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Building Skills Online Can Help You Get Hired

Courses through AARP and others let you learn at your own pace, often for free


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When D’anna Kaufman was laid off in April 2020, at the height of the pandemic, she immediately began brushing up on her job search skills.

“I’d worked as an executive assistant at the same company for 17 years and needed to revise my résumé and learn how to prepare for job interviews,” Kaufman says. “I started by updating my account on LinkedIn, from the free basic version to the paid Premium subscription, allowing me to access online LinkedIn courses at no additional charge.”

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Kaufman, 61, who lives in Martinez, California, found a career coach on LinkedIn Learning who suggested courses and videos on a variety of topics, including how to write a great résumé and prepare for questions commonly asked during a job interview.

Taking classes to update job search techniques and learn new skills suited for emerging workplace trends and technology can be a smart move, especially for job seekers over 50, says Jamie J. Johnson, a career adviser and coach at University of Phoenix in Arizona. While ageism does exist in many workplaces, Johnson says it’s possible for job seekers to fight age discrimination by showing they’re adaptable and open to learning new skills.

“It’s important to evaluate the steps you’re taking to develop and improve yourself” both professionally and personally, Johnson says. “For those over the age of 50, what’s your perspective on work? Do you see it as a positive or negative experience? Are you just waiting to leave your job and retire, or do you love what you do? A negative perspective is ageless and can impact the views of others and their perception of what ageism is and whether it’s valid.”

Thanks to remote learning, it’s easier than ever for job seekers to learn new skills from the comfort of their homes. A recent survey from AARP Research found many adults over the age of 50 have taken online classes and other training programs over the past two years to improve their job opportunities and personal skills.

Eight months after Kaufman was laid off, she landed a new job as an office manager at a tech startup. She believes the online courses she took, combined with her willingness to learn new skills, helped her secure the position.

“While I had some tech skills when I started the new job, I also ramped up my software skills within the first few months of employment, learning Google Workspace, QuickBooks, Workable, online banking and more,” Kaufman says. “All of the programs were self-paced and web-based, making the learning experience effortless.”

According to Johnson, staying current with the latest digital tools and trends is important for all job seekers, especially those 50 and over, who want to remain competitive in today’s job market.

“The most important thing to remember is to keep yourself professionally and personally prepared and active no matter your age,” Johnson says. “I encourage job seekers to explore and identify their career core — work interests, skills and abilities, values and work style — and  then pursue personal and professional development opportunities.”

Once a person has identified their work interests and the skills they want to continue to develop, grow or add to their professional toolbox, Johnson says they can seek out appropriate training and classes.

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Resources for learning new skills to help your job search

AARP Skills Builder for Work. Learn new skills in more than 300 online, self-paced courses, including project management, leadership, Microsoft Office fundamentals, presentation and speech training, and digital marketing through AARP Skills Builder for Work. Several courses are free and AARP members receive course discounts.

Community colleges and university extension programs. These institutions offer a variety of certifications, academic degrees and coursework to boost your knowledge and skills. “Some state colleges offer individuals over the age of 65 a special discount or even free classes,” Johnson says. Check with your local public colleges and universities to learn more about the offerings they provide for older adults at free or discounted rates.

Senior Planet from AARP. Most companies maintain a presence on social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more. Senior Planet offers a five-week social media course at six locations across the country. Learn how to navigate these platforms and how businesses use social media to showcase their products and company.

“Understanding how people and brands utilize social media platforms is very important,” says Karen Harvey, CEO of Karen Harvey Consulting in New York City, an international firm focused on executive searches. “As companies integrate new technologies such as video conferencing, data, and project management software, it’s critical for job seekers to be aware of how to use these tools in order to stay relevant.”

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Jobscan and AARP Resume Advisor. “Your résumé isn’t just a history of your work, it’s a marketing tool,” Johnson says. “Review and regularly update your résumé to reflect your latest experiences, skills, knowledge and education, relevant to the specific job you’re applying for.”

Because most résumés are now first screened by a software application known as an applicant tracking system (ATS) that searches and filters résumés by keywords, Johnson recommends scanning your résumé on Jobscan, a website that can optimize your résumé to ensure it gets past an ATS.

“Even highly qualified candidates can be rejected by an ATS if their résumé doesn’t include the right keywords,” Johnson says. “Remember, conducting a job search is like dating — you need to know your audience and do an individual and job needs assessment to ensure you’re the right candidate for the position.”

AARP Resume Advisor is a résumé review that can help make sure your résumé is a good match for the job openings you are applying for. A professional writer will review your résumé free of charge. For a fee, you can have the service rewrite your résumé, cover letter and LinkedIn profile (prices vary).

Older workers are becoming more common in jobs nationwide. Over the past two decades, the number of workers over the age of 55 has almost doubled, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects this trend to continue, projecting that by 2031, a quarter of the labor force will be over 55. As a result, Harvey sees companies valuing generational diversity and seeking experienced people who can contribute, teach and learn at the same time.

“It’s important to bring a mix of curiosity and emotional intelligence to the interview so employers can clearly see you have a growth mindset and are excited to be a part of what’s happening both today and going forward,” Harvey says. “When interviewing for jobs, it’s not just what you say in an interview or write on paper, it’s also the energy you bring to the table.”

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