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Tips for Older Job Seekers Going Back to Work

Kerry Hannon stops by to give advice to older workers looking for a new job

An older woman holding a book

AARP

Bob Edwards:

On today's show, our guest shares advice that could help you land your next great job.

Kerry Hannon:

You never know who you might meet. It's all about networking, which I say is networking is one letter away from not working.

Bob Edwards:

Hello, I'm Bob Edwards with an AARP Take on Today. Earlier this month, the US House of Representatives voted in favor of the bipartisan Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, or POWADA. The bill was first introduced after the Supreme Court's decision on Jack Gross v. FBL, which made it more difficult for older workers to fight workplace age discrimination. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Bob Edwards:

According to a 2018 AARP survey, 61% of older workers say that they have either faced or seen age bias in the workplace. This show has followed the fight against age discrimination and shared stories of people who refuse to give up. Before we hear from our guest, we want to revisit some moments that emphasize how serious this issue is, beginning with Katherine Moon and Julianne Taaffe. Moon and Taaffe, instructors at Ohio State University, said that for years the university had violated the Federal Age Discrimination and Employment Act. They noticed that there was a deliberate pattern of discrimination.

Katherine Moon:

We started to notice the really terrible things that were happening, like some part-time people, they had been with us for 10, 12, 15 years and never had a negative word spoken about their performance, and they were just suddenly dismissed and no longer needed, and younger workers were put in their place.

Julianne Taaffe:

The executive director would write to HR or to the Chair and refer to older staffers, referred to us by name, as squatting on jobs that young bucks should be getting.

Bob Edwards:

Not only did they fight back, they also returned to their jobs. We've also heard from Dale Kleber, who encountered a disturbing qualification on a job posting.

Dale Kleber:

They were described as an element in their job description, a cap, three to seven years, but then they put a parenthetical after that seven years and said, "and no more than seven years," which logically isn't any different, but it's the equivalent of saying, "And we really mean it, three to seven years and absolutely no more than seven years. We really mean we don't want anybody to apply who's got more than seven years of experience. If you're over 40, don't apply."

Bob Edwards:

Kleber's case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, but unfortunately the nation's highest court did not hear his case. Of course, Jack Gross, who along with his colleagues, maintained that they were effectively demoted by their employer because of their age. Gross sued and the Supreme Court did hear his case, but he lost. However, we know that that's not how the story ends. Jack Gross brought the fight to Congress.

Jack Gross:

It was almost immediately after the Supreme Court fiasco. My two senators, Senator Grassley and Senator Harkin, both had been there years, one's a Democrat, one a Republican, cosponsored the original POWADA bill and both were fighting equally hard for what was right.

Bob Edwards:

AARP's Cristina Martin Firvida had this to say about POWADA on the day it passed the House.

Cristina Martin Firvida:

This is a clear message that age discrimination must be taken as seriously as any other form of workplace discrimination. AARP has spent years fighting to restore older worker rights that were weakened by the Supreme Court a decade ago. Thank you to all the members of Congress who have supported older workers, and a big thank you to all of you who took action. Your advocacy made the difference.

Bob Edwards:

While more progress is needed to fight age discrimination in the workplace, there are many resources available for older workers. The AARP Employer Pledge is one place to look, where over 1,000 employers have pledged to promote equal opportunities for all workers, regardless of age. You can find the employer pledge at AARP.org/employerpledge.

Bob Edwards:

Another resource is the book Great Jobs for Everyone 50+. Our guest today, Kerry Hannon, is the book's author, and she's here to offer advice for older job seekers. Welcome to the show, Kerry.

Kerry Hannon:

Great. Thanks for the invitation.

Bob Edwards:

What's the most important thing you want readers to take away from your book?

Kerry Hannon:

You have to believe in yourself. You can do it. There are jobs out there for people who are over 50. It isn't the end of the road, but the fact is you have to have that chutzpah. You've got to have that belief in yourself that in fact, you have the skills and the ability to land the job that you really want. A lot of people get discouraged when rejections start coming in and you just need to get back to that core. Do your inner MRI and know that you have what it takes.

Bob Edwards:

Confidence.

Kerry Hannon:

Yes.

Bob Edwards:

Got to talk a good game.

Kerry Hannon:

Absolutely.

