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7 Deadly Sins for Older Job Seekers

... and how to avoid them.

Older job seekers face long odds in today’s grim marketplace. Nearly 7 percent of age 55-plus adults are unemployed, and they’re competing against five other jobless people for every opening. Is there any hope for them?

“Sure there is,” says Robert Skladany, research director of “What the statistics don’t say is that people are landing jobs if they are resourceful and diligent about looking for them.”

But some older adults are sabotaging their prospects by making common mistakes, a new study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute suggests. Instead of analyzing their skills, abilities and preferences and realistically assessing the job market, they’re relying on their long resumés to make their case to employers.

“The harsh truth is, nobody cares about your experience,” says workplace expert David DeLong, author of the report “Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?” “In a performance-driven marketplace, you have to frame your experience and show how you can solve a company’s problems. You can’t expect the potential employer to figure that out.”

The study, released Oct. 13, also found that older job seekers routinely overestimate their computer skills, fail to seek extra training, and may feel ambivalent about returning to work in spite of financial need. If potential employers sense that ambivalence in an interview, it can kill any chances of a hire.

In a recession, people of all ages discover that their elementary job-hunting skills, adequate in times of prosperity, are woefully lacking in a highly competitive marketplace, says Richard N. Bolles, author of the annual guide What Color Is Your Parachute?

400 resumés don’t help

“Older job hunters tend to rely on what worked before, like sending out 400 resumés,” says Bolles, “In this brutal economy, that just doesn’t work.” Job seekers need multiple strategies such as making an inventory of transferable skills, targeting fields of interest and key employers, making cold calls and joining job-support groups.

Last February, designer Michael Locascio started calling recruiters after he was abruptly laid off from a Chicago-area company. “Usually within a couple of weeks, I would find something, even just project-based work, but this time there was nothing or the pay was ridiculously low,” he says.

Locascio, 50, always disdained networking. “I felt like you’re always asking someone for a favor,” he says. But last summer, out of desperation, he joined St. Hubert Job and Networking Ministry, one of Chicago’s largest free job-support groups. “There was a no-whining policy,” he says. “You’re there to stay focused on the task.”

The ministry breaks participants into small groups of eight to 12 job seekers from different occupations who problem-solved, shared job leads and held each other accountable for progress. “That helped to keep me going—seeing others land jobs,” says Locascio.

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