When you’ve given decades to the job market already, getting a new position can present very real challenges — but there are ways to land one that will continue to help you grow and develop professionally.
Here’s how to get a great job when you’re over 50.
Take advantage of your network
As you gain experience, the chances are that you also have a larger pool of people to network with. Networks aren’t just Rolodexes, contact lists or LinkedIn friends; they’re people who are sources of information.
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“The more experience you have, the bigger your network should be, and that will be a big asset in your job search…Make it known that you are looking for a new job to as many people as possible. Companies like referrals and it’s easier to get an ‘in’ with a company from a referral,” Ochstein told the site.
Kelly Hoey, a master networker, wrote one of our favorite books on how to make networking work for you: Build Your Dream Network. Here are her tips on how to sharpen your people skills.
Look as healthy and well-groomed as possible
A look of vitality and up-to-date clothes are big advantages for people over 50 who want to show they’re energetic and up-to-date. We all know the risks of trying too hard — please, no leather pants to look hip! No Buzz Bissinger shopping addiction! — but there’s no doubt that putting extra thought into your appearance and making an effort to stay healthy can go a long way.
All you need to do is look current. For men, this can currently come down to well-fitting pants: Younger men and executives in many fields favor a slimmer fit at the moment; you don’t need to go full skinny-jeans (in fact, please don’t) but buying something with a better fit and lifting hems to break right at the shoe can do a lot for a neat look. A good haircut can go a long way too, as can up-to-date eyewear. Steve Carell nails a strong casual look that adapts to many workplaces.
For women over 50, authoritative clothes can be anything from the usual suit to a well-cut dress with a cardigan or Eileen Fisher-style loose clothes in creative industries. There’s much more of a range of styles for women, but a good, neat cut is best. Well-fitting clothes, particularly well-cut pants and a good leather jacket, go far.
Kerry Hannon writes about the importance of presentation for older job-seekers in a Forbes article.
“If you aren’t physically fit, get with it. People will judge you by how you look regardless of how politically incorrect that may be. When you’re physically fit, it sends the message subliminally that you’re up for the job. You have a certain vibrancy and energy that people want to be around. I don’t mean you have to run a fast mile. You just need to be in shape. Eating a healthier diet will help you, too. You’re selling the entire package of who you are–not just your work experience and talent. And, of course, get a great interview outfit, haircut, and manicure, shine your shoes and all that other superficial stuff. Always overdress.”
If you’re managing health problems that cause you to limit your time exercising, find other ways to take care of yourself. Incorporating age-appropriate fashion pieces of the moment and being otherwise well-groomed is also part of looking vibrant.
Sell your accomplishments well
How you market your achievements is a huge factor, but being in the game for a while also gives you a lot to highlight. The key here is not to list everything you’ve done, but to put the emphasis on a few situations where your experience came in handy and prepared you to tackle future challenges. You can also emphasize your contacts in the industry, which have likely grown as you’ve seen your work evolve.
Needless to say, a title alone won’t get you there, and if you just punched a clock at your last job instead of being a big contributor, that’s going to be a hindrance. The key is future and forward: Be ready to talk about the positive changes and revenue-generating initiatives you created at your last employer and how you can create them for this one.
Keep your skills up to date
An experienced employee who’s skilled in the very latest technology is a killer combo for most companies: not only does the employee know how things used to work, but he or she is clear on how things should work and how they will work in the future.
How to stay up to date? Industry publications are a good start because their writers are paid to keep on top of what’s happening. Networking — which is really just talking to people — is another good way to learn how other companies work, which can provide you valuable perspective for your own. And finally, there’s good old-fashioned book learning.
Jacob Morgan writes about how older workers can sharpen their skills as part of staying “relevant in the future of work” in a Forbes article.
“It’s one thing to agree that you need to keep up to date with new workspace approaches and technology, but figuring out how to go about doing this can be another thing entirely. Happily, the same technology that’s changing so much about the way we work offers a solution to that problem, too. Sites like Udemy, Lynda.com, Coursera, Khan Academy, and open courses from sites like MIT, Yale, and Stanford give you the opportunity to learn anything from robotics and programming to marketing strategy and philosophy,” Morgan writes.
Negotiate your salary effectively
When you have experience, you’re also more likely to command a higher salary — which, in turn, requires some savvy negotiating. Experienced, senior employees are a bigger investment for a company, and HR people, in general, are more likely to be conservative about where they use their dollars to make sure that they’ll get results for them.
When negotiating a higher salary, being able to emphasize the value you bring to the company is key, but it’s also necessary to emphasize what you can bring in the future. Your employer will want to know exactly what you bring to the table, and every bit of your experience should translate to your pay. Good advice from Salary.com is to think of your work in terms of the results you’ve delivered and beyond: “These “extras” could enable you to command a paid premium. Some common leverageable strengths include extensive industry contacts, strong fundraising or partnership-forming skills, or experience with a unique type of opportunity that closely resembles the prospective employer’s business, even if it is in a different industry.”
Also, remember that as your seniority rises, and expectations go up, so do your perks. You should be thinking of a “compensation package,” rather than a salary alone. The package could include stock options and should definitely include a decent severance package; if you’re a highly paid employee with industry standing, the standard “two weeks of severance for a year of service” just won’t cut it. You’ll need longer than that to find another job if anything happens, and a soft landing is important particularly if you have kids with college tuition or a mortgage.
Inc. also points out that you should come prepared with a salary range. The best way to establish that is to look at comparably paid people in your field and ballpark a few numbers. Needless to say, pitch a number higher than the one you expect to get — and never, ever take the first offer.
Resist the temptation to rest on your laurels and say “I got this” — do a lot of research before the interview and come prepared to talk about your ideas for the company and to show why you’re worth more.
… and don’t forget the basics.
Regardless of age, personality is a selling point. Being calm and likable are always huge advantages, no matter what. And a spirit of flexibility is a huge help. Confidence in your abilities is the key.
If you know you have some persistent problems — high anxiety at work, a little rough around the edges — don’t rule out working with a career coach. Make sure that your resume is in tip-top shape. And if you’ve been out of work for more than six months, be open to welcoming change like a move to another state if a good job comes up.
Lastly, always— and I mean always— remember your worth. You have a lot to offer, and the right company will be lucky to have you.
This article was first published on July 15, 2017.