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How Should Older Workers Navigate the Job Market?

Ways 50-plus workers can best market their skills

En español | A recent AARP survey of boomer-age voters found that nearly three-fourths of working boomers believe they will probably be forced to delay retirement. Half of them doubt they'll ever be able to retire.

Because so many of us are seeking to wring every last minute out of our working careers, AARP has made it a priority to help older workers find employment through initiatives such as LifeReimagined and LifeReimagined for Work.

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Over the years, we've gotten a lot of questions about how 50-plus workers can best market their skills and experience in today's competitive job market. Here's a sampling of the questions we get, and the best answers we have.

How does an experienced worker compete for work against a recent college graduate?

It's often hard for employers to replace the wide skill set of an experienced worker with that of a new college graduate with little to no work experience. In addition, there are several "soft" skills that employers often say they value in experienced workers, such as better communication skills, better work ethic and lower attrition. You should highlight the breadth of your experience in your résumés and interviews, but provide specific examples of how you've applied those secret weapons to solve a relevant problem for your previous employer.

Can you give me an example of an employer who really believes that?

I'm glad you asked! AARP and the Society for Human Resource Management have a biennial awards program, called Best Employers for Workers Over 50, that highlights employers who recruit experienced workers and retain them by offering a good workplace culture, solid health and retirement benefits and flexible work options.

Also, check out AARP's LifeReimagined for Work program, powered by LinkedIn. The program connects experienced job seekers to one another and to more than 160 employers who have signed a pledge declaring that they value mature workers and have immediate hiring needs. Using the Work Reimagined program, you can find job openings near you and see which of your friends have connections at those companies.

How do I create different résumés for different positions I'm applying to? Should I post them all online?

An attention-getting résumé conveys your personal brand — the unique combination of skills, achievements and abilities that shows you're an outstanding candidate for a particular job. You should tailor your résumé to the specific jobs you've targeted. Don't send the same one to hundreds of employers.

Be sure to use the exact keywords and language that the employer used in the job posting — especially when submitting your résumé online — or your file may not make it through the company's automated filters.

Next page: How practical are career changes later in life? »

Does it make sense to make a career change later in life?

The process of reinventing yourself is revitalizing — and it may be the smartest course of action if you're in a dying field. Start by identifying your skills and passions — we're talking about the very essence of what makes you you. At LifeReimagined, you can get a little help with identifying your passion and figuring out which jobs, industries and environments would stoke that fire.

How about starting your own business? AARP and the Small Business Administration are working together to provide counseling and training to budding entrepreneurs who want to start or grow a small business. Visit to learn more.

I'm not getting any responses to my applications. What should I do?

* Are you treating your job search as a full-time job? You should be. Develop a search strategy, create a home office for executing your search and try to spend four to six hours each day on specific tasks related to your search.

* Don't be tempted to just throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. It's important to know your skills and match them to a specific industry and specific types of jobs within that industry. At that point, consider all available options: full time, part time, contract, working at home or even seasonal employment. Sometimes just getting in the door will lead to a more permanent opportunity.

* Attend events and career fairs and work with your school's alumni career center.

* Make sure your résumé translates your years of experience into specific skills and accomplishments that will grab the attention of recruiters.

* Do you feel that your age is holding you back? You may want to target your employment search to companies that value mature workers.

* Are you feeling a little lonely during your search? Use social media sites to connect with colleagues and prospective employers. Consider joining AARP's Work Reimagined group on LinkedIn to network with peers and find answers, advice, inspiration and job opportunities.

* If you're getting interviews but no offers, focus on how you present yourself. Practice mock interviews with friends. Make sure you are relaxed and that your frustration isn't showing. It might also be the time to update or refresh your look and wardrobe.

* If you still find yourself truly stuck, consider talking to a career counselor.

Jean C. Setzfand is vice president of the Financial Security issues team in the Education and Outreach group at AARP. She leads AARP's educational and outreach efforts aimed at helping Americans achieve financial peace of mind in retirement. She can be reached at and you can follow her on Twitter @JSetz.

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