What's special about you? If you've lost your job and are having trouble navigating a competitive job market, it might help to identify that "special something" that makes you stand out from the crowd. AARP volunteer career counselors and personal branding experts will be on hand at four Ohio career fairs this fall to offer advice to older workers.
It's a tough climate. Of the more than 600,000 Ohioans who were unemployed last year, nearly 13 percent were over 55, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Older workers are jobless an average of 11 months, far longer than younger people.
Older job seekers can get overwhelmed with the job search process and frustrated with their inexperience on the Internet. Others worry their age might work against them.
AARP is working with EmploymentGuide.com to offer seminars and one-on-one assistance, said Kevin Craiglow, AARP Ohio associate state director for public outreach. If you can't attend the job fairs, the free Work@50+ webinars are available online.
AARP adds four components to the career fairs, Craiglow said:
• A career consultant area where you can meet with skilled professionals for 20 minutes to get one-on-one help, including résumé advice.
• A small Internet cafe where volunteers will help you search and apply for jobs online.
• Personal branding seminars to strengthen your appeal to employers.
• A free CD with dozens of tips such as dealing with the "overqualified" label and applying for unemployment benefits.
Michael Barnhart, a retired educator and AARP volunteer, has been teaching people about personal branding. He defines personal branding as a unique value that sets you apart from other job candidates, when many years of experience isn't enough. It's a quick description of who you are and what you bring to the table.
"You need to sell your skills," instead of a chronological list of the places you worked, said Barnhart, 69, who is from the Dayton area.
Barnhart said some job seekers are embarrassed to ask for help, but they shouldn't be. They could learn computer skills from a grandson or find out about a job opening from a neighbor.
"Having to admit this to your family is probably quite a humbling experience," he said. "But that's what family and friends are for."
At one career fair, a man in his 50s asked if he should dye his gray hair because he was concerned young employers might think he was too old to do the job. Barnhart told him to check his attitude before he colored his hair. "You're the one who thinks you're old and can't do it. It's not your hair; it's the way you are presenting yourself," Barnhart said.
Ageism exists, he said, but not every 30-year-old has the wisdom some people have after they've worked for 30 years.
Pegg Milroy of Cleveland Heights was one of the volunteers who offered career advice at a Cleveland job fair that attracted more than 8,000 people.
"I get energized by those things," said Milroy, who is 55-plus. "I got to practice my 30-second commercial."
Barnhart teaches job seekers to draft an "elevator pitch," or 30-second commercial, about themselves. It must be brief, clear, positive and well-rehearsed.
After getting laid off from her dental sales job, Milroy had trouble finding a similar job. So she participated in the AARP Foundation's WorkSearch program in Cleveland and was paid to learn how to be a career counselor for other unemployed older people. "I discovered I'm good at it," she said. Now she's looking for a paying job as a career counselor.
Her colleague at the WorkSearch program, Rosalind Smith, 57, of Cleveland, lost her social services job at a nonprofit organization in September 2008. She shares her philosophy with fellow job seekers who get frustrated: "Life is like a tide, it comes in and goes out. It is in constant flux and you have to be able to be in constant flux too."
AARP offers more tips on job hunting online.
Here's more information and where you can register online for career fairs Sept. 21 in Dayton, Sept. 22 in Cincinnati, Sept. 29 in Columbus, and Oct. 15 in Cleveland. You can also call 1-888-321-5349 toll-free.
Susan Ruiz Patton is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.