Bob Edwards:

What are some of the biggest challenges people 50 and older face when looking for jobs?

Kerry Hannon:

Yeah. Ageism is alive and well in the workplace. I mean, there's no sugarcoating that. The facts are what workers are coming up against is employers have these certain biases. Frankly, they're true for some workers. I'm not going to say that it isn't, but they think you're not up for the job, that you don't have the stamina for it. They think that, hey, you're too expensive, whether it's from to insure from a health perspective or your salary. They think that you're not going to play well with the younger kids, meaning that you're not going to deal well if you have a younger boss, and that you are maybe not up to speed with the changes in your industry and you're set in your ways and you're not willing to try new ways of doing things. Some of these, as I said, may be true for some workers, but you need to fight back against that and show them why that isn't true. There are ways you can do that.

Bob Edwards:

It sounds like over confidence. You want to be assertive and bold, but you don't want to sound like you can't learn new things.

Kerry Hannon:

Right. You can't be that you are the know-it-all, because in fact, and especially if you have somebody younger that you're going to be reporting to, you need to have an openness and a respect for somebody who is in whatever age they are that you're working for. Also, it's never about you. It's all about the company and who you're working for. You have to switch that mindset to, how can I make them look good? How can I make this company look good? It's really understanding that mission and how your skills can fit into that.

Bob Edwards:

What message do you have for employers, especially an employer who's considering an older job candidate?

Kerry Hannon:

Yeah, open up the gate. I mean, the fact is there is some amazing talent out there. You have somebody who's sitting before you looking for a position that, in fact, has these amazing communication skills, the soft skills that you're really looking for, somebody who is very good at organization, that knows how to make the trains run, that is a good manager, that is a great writer. I mean, these are things that come with experience. Somebody, and I hate to say this, but it's true, somebody who is loyal in a way that a younger worker ... I frankly don't blame them necessarily, but they jump jobs much quicker than we ever did. In fact, an older worker today tends to have that longevity. They will stay with your team and they'll work with you and they're not going to come in for a few months and off they go.

Bob Edwards:

Someone who has seen the problems maybe you're having now and has found a way to deal with them in the past.

Kerry Hannon:

Yeah, they're the ballast in the workplace. They've seen it. They don't overreact. They're calm. They know how to work through a problem and to solve problems. They know how to reach out to a network that they have to help them get resources that can help build on a project or solve a problem. It's an interesting thing because it's a psychological piece that comes with time. It comes with experience.

Bob Edwards:

Now, POWADA, recently it was passed in the House. However, current laws are still insufficient to protect older workers. How can older job seekers remain hopeful in their job search?

Kerry Hannon:

Yeah. This is really a tough one. All of that, that's terrific that that was passed and I love it, but I honestly, a lot of employers give lip service that they're doing the right things, but when it comes down to it, I've had so many people tell me that they're sitting there and they're talking to a hiring manager and it's as if the person sees their expiration date. I mean, it truly is they think you're not in it for the long haul. It's there. That ageism, it's not going to go away. It's not a blink of legislation is going to change this. It's deep in our culture. It's sort of a movement that we need to get going now. AARP is doing a lot to make this happen, but we need to keep at it.

Kerry Hannon:

Yes, you should be hopeful. You should not give up. There are ways to find great jobs today. It just takes a little bit of shifting of your attitude and doing a little more homework. It's not an easy skate. Don't think anyone's going to say, "Oh, wow, look at your resume and aren't you fabulous?"

Bob Edwards:

Yeah, right?

Kerry Hannon:

Because you need to explain that.

Bob Edwards:

You seem to get discouraged on interview number four or five.

Kerry Hannon:

Yeah. Oh, it's pretty easy. I mean, rejection is a pretty tough thing to deal with. One tip I often give people, which this is not a scattershot approach. I mean, you need to really pick a couple of companies where you might want to work for and believe in them.

Bob Edwards:

Exactly. Where should older workers look for jobs?

Kerry Hannon:

Yeah. What I suggest people do is do that soul searching about where do you want to work? What company turns you on? What mission? What is it that you'd like to be doing at this stage in your life? Start there and then say, okay, narrow it down to maybe six of those. Well, who do I know that works there? Because companies hire people the old fashioned way. Forget about these online job boards. I know it's great. It's a great way to learn what's out there, what's open, what companies are hiring. You should go ... First say, "Who do I know there?" Because they want to hire somebody who they know or somebody that they know knows you, because they're chicken. They want to make sure that they have somebody that they can trust. Secondly, go to that company's website and see on their job board, right?

