Over 50: Job Hunt Tips

Over 50? There is no easy job hunt.

This week, I’m focusing on people who are over 50 and in the job market. One of the reasons I own my own company is to help people communicate better. At work, at home, with their friends. I’m a life coach and a trainer for that reason.  Through two local community colleges, I’m teaching people who are unemployed find a job by boosting their job skills.

This week I’m focusing on the over-50-and-in-the-job-market. Today, Tuesday, and Thursday, I’m posting blogs with tips on getting an interview and doing well on the interview.

The recession has been so long that any job now looks like a good deal. Low pay? No problem. No benefits? OK. All you want is a regular job with a regular paycheck. You have leadership skills, have a high work ethic, and love working hard. And you aren’t getting past the interview–that is, if you are lucky enough to get an in-person interview.

You are over 50. You might be all those things in the paragraph above, but to interviewers, you are old-school, old-fashioned, big-healthcare costs, and, too old for them. Why is 50 old, when we just learned that 50 is the new 30? Because the person interviewing you isn’t 50, possibly not even 40, and our big tendencies as humans is to hire people just like us. Fifty looks ancient. Too old to change. Too demanding. Not limber, not nimble, not to be hired. Wait, isn’t it against the law to discriminate against your age? Yes, it is. Do you want to find a job or spend a lot of your retirement income trying to prove age discrimination? If you answered, “find a job,” keep reading.

What now? First, some DON’Ts:

1. Do not dye your hair black. Black is not a flattering hair color for most people, and very few people have naturally black hair, even when young.You’ll look like a vat of cheap hair dye on a mature body.

2. No faux-hawk. No comb-over for men. Women: no hairdo you wore to the prom, even if you were prom queen. Keep it simple.

3. Do not wear clothing that will be remembered. You want to be thought of as person with great skills, not the person with the white velvet jacket.

Some DOs for job applicants over 50:

1. Don’t give away your age. Take the date you graduated and any other dates that allow them to figure out your age group off your resume. The fact you have a degree and the university name is enough.

2. Talk to the machine. Your resume will be scanned by a machine before it gets looked at by a human. There are two common mistakes that you can get rid off easily: Remove the “objective” (everyone wants to contribute to a job that develops their career, that statement doesn’t distinguish you). Replace it with your qualifications. Your qualifications should contain key words. What key words? The ones in the ad. If you don’t have any of the requirements in the ad, save time–don’t apply.  The second mistake is to use old buzz-words to describe your old jobs. I’ve described it in more detail in this post on job hunting.

3. Your 30 years of experience is no longer a good thing. I know, I know, when you were younger it was the only thing that mattered–a steady job history, preferably at one company. I’m sorry, it’s not longer a good thing. And a 30-year history is something that screams, “too old for this job!” Put down the last 10 to 15 years of experience. No more. It’s likely that before that you had a job that doesn’t give you valid experiences for today’s job market.

4. Don’t take the bait. When you are told, “You are overqualified for this job,” ask, “Can you be more specific?” or “What are the qualifications you are looking for?” Ask it in a voice of curiosity, not sarcasm or anger. Practice this. Listen carefully to the answer, and turn it into a conversation about the qualifications you have for the job, not the ones that will rule you out. “Overqualified” often means “overpaid,” but it might also mean, “you don’t fit in,” or “you’ll be bored.” Have answers prepared that show you have something to offer the company, not to show the interviewer how wrong the question was.

5. Watch your word choice. Don’t use words like “krunck” and “sick” to describe things that you call “cool.” You don’t know the right words for that age group, and trying will make you look older. Don’t refer to the women you worked with as “gals” or “the girls in the front office.” It not only makes you look old, it makes you look like a liability. Keep your words simple. No “paradigm shifts” no “taking things to another level with synchronicity.” Jargon doesn’t impress interviewers, because it’s not the jargon they use.

6. Never point to your age. Don’t mention your retired spouse, your grandchildren, song lyrics from the 80s or earlier (reminder: the 80s were roughly 30 years ago)  or sports heroes who are dead. Once you open the door, the interviewer will walk right through it, and happily dwell in the past with you, then not hire you. To avoid this pitfall, concentrate on the job requirements and how your skills match those requirements. Focus on the hiring company’s needs.

The job market is tough, but you are tougher. That’s an advantage of being over 50. You’ve already seen some tough times. This too, shall pass. And you’ll be employed again. Concentrate on your interview, not on your unemployment.

Quinn McDonald teaches business communications, is a life coach helping people find careers they love, and teaches interview skills to the unemployed.