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Searching for a job at any age puts most people on a bullet train to Stressville. When you’re 45 or more, a job search can be particularly daunting. If you haven’t looked for a job in years, guess what? Things have changed. A lot. Here are seven of the most common mistakes midlife job hunters make—with tips from recruiters and career experts on how to sidestep them.
1. You Consider Your Age a Detriment, Not an Asset
At midlife, job seekers often assume potential employers will view their age as a liability, say career coaches and recruiting professionals. But, “the biggest mistake you can make is to disqualify yourself based on the biases of others,” says Ninh Tran, co-founder and chief marketing officer of recruiting platform Hiretual.com. Counter potential ageism by stressing your energy, how you’ve kept current with trends and technologies and the value of your experience, advises consultant and author Barry Maher.
Don’t let an interviewer assume you’ll retire soon. Maher suggests saying, “I’m looking for a company I can stay with and grow,” and “one of the benefits of having a little experience under my belt is that I know what I want in life. I’m not going to jump around from company to company, trying this job and that job.”
Tran adds that age is associated with experience and wisdom, so it’s important “to be likable, be yourself, and if you get the rejection letter, move on to a different company that will appreciate your qualities.”
2. Your Résumé Details Your Early Work History—or Ignores It Completely
While plenty of companies hire workers over 45, age discrimination remains a widespread problem, making it tricky for job applicants to know how much past experience to include during the application or interview process, or in their résumés. How do you show the depth of your experience without looking old?
A brief overview of what you did 20–30 years ago is plenty, says Jane Goodall, résumé writer and career consultant, and you don’t need to give specific dates for jobs from that long ago. “Yes, you may have saved your employer 35 percent in overhead costs back in 1984. But what are your current stats? Life is different, business is different. Focus on the now by emphasizing skills, successes and experience from the past 10 to 15 years that are relevant to the job you’re seeking.”
At the same time, it’s a mistake to only include the most recent decade of your career on your résumé, adds Karla Jobling, chief operating officer of search and recruitment firm BeecherMadden. “As a professional headhunter, it makes me wonder what you might have to hide, which means I’m immediately questioning your honesty,” she explains. “Or, if you’ve made it to the interview stage, I’m annoyed that you’ve not been upfront to begin with. It tells me you didn’t trust that I would be able to see past your age and look at your skills for the job. You then have to work twice as hard to impress me.”
Take just a paragraph to summarize your job experience from more than 15 years ago, focusing on skills and successes that are relevant to the job you’re seeking, says Susan Peppercorn, a career management coach for Positive Workplace Partners. “Many mature job seekers have experienced mergers and acquisitions, change of management, competitive threats and corporate reorganizations, which are as relevant today as they were back in the day.”
3. You Don’t “Get” LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a hugely important social media network for professionals, and experts advise job seekers of all ages—particularly those 45+—to become proficient at optimizing their profiles and using its tools.
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For example, if you aren’t familiar with the basics of sending a LinkedIn InMail, it’s easy to accidentally send a message before you’ve finished writing it, says Sonja Hastings, a recruiter for Optimal Sales Search. This can happen when you tap the return or enter key. Deselecting the “press enter to send” button in your LinkedIn message can prevent this error.
“I’ve had job candidates make this mistake, and then they follow up with ‘I don’t know to use LinkedIn,’” Hastings adds. Not being proficient on LinkedIn makes you look out of touch and unwilling or unable to learn new skills, he notes, all of which can be “the kiss of death for some careers,” especially those in sales and marketing. The remedy? “Get familiar with LinkedIn. Test out the inbox and send a few InMails to friends for practice. Don’t wait to test it out on job leads.”
Also, be aware that many companies now find and contact potential job candidates through LinkedIn rather than going through recruiting firms, says Jenny Hargrave, founder of U.K.-based InterviewFit, which provides interview preparation services. So if your LinkedIn profile is half-baked, or nonexistent, you’re potentially losing out.
4. Your Résumé, Email Address and Terminology Are Outdated
Résumé formats have changed with the rise of the applicant tracking system (ATS)—software that quickly sorts electronically submitted job applications and résumés by looking for relevant keywords. But job seekers in their 50s, especially those who’ve not looked for a job in a while, may submit résumés that aren’t ATS-compatible, which don’t emphasize keywords or mention the skills and requirements of the position being applied for, says Goodall.
(LiveCareer offers tips on optimizing résumés for ATS.)
“Job candidates often unknowingly show potential employers that they’re older and a bit out of touch by how they format their résumés, present information and use outdated language,” says Lela Reynolds, senior career consultant for Resume Strategists Inc. “Take a hard look at your résumé and eliminate common language giveaways such as ‘references available upon request,’” she recommends.
Other tips: Don’t insert two spaces after a period, as “only one space has been preferred since the death of the typewriter,” Reynolds says. Don’t include “http://www” before a website name or write “internet” instead of “web” or “digital,” as all of this makes you look like you’re stuck in 1996.
