9 major job-search changes for older workers

older worker2

One question I ask during my introductory workshops is, “When did you last have to look for work?” Invariably I’ll get answers like “25 years,” “35,” 40,” and so on. On the other hand, others haven’t had to look for work in the past five or ten years, some in the past two years or less. The disparity is great between my customers who have been long-tenured workers and those who are veterans to the job search.

The folks new to the job search didn’t have to write a résumé that fits today’s standards, if write one at all. Nor did they have to go through five to 10 rounds of interviews. They might also be new to networking, never used LinkedIn, haven’t engaged in informational meetings, and used other job-search methods. Some tell me, “Companies came to me. I didn’t have to do anything.”

These people have a lost look on their face. It’s as if they have to learn to walk all over again.

Needless to say, there have been changes in the job search in the past decade or two, changes that represent challenges to people who aren’t used to a different job search. Here are eight components of the job search that are new to older workers.

Older worker21. The most obvious change, being out of work. This comes as a complete shock, especially for those who worked at their last company for 20 or more years. Gone is their routine, the camaraderie they shared with their colleagues, the income they came to rely on. Also gone, for some, is their self-esteem and confidence.

They know they are experienced and valuable workers, but there’s self-doubt and fear that the job search will be long. In the back of their mind they know the longer they’re out of work, the harder it will be to regain it.

2. Longer hiring process. The good news is that employers are hiring. The bad news is that it’s taking them longer to pull the trigger. I’m witness to many job seekers who are getting jobs but usually after a longer process than before. It’s not unusual for job candidates to be interviewed multiple times over the telephone and endure additional face-to-face interviews.

One of my customers endured five telephone interviews before being hired. Another was hired after 12 personal interviews–No lie. This goes to show that employers are more cautious than in the past; they don’t want to make hiring mistakes, as it can cost tens of thousand dollars to hire a replacement employee.

3. Résumés have changed in the past decades. Nay, the past five years. Employers want to see accomplishments on résumés, not just duties. I remember applying for positions years ago where I would send résumés that were one-fits-all, didn’t include a Performance Profile, and were written in Currier font.

There are enough articles written on how it’s important to list quantified accomplishment statements. (Read this article that explains 10 important elements of a professional résumé.) But talk has increasingly turned to the importance of appeasing the Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Simply put, this software eliminates approximately 75% of résumés, based on the lack of keywords. Approximately 95% of my customers haven’t heard of the ATS.

4. Networking is imperative. During the days when securing a job took less time and all the jobs were listed in the newspapers, networking wasn’t as important as it is now. This is a tough change for many people who haven’t had to look for work for a couple of decades. Networking was necessary as part of their job. But to find a job? Not so important back then.

Now your business is called Me Inc.; meaning you are your own business and therefore networking is absolutely necessary. And it can be uncomfortable, even scary. (Read this article on getting outside your comfort zone to network.) Anywhere from 60% to 80% of your success can be attributed to personal networking.

older worker5. LinkedIn arrived on the scene. At least 95% of hiring authorities (recruiters/hiring managers/HR) are using LinkedIn to cull talent. Twelve years ago LinkedIn didn’t exist. My customers who haven’t had to look for work since 1988 feel like a confused child when they hear of LinkedIn’s ability to help them find work. Talking about having to learn to walk again.

Some are even afraid of “being on the Internet.” This is an immediate stopgap to LinkedIn. When I hear some of the long-tenure employees say they’re reluctant to disclose too much information, I’m inclined to tell them not to join LinkedIn. (Read this article on how LinkedIn isn’t for everyone.) One cannot be afraid of the Internet if he wants to benefit from LinkedIn.

6. Most jobs are posted online. Older workers are now faced with the prospect of searching for jobs on job boards like Monster.com, Dice.com, Simplyhired.com, and a plethora of others. Because most jobs—75%-80%—are unadvertised, this is time often wasted. In addition, the applications are difficult to fill out for some older workers who aren’t familiar with the computer.

Twenty years ago I remember picking up the Sunday edition of the Boston Globe which was thick with job ads, and the challenges of the Hidden Job Market weren’t as glaring as they are today. More jobs were obtained by using newspapers to locate them, and then we simply sent a generic résumé to land an interview. This speaks to changes in technology, which some older workers struggle with.

7. Telephone interviews are more challenging. This includes telephone interviews which are making the traditional screening process an oxymoron. Yes, employers want to know your salary requirement, but the questions go way beyond that. Telephone interviews are conducted by most employers. They are similar to face-to-face interviews, save for the fact you’re not at the company.

Now, as one former customer told me, the phone interview can consist of behavioral-based questions only. “They’re tough,” I hear. “I wasn’t prepared.” More than one customer told me they were only asked behavioral-based questions, approximately 12 of them. (Read this article on Preparing for behavioral interviews.)

8. The personal interview is tougher. Many of my customers are taken aback by group interviews. Thirty, or so, years ago, group interviews were not common. Rather, companies would conduct one-on-one interviews to size up the job candidates. Group interviews are commonplace these days; they should be expected.

The group interviews aren’t the only challenge candidates are facing. Tough questions, such as behavioral-based and situational, as well as tests to gauge one’s knowledge. Interviewers are asking questions that get to the core of the applicants. One of my customers told me that after a five-person group interview, he felt like he’d gone three rounds with Mike Tyson. He told me this prior to his next interview with the company, and maybe additional interviews henceforth. When do they end?

9. Age discrimination is the white elephant in the room. This is not a myth nor an excuse. Older workers are experiencing it from not only younger interviewers, but older interviewers as well. The reasons range from the demand for higher salaries than younger workers to inability to keep up.

However, the smart employers understand these reasons aren’t necessarily true. As well, older workers have many fine attributes they bring to the table. (Read this article on the 5 strengths of the older worker.) I suggest that my older job seekers explore companies that are older-worker friendly. AARP can be helpful, or simply looking on LinkedIn for companies whose average age exceeds 40 plus can be a find indicator.


These are a few of the changes that have occurred since older workers have had to look for work. Very talented people, who were at the top of their company, are experiencing changes that are hard for them to grapple. But eventually they get into the groove and learn the proper tenets of the job search. Some of the long-tenured workers even see this as a welcomed challenge.

Please add to this list of job-search changes older workers are facing today.

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8 thoughts on “9 major job-search changes for older workers

  1. Chris Lord

    Great article, Bob! I hope others too managed to reflect on their own resume while reading it. These are excellent ideas!
    Chris

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  2. Mark Clements

    Yes, indeed – all the above is true in my search experience. Fewer applications submitted, but a better custom tailored resume (created based on each position description) utilizing the all important key words. Just have to play the game the way it’s set up.

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  3. Shari Walter

    My experience has been older workers do very well once trained in new ideas. Although technology is vital, face to face never goes out of style. I teach my clients to capitalize on their stability, show their youthful hobbies and interests and nail the interview!

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  4. Rich Grant (@RichCareer)

    What a great overview of the challenges people face in mid to late career. What I’m observing in my work with job seekers is that when someone older is trying to break into a new field, they are viewed by employers as both under-qualified and over-qualified (nice way of saying too old / advanced) at the same time.

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    1. Things Career Related Post author

      That is ironic, Rich, considering they are entering a new field and have new things to learn. This is a reason for older workers to accept a lower salary when ask why they’re willing to. Thanks for the great comment, Rich.

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