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Job Hunt Harder for Older Workers

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: My husband and I are both 58 years old and have had an excellent education. At the moment, we are significantly underemployed. I was very successful with my own business.  My husband had a very successful career in the media. Now I am a part-time librarian at a middle school and my husband is working in retail sales. We are pleased to be working – but not at these jobs and wages forever. I know we are not alone in this dilemma. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

Answer: I wish I could tell you when jobs will become more plentiful. The latest figures indicate some improvement. Competition for jobs is easing a bit. In July 2009, there were seven job seekers for every job opening. In February 2011, there were 4.4. Additionally, there were 3.1 million job openings in February, an increase from the 2.7 million available in January.

These statistics are encouraging but don’t mean very much if you are still unemployed or underemployed. However, it does give us some hope.

Unfortunately, in many cases age is still a factor in finding new work. And we know it takes older workers a longer time to find a job compared to younger workers.

Additionally, age discrimination in the workplace is alive and well. About 10 years ago,  AARP sponsored a study conducted by economist Marc Bendick. The study found that the same resumes generated more calls for interviews if they appeared to come from a 32-year-old as opposed to a 57-year-old.  At msnbc.com, Bendick commented, “we believe, in recessions, things get worse.”

In a second experiment, identical resumes were submitted with different cover letters. One emphasized qualities associated with older people; the other used qualities typically associated with younger people. The older-adult resumes resulted in fewer interviews. However, those who described themselves using younger qualities – defined as creative, energetic or technologically savvy – were more successful.

Although many job seekers now apply for work over the Internet, cover letters and resumes are still part of the employment process. There is another side to this story. And that’s from the perspective of employers.

Fact No. 1:
The workforce is graying. In 2000, there were 18.4 million workers age 55-plus in the labor force. By 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts, this number will grow to nearly 32 million.

Fact No. 2:
A labor shortage is predicted. Boomers had fewer children compared to their parents so the employment pool will be smaller as boomers retire. The end result is that employers may not have enough workers to get the jobs done.

Fact No. 3: Labor shortages are industry specific. The American Trucking Association, for instance, reports a current shortage of nearly 20,000 truck drivers. In seven years that shortage is expected to reach 110,000.

Fact No. 4:
The federal government predicts a labor shortage. It anticipates that 50 percent of the U.S. workforce will retire over the next 10 years. Critical losses are expected in air traffic control and other areas.

Fact No. 5: Other shortages exist. Oil and gas companies anticipate that within five years, eight in 10 companies will have a shortage of engineers. A shortage of 500,000 welders is predicted by 2014. Public and private utilities, including electricity and water, expect to lose half of their workers over the next decade.

We have an impending dilemma. According to an Age Lab report by Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Age Lab, we can expect “over the next decade the endless stream of young educated workers available over the past 40 years will slow to a trickle.”

Coughlin suggests that we imagine a workplace where there is a shortage of workers and that those who are in the shortest supply are the ones who make your business work. Aside from an improved economy, which is essential, it is timely for employers to review their policies and practices to capture and retain the talents of a maturing labor force.

Staying with your job makes good sense in uncertain economic times.  As the economy improves, though,  overqualified employees will likely make a massive exit for better positions.  In fact, that is one reason employers are reluctant to hire those deemed “overqualified.”  Note that “overqualified” also has been used as a code word for being too old.

The job search continues, even while employed.  Since many job postings are online. Here are some employment tips from AARP:

Revise the resume:
Include just the past 10 to 15 years’ experience.  Companies often have resume-sorting software that search for key words.  Think about your field and what buzzwords your interviewer will be looking for.  Incorporate them into your resume.  Remember to bring a hard copy with you to the interview.

Join a social networking site:
LinkedIn is a popular one that allows you to create a profile that links you to former colleagues, customers, clients and alumni associations.  Again, include the important buzzwords.  You can find groups in your industry and often within the groups there are job listings.

Blog with Twitter:
If you don’t want to send out your own messages, you can receive messages from others and might even find out about job openings.  Not all employers use this system, but it is another source.

Research the developments in your field: Find out who is hiring and what they are looking for.  Here is a fisherman analogy from the AARP website:  “Don’t just cast a wide net…Your chances of catching something aren’t going to be very high.  But if you talk to other fishermen first, find out where the good fish are and find out what kind of bait they like…” your chances will be much better.

Browse the major job-hunting websites:
You can post your resume on Monster.com and CareerBuilders.com.  There’s also Indeed.com, a job search engine that aggregates job postings from multiple internet sites.   It can send you alerts when jobs relevant to your search appear.

Here are a few more sites: Simplyhired.com, Snagajob.com (hourly work), Dice.com (tech jobs) and RetiredBrains.com.

Do your homework:
Learn what you can about the company before sending your resume.  Do not give your bank account or Social Security number by email if an alleged potential employer asks for it.

Given that age can be a factor, it’s important to be savvy about the age issue.  Laurie McCann, senior litigation attorney for the AARP Foundation, offers the following tips when looking for employment:

  • Be prepared for age-related questions.  In an interview, you may be asked if you think you are over-qualified for a position.  Explain why you are interested given your skills and experience.
  • Don’t leave an age question blank on a job application.  If you skip the question, some online applications may be rejected. Note: It is illegal to ask one’s age on a job application or during an interview; however, it usually is easy to determine.
  • Be up to date in your field.
  • Explain your ability to work with co-workers of all ages.

For tips in job interviewing, go to aarp.org/work/job-hunting/info-03-2011/a-winning-job-interview.html.

Thank you for your very important question.  Sigmund Freud wrote that “love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.”  Of course, work also is income, identity and a place for achievement and growth.   Best wishes to you both in landing good positions…and keep the faith.

Copyright 2011 Helen Dennis. All rights reserved.

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