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Work@50+: Ask Bob About Jobs

Q: I have worked for a number of years as an administrative assistant but lost my job more than a year ago. I have sent my résumé and applications to countless employers but still have no success. I’m uncomfortable about how long I’ve been out of work. How do I explain this gap on my résumé? Also, I know I should be trying to send my application or résumé to a specific person, but I don’t know how to network with people to get the names of contacts. Pam, McDonough, Ga.

A:
Pam, I’m sorry to hear you’ve had difficulty finding your next job. It’s not uncommon for older workers to spend more time before finding a new position. A full year out of work can be unsettling.

You didn’t provide information on your entire work background or say what type of job you’re looking for, so I’m assuming it is in the administrative field. I would be glad to offer a few ideas and suggestions.

Unless you’ve been sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring with a job offer, you should not be fearful of a one-year gap in your work history. Employment gaps are not the job search “killers” that they used to be. Many employers recognize that a weak labor market, personal obligations, and the challenge of being an older candidate—all can cause gaps. That said, you should be prepared to simply, briefly, and positively explain the reason for your period of unemployment. One way to offset any negatives is to get a part-time or temporary job as soon as possible. That will show your willingness to stay employed.

Many people think their résumés should show the months and years of employment with every day accounted for. This is not the case. Instead, simply show the years of employment. Employers understand that there will be gaps between jobs, and they seldom ask you to account for every one.

Networking is known to be very productive, but the truth is it can be very difficult to get the name of a contact. Use the employer’s job-application system and then follow up with e-mails and calls if you have a phone number.

Lastly, you need to know that there are jobs available. I did a quick search at RetirementJobs.com for openings within 30 miles of your ZIP code and came up with 107! Of these, more than 20 were for administrative or customer-service positions, including several with Age Friendly Certified Employers who are eager to hire workers age 50+. Best wishes with your search.


Q: I have been a “floor nurse” my entire career, and at 59, the physical demands are becoming too much for me. What other types of jobs can I get that won’t require full days of standing, walking, and lifting? Jane, Old Hickory, Tenn.

A:
I can’t tell you the number of times I have had people say, “I wish I had become a nurse.” The shortage of qualified nurses is great and continues to grow. That said, it’s a physically demanding job that can take its toll after a long career. That’s such a well known fact that many employers understand your desire for change.

I have several ideas: First, increasing numbers of hospitals are prepared to make job accommodations to enable older nursing professionals to continue to work. Modified job tasks and more flexible scheduling are some possibilities.

There is also a great demand for trained nurses to work in specialty or laboratory settings. At present, a search of RetirementJobs.com yields 56 openings in the health care field—all within 30 miles of your home—including “other than floor nurse” positions with Baptist Hospital and St. Thomas Hospital, to name a few. There is also the home-health care field.

Jane, you are in a valuable and important profession. An employer is eager to find you and will not require you to pound the floors all day long. Good luck.

Q: I retired at 55 from my occupation in maintenance but have decided to resume working in the same field. I was paid pretty well before retirement. I’m having difficulty even getting an interview. My résumé could probably benefit from an update, but I’m not sure it’s the issue. Potential employers ask about my former pay rate and they may be concerned that they are offering less. Could this be a pay issue or could it be my age or something else? I know I can do the jobs I apply for. John, New Braunfels, Texas

A:
Retired and returning to work! Your story is increasingly common as age-eligible workers choose to or need to continue working. You don’t mention physical or health limitations, so it seems pretty likely that you should succeed in finding a new job. The facilities and equipment-maintenance fields are in desperate need of skilled people. This should be to your advantage.

John, you are a young person (based on how I see it), and you seem confident in your capabilities and desire to work. Still, many employers may look at you and wonder, “Why is this person returning to work and how long will he stay?” Or worse yet, “Is he just looking for a place to put in time and make a buck?” This would be typical of some employers’ stereotypes about age 50+ workers. To overcome this possibility, face it head-on. In an application, cover letter, phone call, or interview, tell the employer in no uncertain terms that you are eager to return to work, plan to work at least 7 to 10 years, and that you can demonstrate your qualifications.

Concern about your former pay level is warranted. Employers generally appear anxious about people who have “stepped back” from previous, demanding, and sometimes well-paid jobs. They may not say so, but my sense is they believe you will “jump ship” at the first whiff of a better-paying job. So what can you do? Don’t fill in your former rate of pay, but insert a note that you are prepared to work for a “competitive wage” or “the prevailing wage.”

Explain that you realize your previous employer or occupation was well paid but that you also understand the realities of today’s labor market. Don’t sell yourself short. Employers sometimes appear to treat people age 60 as if they were “the new age 20”—by offering them modest pay with an opportunity to grow and few other choices. Don’t fall for this. Find out what similar jobs pay by visiting a site like Salary.com or call your state employment office. Ask for a competitive wage and tell them why you’re worth it!

You may want to contact Express Employment Professionals (an AARP National Employer Team company) about temporary work. This company has lots of business in the San Antonio area and currently lists about 7 to 10 openings that may be appealing to you. There are also maintenance positions at major retailers like Target and Home Depot.

Let me know when you find your “retirement job.”

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