Bob Edwards:

Research, yeah.

Kerry Hannon:

What jobs are there? Then, what are the jobs that are open? Do you actually have the skills to do those jobs? If you don't, go and get them, if you can, community colleges, online courses, a certificate, whatever it might be. You're not going to learn on the job. You need to go in there firing on all pistons.

Bob Edwards:

What are some of the mistakes older workers make in job seeking and how can they avoid those?

Kerry Hannon:

Yeah, sometimes I think they're too cool for school. I mean, they think that everyone knows how accomplished they are and how much they've done. Somebody looking at your resume is probably not going to recognize what you've done by a job title and a brief description. You have to tell your story. In the job field, they call these your CAR stories, the challenge, your action and the result. You need to tell stories. It's about storytelling in your resume. You need to show people by a narrative why they should hire you. That's a really important thing to remember.

Bob Edwards:

What if you hear the dreaded word overqualified?

Kerry Hannon:

That is a good one, isn't it? That's a real euphemism for you're too old for the job. Frankly, you should take that as a compliment and say, "Thank you, but the truth is I really believe in this company. I believe in this mission. I think I could really ... " Again, it's all about them. If you can give your value added, what is it that you can bring that's going to make that manager look great, to make the company succeed, you can get around that overqualified question.

Bob Edwards:

A lot of older folks haven't had to look for a job, so they're rusty. What advice would you have for older workers to make them more attractive?

Kerry Hannon:

Yeah. It depends on the job, but most jobs, if we're talking about sort of white collar jobs, you need to have a social media presence, which means you need to have a LinkedIn profile. Employers are going to search for you online. They're going to do a Google search, so you need to have a clean presence, like a Facebook page if that's fine, but get any crazy stuff off of there. You can have you and your dog, which I like to have. You should do that, and you need to have a great LinkedIn profile that really tells your story. You can open it up. Definitely have a photograph. Connect with people. You need to ... a resume that shows your skills. I suggest having your skills up at the top. Don't say a litany of where all you worked. Get up there with your skills right up front and hit them with what you can do, and then your stories about how great you are. Then only pick maybe 10 years. I always say, this is an advertisement, it's not an obituary. Make sure that resume is tight and sharp.

Kerry Hannon:

The final thing, practice interviewing. I mean, it can be really daunting to go into an interview when you haven't interviewed in a long time. It's hard to sell yourself. Especially at this age, we're not really great, usually, at selling ourselves. Practice with a friend and often. Oh my gosh, Bob, the other thing is a lot of people want to do phone interviews or video interviews before they even bring you into an interview, so you need to practice those Zoom or Skype interviews. There's ways that you can do that so that you understand how to be comfortable in that kind of an interview. Practice phone interviews. They're different skillsets, but you need to be ready.

Bob Edwards:

You also don't want to seem like you're coasting on what you've done. How can older workers acquire new skills or build on existing experience?

Kerry Hannon:

That's a great question. You absolutely need to be ... Stay up to date with skills in whatever field it is you're in, or if you're transitioning into a new field. There's some great online opportunities. LinkedIn Learning has some things. Community colleges are great. At any rate, you need to be up to date with any of your skillsets that you're moving forward, but there's so many other things that I think it's important. Lifelong learning, of course, is what we're talking about, is never get complacent, but if you're really in a job search and you're frustrated and you're depressed and you're down, get out of your head and get into the world. Go and volunteer someplace.

Kerry Hannon:

If you can volunteer for a cause you care about, in a position that's using your skills, you never know who you might meet. It's all about networking, which I say is networking is one letter away from not working. If you can get out there and be volunteering, tell people you're looking for it, and you might find a job right at that nonprofit. You never know, but the fact is you're in the world and you're meeting people and you're reaching out. That's how you're going to hear about positions and make that connection.

Bob Edwards:

But how do you do that? How do you leverage volunteer work for a profit making company?

Kerry Hannon:

Well, but nonprofits are hiring. Say you are working in fundraising. Well, my goodness, that translates nicely to sales or marketing position. You might be a volunteer manager. Well, there you go. That's a project management in a company. There's ways to use that nonprofit, and vice versa. The skills from each one can work.

