Thinking about retiring? Odds are, you’re not financially ready.
More than half of Americans have less than $25,000 saved for retirement, according to a recent survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, which means more and more people will soon be contemplating later retirement dates — or re-entry into the workforce in their sixth decade.
The problem is, it’s not so easy for older workers to land jobs. Job seekers over age 55 tend to spend significantly longer looking for work — a median of 23.6 weeks in February, compared to a median of 15.8 weeks or less for workers under age 34, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And near record levels of age-discrimination lawsuits were filed in 2012, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The good news is that you don’t have to pretend to be 34 to land that job. There are a number of steps you can take to make yourself a hot job candidate, even with gray in your hair.
First, instead of thinking of yourself as past your expiration date, remember that you have clear assets that younger workers don’t.
“There’s tremendous evidence that there are some perception issues” about older workers, says Christine McMahon, president and CEO of ReServe, an organization that connects older professionals with paid work at nonprofits. “It seems to us that older workers in the workplace are really a good thing. They work harder, they stay later, they cost less, they bring a level of expertise and smartness that younger people don’t have.”
Robert Damon, president, North America for the executive search firm Korn/Ferry International, is more blunt.
“What we’re seeing a lot is especially in these startup companies they’ll say, ‘OK, we’ve got the hoodies, now we need some adult supervision,’” he said. And when his firm is conducting a search, he says, “We’ll ask a company, ‘OK, do you want a hoodie in this role or do you want a suit? And let’s talk about the reasons why.’”
There are a number of steps older workers can take to present themselves in the most favorable light.
Age-proof your resume. McMahon said her organization regularly advises clients on this. “No one needs to know when you graduated from college,” she says, so don’t list the year. “Then, rather than leading off with when you started and where you ended” at a company, “highlight your skills and accomplishments at that place. It’s much more important to the employer to know that when you worked here, this is what you accomplished,” whether it’s a big pickup in sales, expansion into a new market, or something else.
Get up to speed on technology, and make it clear that you are. “You absolutely have to show that you are up to speed on technology,” according to Kerry Hannon, the author of “Great Jobs for Everyone 50+” and AARP’s official job expert. “Employers should be able to link to your online profile. Be on LinkedIn,” she said. If your technology skills are out of date and “you don’t have the qualifications for the job, get them” with a course or a workshop.
Use your contacts. A key advantage for older workers is (in old-speak) your Rolodex. Hannon says you can tap these people for tips about the job you’re considering, and you can also subtly point out to your potential employer that you have a network that could be valuable to the company.
Project energy. Employers may fret that older workers lack stamina, but if you can show that you are reasonably fit and take care of yourself, that’s a plus. So is dressing in a way that’s current but not overly young. “There’s a lot to be said for having an appearance of someone who has lived a life and has experience,” Hannon says, but “have a suit that’s what people are wearing these days.”
Assess the corporate culture. Finally, take an honest assessment of the environment you’d be working in. You may be perfectly happy at a company where the average age is 25, but you need to take a clear-eyed look and decide if it’s for you.
Damon recalls a search that Korn/Ferry performed for a musical instrument company. The company’s staff “is populated by people with long hair, nipple rings, and body ink. They needed someone who had substance and vision and a strategy for growing a business,” he said. That suggested what they wanted was “a suit that was going to work in a hoodie company.”
Korn/Ferry developed a strategy for assessing candidates’ likely fit. “The first question we would ask about this role was, ‘Do you have an iPod? If so, what music is on it?’” he said. “The culture’s important and a suit can work, but you have to embrace the culture and be relevant.”
While some people see retirement as a time to sleep in, play golf or tackle projects around the house, not everyone wants to — or can — stop working when they’ve hit retirement age.
If you’re considering rejoining the workforce after your retirement, you likely have more going for you than you realize, but you also may need to update some skills. In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson offers advice for retirees looking for a part-time, full-time or temporary job. Check it out, then read on for more.