Also avoid using outdated terminology for your industry, either in your LinkedIn profile or on your résumé, adds Joanne Meehl, owner of Joanne Meehl Career Services. “A client of mine whose old field was once called telecom changed the terminology to digital communications and included that phrase in the summary and skills areas of his résumé and on his LinkedIn profile,” she says. “It de-aged him and it worked, as he was found on LinkedIn and then hired.”
Even your email address can hurt your image, Reynolds adds. “Don’t use revealing numbers like your birth year in your email address, and avoid an AOL, Hotmail or Yahoo email address on your résumé.” Those services are considered outdated, Reynolds says. “To look more current, create a Gmail address with your first and last name,” she advises. “If your name is common and you need to use a distinguishing number, don’t choose one that reflects your age or birth year.”
5. You’re Inflexible on Salary
If you’ve been in your profession for decades, no doubt you’ve reached a high-income bracket. Consequently, you may expect a fatter salary than a perfectly qualified, younger competitor—which can be a mistake.
“I’ve seen how some recruiters avoid candidates in their 40s and up, not because they’re not experienced or capable, but because their salary expectations might be too high,” says Alexander Grosu, project manager of TestUP, which offers pre-employment tests for companies.
If you suspect salary might limit your chances at being considered for a job you really want, address this upfront, advises Grosu. In your cover letter, mention what motivates you about the job beyond the salary, such as the opportunity to learn new skills, be part of a new initiative the company is undertaking or collaborate on a specific team.
While it’s important to show flexibility regarding salary (if indeed you can be flexible), don’t get into specifics early on, as you could leave money on the table. Once you’ve emphasized your expertise in efficiently handling the situations you’d likely face in the job, you’ll have more bargaining power, which can translate into a more desirable salary, adds Michele Mavi, director of Internal Recruiting and Content Development, Atrium Staffing.
Try to get a realistic sense of what the typical salary is for the job, taking industry, geographical, and the size of the organization into account, says Reynolds. Online resources such as Glassdoor can help.
Ultimately, deciding what you can and can’t accept in terms of salary is a highly personal decision based on multiple factors, Mavi says, such as the realities of your economic situation and whether the job is something you truly want to do, even if it means less money. You may have to balance how badly you want or need a job with the salary offered, she adds. And that can depend upon your circumstances. If you’re out of work and need the money, you should show you’re flexible on salary, she points out. If your kids are grown and gone, your house is paid for, and you’re going for a job that will truly fulfill you, you can also be more flexible if necessary.
6. You’ll Only Look for Full-Time Jobs or Consider Permanent Positions
Maybe you want or need a full-time, permanent position (or as permanent as any job is today). But “many employers are looking to hire experienced workers for project assignments or temporary jobs, which can turn into full-time jobs,” notes Art Koff, founder of RetiredBrains, a job resource for boomers and retirees. So look at temporary as well as permanent job listings, keeping in mind temporary gigs usually don’t offer benefits, he notes.
In most cases, it’s to your advantage to let a hiring manager know you’d accept a permanent position on a temporary, contract basis, in order to demonstrate your abilities, Koff says, adding that a time frame for the contract position should be set, such as two or three months, after which, if all parties agree, you can be converted to a full-time staffer.
Any suggestion that you’d accept a job on a temporary basis should only happen toward the end of your interview with the hiring manager, Koff continues. It can be risky to bring it up with a recruiter, Koff advises, as you might not be viewed as a serious candidate. “And you’ll never reach the hiring manager if the recruiter doesn’t feel you’re an appropriate candidate,” he says.
7. You Don’t Mention Your Software Skills
As famed Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen pronounced, “software is eating the world,” turning practically every business into a software-driven enterprise. So it’s a mistake not to list specific software programs among your skills on job applications, LinkedIn profiles, résumés and during interviews, says retained search consultant and executive résumé writer Donna Svei. Recruiters often perform keyword searches on software vendors and programs on digitally submitted résumés, job applications and on LinkedIn, she explains. Some keyword search examples include Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint or Salesforce.
If you don’t have software skills, it’s time to acquire them through training. Should you land a job interview, you want to avoid making excuses such as, “My company didn’t train me in that,” or mention that a subordinate or younger staff member did that for you, says Meehl. Instead, show prospective employers that you’re still learning new skills to keep yourself current.
“Be prepared to describe where you used specific applications, how you learned them and how your use of software helped your previous employer increase sales, reduce costs, accelerate processes,” Svei adds.
Finally, remember it’s not about you. It’s about the employer. In job interviews, midlife job seekers sometimes make the mistake of focusing too much on what they’ve done and how they’ve done it, notes career consultant and Life Reimagined expert Rich Feller, Ph.D. While this is important, you should also talk about how you’ve collaborated with others, the value you added to the team and how those achievements translated into success. Telling stories that show your tech savvy, ability to learn, years of experience, and most important, how you’ll make your potential boss’s life easier can help you overcome any potential age-related concerns.
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