Bob Edwards:

The reality is many people can't afford to retire and have to continue to work to supplement their retirement income. Are there fields that people in this common situation should consider?

Kerry Hannon:

Yeah. Well, actually this is really true. Moving forward, I think we're going to see more of this with longevity. People are living longer, presumably healthier lives and working longer and haven't saved adequately, but even if they have saved adequately, it's a safety net to continue to work. Plus, we know all the good stuff. Physically, it's good for us. Mentally, it's good for us. Yes, I encourage people, look for opportunities in small businesses, in small associations. They often value your experience in a way that a big corporation might not. You can have that personal touch. They're willing to see the longer run by what value you can bring.

Kerry Hannon:

There's an area that I look at called jobs to ride the age wave. There's new ones being created all the time. In my book there's a whole section on these jobs. It's jobs that people in their 50s and 60s can do for people in their 70s and their 80s. It's things like senior fitness trainer or senior massage therapist or financial planner. It can be even as an assistant. It can be a senior move manager. There's a whole bunch of things in this category of goods and services that you can provide for an aging population. As I said, a lot of them are in the health area, so look in the healthcare field. Education is a big field where there are opportunities today too, and they value your experience. Those are a couple of suggestions.

Bob Edwards:

Over the years you've spoken to hundreds of workers about why they continue to work. What have they told you makes their job great?

Kerry Hannon:

It's so interesting. When you really say, "What do you love about your job," it's usually not the job itself. It's usually they say the people they work with. It's the mission of the company or the nonprofit they work for. It's the ability for an employer to allow you to keep learning, to offer learning opportunities for you. For some people, it's being able to travel still, to have an opportunity to go places and do things in their job.

Bob Edwards:

Flexibility.

Kerry Hannon:

Yeah, yeah. I mean, these are the things that we reach for. At this stage in life, I think often we're looking for jobs that bring meaning to our lives. Yes, the pay is important. Yes, you want to feel ... but it's really feeling relevant and feeling like you're giving back in some way. It doesn't have to be with a nonprofit, but that you believe in what you're doing.

Bob Edwards:

All right, three actionable tips that our listeners can do right now to spruce up their resume.

Kerry Hannon:

All right. First of all, do a good inventory on what your skills are. Be serious. What are your good skills? Those are the ones you want to focus on. Take a look at what jobs ... Narrow that job search. Who do you want to work for? Put it back in your court. Who is it that you want to work for? Then who the heck do you know? Make a list of people you know at the companies or the nonprofits where you want to work and reach out to them. Ask them for advice. You're not asking them for a job, but network, network, network because you absolutely never know where a job opportunity might come from.

Bob Edwards:

What about you? What kind of projects do you have going on?

Kerry Hannon:

Two big things. I do a lot of speaking around the country on women and money and financial empowerment for women. I've been doing a series of She Leads workshops on that, free workshops. I have a book I'm working on on remote working, great jobs that you can do in your pajamas. I have a book out right now called Never Too Old to Get Rich. It's all about midlife entrepreneurship.

Bob Edwards:

Tell me about those jammy jobs.

Kerry Hannon:

That's the title of my new book, actually. I've actually done a piece for AARP on this topic as well a while back. It's really fun. It's about remote working at any age in great jobs. These are serious jobs that pay well that you can do in your pajamas or in your yoga pants or whatever.

Bob Edwards:

Thank you so much.

Kerry Hannon:

Well, thank you.

Bob Edwards:

You can find Kerry's work at kerryhannon.com or at AARP.org/bookstore. For more resources about workplace age discrimination and job help, see our show notes. Thank you to our news team, producer [Colby 00:19:39] Nelson, assistant producer Danny [Alarcon 00:00:19:42], production assistant [Bridgid Launi 00:19:44], engineer Julio [Gonzalez 00:00:19:46], writer Jill [Higgs 00:19:48], executive producer Jason Young, and of course my cohost, Wilma Consul and Mike Ellison. Become a subscriber. Be sure to rate our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, and other podcast apps. Thanks for listening. I'm Bob Edwards.

The job search can be tough, but finance author Kerry Hannon has just the advice and motivation you need to land a great job as an older employee. Listen in to learn more.

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