Watch ‘How to Get a Job in Retirement’.
Let’s hash out the tips and tools you’ll need to become employed again.
1. Know your assets
As RetiredBrains founder Art Koff said in the video, retirees have a major advantage over younger job seekers: flexibility. While many young job hunters are looking for a full-time position with benefits, many older workers can be more flexible. If you’re willing to take a part-time, seasonal or contract job without benefits, you could have a leg up over other applicants.
You also have another powerful asset: the knowledge you’ve gained from decades in the workforce. In your field, that know-how quite likely qualifies you as an expert, which can also open doors to related jobs. For example:
A former marketing agent could teach marketing and copywriting at a local community college.
A former police officer could find work as a security guard or consultant.
A former human resources professional could work in a staffing agency.
When you’re searching, use these assets to your advantage. Your flexibility and knowledge make you very attractive to employers.
2. Update your resume
Before you can begin applying for jobs, you’ll need to update your resume. Follow these tips:
Keep it simple. Keep your resume short — one page is best – and only include detailed information from the last 10 years.
Skip the objective. Almost all resume templates have an objective section, but they are often either too generic or overdone. Skip this section or use it to spotlight your skills.
Highlight achievements. Don’t just mention past positions and their respective dates. Weave in your greatest achievements and quantify your accomplishments.
Need more help? Check out:
12 Totally Ridiculous Resume Mistakes
10 Tips to Writing a Resume Better Than Yahoo’s CEO
5 Ways to Make Your Resume Stand Out
3. Keep up with technology
Both jobs and job hunting have gone digital. If you feel a bit out of touch with technology, consider signing up for classes at your local continuing education center or take some of the many free online courses. For example:
Goodwill Community Foundation LearnFree.org has courses on computer basics, email basics, social networking and several programs.
Microsoft Digital Literacy covers basic computer know-how and Microsoft products.
Computer Help A to Z has tons of tips on hardware, software and the Internet.
Networking – both in person and online – will greatly increase your chance of finding a job. Start by signing up for social networking sites and connecting with friends, former co-workers and other professionals you know. Try:
LinkedIn is a social network for professionals. Post your resume and check the job section for possibilities.
Facebook is great for connecting with old friends. You can see who works where and who might be able to connect you with a potential employer.
Twitter includes not just individuals but also companies. By following companies and their employees, you might hear about job openings.
5. Search for jobs and apply, apply, apply
Look for jobs and also post your resume on online job boards, such as:
You’ll also find jobs listed on:
Offline, you can search your local newspaper’s classified listings or visit companies and ask for an application. This works especially well if you’re looking for part-time or seasonal work.
6. Follow up
Some people apply online for as many jobs as possible and never contact the employer again. Luckily, you know better – or you should.
Three to seven days after you apply for a job, send a quick email or make a phone call to follow up.
7. Interview well
Preparation is essential, particularly to counteract the nervousness everyone feels during a job interview.
Make a list of your attributes and achievements. Read over them before the interview.
Review common interview questions like those mentioned in Forbes and on Monster, and practice your responses.
Hold a mock interview. Have a friend or family member interview you and give you style and presentation tips.
You just can’t take it anymore.
Several months have passed by since you lost your last gig. Dragged down by countless hours of searching, a series of fruitless interviews, and troubling news about the stagnant job market, you’re starting to have nightmares about a scarlet letter “U” (for “unemployable”) being branded across your dusty resume. One rejection letter away from throwing in the towel, you bury your face in your pillow and wonder aloud why no one will give you a chance.
Sound familiar? As someone who’s been there, I know how it feels when you’ve given the job hunt your all and employers just don’t seem to care. Don’t be discouraged, though: Here are a few key steps to help you renew your strength and get back on the right track to finding a position you love.
