En español | When you get passed over for a job and you're over 50, it's tempting to pin the blame on ageism, or say that you were overqualified for the position, or that there was a younger worker willing to work for less pay.
And while all that is certainly possible, it might be that you made some simple (but avoidable) mistakes.
Here are my top 10 things not to do in your job search.
1. Don't adopt a laissez-faire attitude toward your online social media footprint on sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
A recent CareerBuilder nationwide survey found that more than two in five hiring managers who use social media to research potential employees said they found information online that caused them not to hire a candidate. The biggest turnoffs for potential employers:
- Candidate posted provocative or inappropriate photos or information — 50 percent.
- Sites had information about candidate drinking or using drugs — 48 percent.
- Candidate bad-mouthed previous employer — 33 percent.
- Candidate had poor communication skills — 30 percent.
- Candidate made discriminatory comments related to race, gender or religion — 28 percent.
- Candidate lied about qualifications — 24 percent.
In today's job market, you must have an online profile, though. And it can work for you, if you manage your accounts diligently.
First, upload a current professional head shot (or at least an attractive photo, even if you took it with your smartphone). People want to see what you look like. Smile and sit up straight, with your shoulders pulled back. You might want to visit a hair salon before your photo shoot to tidy up your locks.
Update your personal privacy settings on social media sites such as Facebook. Search for yourself on Google and other Web search engines. You'll discover what others can. Remove anything that shows you in an unflattering light, if possible, or be ready to discuss in an interview.
What you think is all in good fun might not come across that way to a potential employer. Scrub your online profiles before you go job hunting. Highlight your work experience and education. List your hobbies and volunteer activities, and comment on or post articles you find interesting. "Statistically speaking, we know that if you share once a week you increase your chances of having your profile viewed by a recruiter tenfold," says LinkedIn's career expert, Nicole Williams.
Ask ex-colleagues, previous bosses and past clients in different age groups to write recommendations and endorse you on LinkedIn. It's best if they stress your up-to-date tech skills, creativity, experience and work ethic. And when a younger colleague backs you, it subliminally shows that you work well with someone younger — often a concern for employers hiring an older worker.
2. Don't use a kooky email address, such as Bluedevil@aol.com or some such moniker that means something to you, but not the person in Human Resources. Choose an email address that's professional and includes your full name, such as email@example.com, or one that includes your own domain name, such as firstname.lastname@example.org. Avoid an address with numerals, especially if it's something that suggests a birth year, such as Kerry1960@aol.com.
Add a signature to your outgoing email messages that includes your contact information and links to social network accounts such as Twitter and LinkedIn. Employers will look at those links to gather more information about you.
Next page: Don't job hunt alone. »
3. Don't job hunt alone. Ask for help and advice. "Networking, as I like to say, is just one letter off from not working," Joel Makower, executive editor of Greenbiz.com, told me with a laugh when I interviewed him for my latest book, Great Jobs for Everyone 50+. It's all about whom you know that can get you in the chair for a face-to-face meeting.
When businesses are looking for candidates, they lean on employee referrals, according to CareerXRoads, a recruiting industry consulting firm. While current employees fill 42 percent of all openings, employee referrals account for about 25 percent of the remainder.
Search for contacts you know who work at the company where you hope to land a job, and tell them that you're applying for a position. Ask if they can put in a word for you or give you any advice. LinkedIn and often your college alumni offices can help you find connections.
4. Don't get fancy with your résumé. Avoid a splashy layout or special effects. Choose a traditional font, such as Times New Roman, in 9- to 12-point size, and use black type on white paper. Other highly readable fonts to consider are Arial, Calibri, Cambria and Tahoma.
In addition to creating the paper version of your résumé, pull together an electronic document you send via email that lands without any odd formatting. The text should be flush with the left-hand side of the document, and you want to use an easy-to-read font. Email it to yourself to check before you send it along.
5. Don't turn your résumé into your autobiography. Keep it timely, focused and short. Most recruiters will scan it in 20 or 30 seconds, so keep it to no more than two pages. Stick to the most recent 10 to 15 years of experience.
Avoid giving dates when it comes to decades-old experience — and only include those ancient jobs if they're pertinent to the work you're currently seeking. There's no need for college graduation dates. Match the experience and skills you cite in your résumé with the precise skills employers say they're seeking in their job posting.
Your résumé should provide employers with a narrative about how you've been successful in earlier jobs. Tell your story with rich details, such as how you reined in costs by a certain percentage, boosted sales by 25 percent or delivered a job two months ahead of schedule.
6. Don't forget to proofread your résumé. This is a deal-breaker for many employers. Make sure your résumé is 100 percent free of grammar and spelling errors. Spell-check is not to be trusted. Double- and triple-check your document.
Any misspellings or grammatical gaffes suggest that you don't pay attention to detail, or aren't that interested in the job — clearly not something a potential boss wants to see.
Ask someone you trust to read over your résumé for you. A second or third set of eyes can catch things you might miss. If you can't find someone, print the document out, then wait for an hour or more before you review it, so you have fresh eyes. I recommend reading it out loud, too. For me, that's the best way to catch missed words and grammatical mistakes.
Next page: Proofread all your correspondence. »
7. Don't forget to check all your correspondence for errors. Proofread all your correspondence, be it an email, cover letter, job application or thank-you note. The devil is in the details. This is basic, but easy to forget.
Take your time. Pause before you hit the send button. Read your note again, out loud, just as you did with your résumé. (And, please, it's never a good idea to send messages via texts or emails on your cellphone, particularly if you have an autocorrect program running.)
8. Don't wait passively at home for the phone to ring. If you're unemployed now, go do something. Try volunteering for a nonprofit organization or do pro bono work in a job that uses your skills.
Join professional groups. Volunteer for events to stay engaged and hobnob with players in your field.
Volunteering for a nonprofit lets you network and potentially get your foot in the door with a future employer. It also fills in gaps in your résumé. And you never know, you might just meet someone who will lead you to a job opening elsewhere.
Search for prospects at VolunteerMatch.org, HandsOnNetwork.org and AARP's Giving Back (aarp.org/giving-back). Seek out nonprofits that need your particular professional expertise through TaprootFoundation.org and the Executive Service Corps (escus.org). Bridgespan.org runs an online job board for nonprofit positions. Idealist.org has a searchable database of both volunteer and paid positions.
Check with an employer that you're interested in working for, or one in a field that you would like to move into, to find out if it offers unpaid internships for more experienced workers.
9. Don't overlook your physical appearance. First impressions count. Before you head out on an interview, get in good physical shape. It gives you an energetic, vibrant appearance. Spruce up your hairstyle with an up-to-date cut and shaping. Overdress. Wear clothes that are currently in fashion. It's worth shelling out for an interview outfit. It never hurts to overdress. Get some fashion-forward specs. A manicure is a good idea (men can skip the polish). Shine your shoes.
10. Don't dis former employers. If you're asked about a previous employer with whom you had a negative experience, be gracious; smoothly shift the subject away from the past to the present day and future job opportunities.
Never post anything on social media that shows your displeasure if there's bad blood. Nothing good will come from this. When you criticize others, it reflects on your character.
Bonus tip: Don't underestimate yourself. "I encourage my clients to play long shots," says career coach Beverly Jones of Clearways Consulting in Washington, D.C. "You have to chase the off-the-wall prospects, jobs you've never done but have the skills and ability to perform. Be fearless."
Kerry Hannon, AARP jobs expert, is a career transition expert and an award-winning author. Her latest book is Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … and Pays the Bills.