Applying for a Job When You’re Over 50: Tips to Challenge the Myths About Older Workers

Older worker applying for a ob

Whether you’re out of a job, entering the job market or just looking to change careers, common sense suggests that job seekers in their 50s and older may have a harder time getting hired. First, employers may assume that younger applicants with fewer financial obligations may be more likely to accept lesser salaries. Second, the job seekers who are closer to retirement age may seem like a greater investment. Even when pensions aren’t on the table, the return on onboarding and training a new recruit whose sights are already on the door may look less appealing.

Some data seem to suggest as much. According to a 2007 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, for example, the length of time job seekers older than 55 look for work is three times that of their younger counterparts. A 2012 Forbes article reported on studies that revealed people older than 55 who lost their jobs spent more time out of work and earned 23% less than their previous salaries once in a new job (compared to younger people whose earnings fell just 11%). Whether age was the barrier to employment, however, is up for debate.

At least one study, according to a 2015 Psychology Today article, says there are others matters at play. And those matters may just be more in your control. For one, the  study revealed, the delay in employment time may be due to the psychological impact of unemployment on older workers, causing them to take longer to grieve and move on. For another, the delay in employment may be due to the methods that younger and older job seekers employ when looking for work. Word of mouth and newspaper searches, in other words, are not nearly as effective as online sites and applications.

Finally, for some workers, the delay may just be geographic. The report found that workers over the age of 50 tended to be unemployed 6 weeks or longer than those between 30-49 and a full 11 weeks longer than those under the age of 30. However, this seemed to be less the case in North America and Eastern Europe, perhaps, they surmise, because social welfare programs provide less of a safety net.

Regardless of the challenges before you, if you are in your 50s or older and looking for new work, take advantage of these tips and resources to be ahead of the competition.

Take to technology in your search and skill set

When looking for work, search job sites online and have a PDF of your resume ready to submit online. If you are not a social media maven, at least have a LinkedIn profile. And if you are a social media maven in your personal life (posting your family pictures and favorite recipes on Facebook, for example) be sure you know how to set your privacy settings to block prospective employers and colleagues.

When it comes to work itself, depending on the field you’re in, employers will want to know you are familiar with the latest software for things like word processing, spreadsheets, online ordering and project management. If you need to brush up on your technological skills, look into classes at your library or through local continuing education offerings.

Show them what a good deal you are

Having a few decades of experience under your belt can make you either an appealing or a threatening prospect to some employers. For one, more experience usually equates to a higher salary. For another, the management, while experienced in their own right, may have different skill sets themselves.

If you risk coming across as a seasoned (read: expensive) employee, emphasize the results they will see from hiring you due to the efficiency and productivity you have honed over the years. While you are at it, provide examples that illustrate how you are open-minded to change and enjoy continually learning new skills, especially from leadership who may be younger, and greener, than you.

Reframe your narrative

Learn to tell your professional story in a way that employers want to hear. While you’re at it, don’t let your resume date you. You can remove the dates you graduated and any employment history from 15 years old or greater. Tailor your resume to each application so you can emphasize skills over the dates and timelines more prominent in template resumes.

Consider something new

Recent trends reveal that retirees are returning to the workforce more often than in the past—but not always to do the same work they left. Think of this time as an opportunity to try new things. Enjoy the independence of being hired as a security guard or a messenger, for example.  Explore the gig economy.

Consider the fact that a job with less responsibility might not be so bad, especially when you have health scares, aging parents and other outlets for your energy (which, let’s face it, may be waning).

Get back out there

Above all, make use of the plethora of resources and community available to you as you navigate new times. The American Association of Retired People (AARP) has an entire website dedicated to issues relating to “Working at 50+.” Learn about age discrimination and how to stay competitive.