1. Stick to a Schedule
Just because the 9-to-5 lifestyle isn’t currently your thing, doesn’t mean you can’t pretend that it is. Set your alarm for a reasonable wake-up hour each morning and—as tempting as it is to become one with those comfy PJs—shower and dress yourself in something a bit more formal (jeans?) to trick your brain into thinking that it’s time to get down to business.
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And—because I know just how tough it can be to resist Real Housewives reruns and your friends’ latest social media shenanigans—do your best to keep the TV off and your Facebook window minimized. If you’re craving a bit of background noise, try some peaceful music (for me, tuning into Sirius’ classical channel helps to get those creative juices flowing).
Decide on an appropriate start and stop time for the day, jot down a list of goals (i.e. “follow up with three companies” and “send resume to that cool art start-up”), and structure your schedule accordingly. Having a to-do list and sticking to it will make you feel like you’re making good progress—and keeping forward momentum and a positive attitude throughout the job hunt is key.
Oh, and for each item you cross off, reward yourself with a well-deserved pat on the back or a short break: You did it! Each little step is getting you closer to your goal.
2. Train Your Mind
OK—so you’ve checked off all of your to-dos for the day. Rather than bang your head on your keyboard and fret over why no one is emailing you back, why not channel all of that nervous energy into learning something new?
In addition to browsing relevant blogs to keep up with the latest news in your industry, consider teaching yourself how to code (Codecademy is a personal fave), taking that fun art class you’ve always meant to, or mastering another language. Whatever your inclination, this acquired skill will keep your mind active and prove to interviewers that sleeping and nibbling on bonbons aren’t the only activities that unemployed you is capable of. Who knows? You might even discover a new career interest in the process.
3. Get out of the House
Speaking as an introvert, the prospect of hiding behind one’s computer screen until the perfect gig appears is admittedly quite fetching. But with so many brilliant job search resources available right at our fingertips, a startling sense of complacency can start to take hold, as can an increased feeling of frustration: “I’ve applied to 20 positions on Craigslist this week—why will no one contact me?”
One solution to this quandary is to leave the laptop behind and take a stab at that pesky 10-letter word so many of us dread: networking. But whether it’s attending a fun industry meet-up, connecting with a contact over a cup of coffee, or volunteering your services for a cause you’re passionate about, it can’t hurt when others are able to put a face to your resume. You never know who you’ll meet who might be hiring, and even if they’re not, they could prove valuable to you later on.
4. Treat Your Body Right
During this trying period, it can be easy to spend the better part of your once jam-packed days sprawled out on the sofa, shoulders slumped over your MacBook as you tirelessly troll the job boards for leads. Before your failing posture gives Quasimodo a run for his money, slip on your sneakers for a dose of much-needed exercise. An invigorating jog around the park or relaxing yoga session can be a welcome escape from the monotony of your search and will also help to revive your spirit. Your body will thank you for the break, and your mind will be recharged and ready for action upon your return.
Emotional eating and drinking are other common vices of the unemployed job seeker. While snacks can be soothing and the occasional glass of wine is divine (me and my unbridled passion for sour gummy worms and Malbec speak from experience), too much sugar and booze do not make for a productive job hunt. Instead, try to sip more H20 and keep healthier munchies like spicy baked chickpeas or Bananarama bars on hand to appease you when the searching stress mounts and your urge to graze strikes.
5. Remember You’re Not Alone
While you don’t want to overburden them with your troubles, don’t forget that your family and friends are there for you when you need them. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone—a soothing call with someone you love and trust can do wonders for your flagging confidence.
In this tough economic climate, also take solace in the fact that there are plenty of others out there just like you who are looking for a shoulder to lean on. Try consulting an online job seekers’ forum for a dose of anonymous support, or perhaps join a group in your city targeted at fellow unemployed folks (a meet-up called “FUNemployment” was once a welcome diversion during my own arduous search).
Now that you’ve gained a new perspective and are ready to show those recruiters what you’ve got, tell us: How long have you been on the prowl for a new job? What are your own tips for staying positive during a difficult hunt?