts

Contacts and networking are invaluable in getting a job and it's perfectly acceptable to get in touch with former co-workers, employers, school friends and other colleagues you may not have been in touch with for some time.

Websites such as Facebook and LinkedIn have made finding them a much easier task. Even if it doesn’t immediately lead to a job, broadening your contacts is always a positive step on your career ladder - and you never know who you’ll be put in contact with.

Five tips for building a killer LinkedIn profile

4. Prepare well for the interview

Practice is the key. If you haven’t been interviewed in a while, it’s important to practice and review your interview skills. It's useful to find a relatively young professional (recruitment consultants fit this bracket well) and ask them to interview you and give you feedback.

It's important to listen and learn, as your interviewer will have more relevant interview experience in recent years than yourself.

5. Don't have an attitude

Although it may be tempting, one of the most damaging things to do in an interview is acting as if you are too good to be interviewed by an interviewer who's younger than you, or showing up with your own personal grudge or grievance.

It's easy to think "I've done it all before" and "it should be done a different way". But if you really want the job, these thoughts need to be left at home and you need to be fully focused on getting that job.

6. Embrace the internet

Computer skills and the ability to use the internet to get a job are pretty much essential. And it's crucial to take advantage of social media websites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

These social media platforms show that regardless of your age you are up with the latest technology. This will help you convince interviewers that you have the ability to work and interact with younger colleagues and excel in today's constantly-changing workplace.

More job hunting tips for the over-50s

7. Forget feelings of being overqualified

Often when employers see candidates applying for a position below their experience level, questions immediately arise. So if you're going for a position with a lower wage or responsibility than you've had in previous jobs, it's up to you to explain in your covering letter and the interview why this is.

For example: "What is most important to me in at this stage of my life is having the ability to work in a company where there are outstanding opportunities, and where I believe my relevant skills and experience will make a real impact."

However if being overqualified for a position is really a pill that you can't swallow, there are alternatives such as targeting non-profit organisations where your experience will make a significant impact, or applying to small companies that are looking to expand and could use your expertise to do so.

The public sector also uses application forms that ensure equality – so older candidates have as good a chance of getting their foot in the door as any other candidate.

8. Think temporary as well as permanent

Don't turn up your nose at short-term contracts, temporary, 'interim' or part-time work. It's the modern way of working - and it could lead to something more. Many people find permanent positions by starting off working for a company as a temp. It gives a company the chance to get to know you and you can demonstrate all the advantages your experience can bring them.

9. The money question

Not everyone is seeking the highest possible salary, and if your children have left home and with the mortgage paid off, salary might not be the key reason for taking a job. Think about what’s important and what you truly value, and how any career move or adjustment fits in with this.

10. Say no to reverse ageism

You may be interviewed by someone young enough to be your son or daughter, and they can find it difficult both recruiting and also managing someone more mature. So you need to make it clear you are young in outlook and happy to embrace change. Don’t be too assertive in your views on how things can be done. Each of us can always learn from others.

11. Keep a record of which jobs you apply for

Use a spreadsheet to keep a note of job applications, key contact names, deadline dates, interviews and so on. Job hunting can turn into a full-time occupation in itself, so get yourself organised – it’ll save you from applying twice or failing to get your application in on time.

12. Set up a jobseeking profile online

Career-orientated social media platforms - LinkedIn being the number one among them - are a boon for jobseekers. As well as allowing potential employers to match your profile with their vacancies, you’ll find career specific groups and forums in which new jobs get posted on a regular basis. Make checking them part of your daily routine.

13. Be careful with your digital footprint

Your digital footprint is the trail you leave on the web with every online interaction. These days employers are likely to look you up on social media sites, so check your privacy settings on Facebook and be careful what you tweet and post. It may come back to haunt you.

14. Brush up your interview skills

It may have been a while since your last interview, so refamiliarise yourself with the kind of questions you might be asked. Rope in a friend or partner to give you a practice run.

15. Always ask for feedback

If you’re unsuccessful after an interview, ask for feedback. A few tweaks to your answers could make all the difference next time.

16. Enrol with an employment agency

It’s always worth signing up for traditional employment and recruitment agencies, both in person and online, some of which specialise in finding work for the over-50s.

17. Identify any skills gaps

Make sure you are bang up-to-date in your areas of expertise. If not, do some training.

18. Assess your work-life balance

Check your finances: could you afford a drop in salary? Could you work part-time? Don't just think of the money. Consider what you could gain in quality of life by working shorter hours, taking a step sideways, or retraining.

19. Wear it well and stay fit

Check what clothes people in your line of work are wearing today and sort out your wardrobe. Appearances – and first impressions – matter. Remember, too, that searching for work is gruelling at any age. Eat well and take regular exercise. You'll feel - and look – better, and in so doing boost your job opportunities.

20. Smaller companies value experience

Smaller businesses are generally more willing to take on older people than bigger ones, because they often prize the loyalty and range of skills an older employee can offer.

21. Stay positive!

Don’t take it personally if your job search takes longer than you’d like. If you get a rejection, move on and focus on your future applications.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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