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Work & Purpose

How to Job Hunt if You Haven’t in Years

The keys, according to this expert, are people skills and patience


People looking for jobs in their 50s or 60s who haven’t been job hunters in years — maybe decades — often tell me they find the process frustrating. They apply for posted jobs and never hear back — the “black hole” syndrome. Steve Dalton, program director for daytime career services at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and author of The 2-Hour Job Search: Using Technology to Get The Right Job Faster sympathizes, but also has important advice: You need to know how to look for work in this age of virtual job search.

“Sadly, every year I see dozens of very smart people voluntarily subject themselves to situations with high competition and low odds of success (online job postings, most commonly),” Dalton writes. “Submitting resumés online lets job seekers feel like they’re looking for a job, but it’s like watching someone beating up a vending machine completely unwilling to accept that it just ate his or her money.”

The 2-Hour Job Search

After reading The 2-Hour Job Search, I interviewed Dalton to hear more; below you’ll see my eight favorite tips he offered.

Now about that “2-hour” notion: In reality, the two hours are not how long it will actually take you to get hired, but the time it will take to winnow down your list of 40 potential employers and finding networking connections who can be your insider booster or advocate. That’s a person who can bring your resumé to the right person, make an introduction and help you get an interview.

“In practice, you start with forty employers that you rank in terms of priority, but no job seeker I have worked with who has followed the two-hour search has ever gotten past fifteen without getting hired,” Dalton says.

The Power of Boosters for a Job Hunt

Boosters are the people who love their current job and take an interest in helping others advance their careers, according to Dalton. “It essentially boils down to purposeful relationship building,” he says. “Even if you are not the perfect fit for the job, but you can get someone to advocate for you, you can jump ahead of people who might have that fit, but don’t have a champion.”

Dalton’s people-centric approach hits me as particularly wise with the news this week that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged two companies with bilking hundreds of thousands of dollars annually from consumers for sham job placement and resumé repair services. To get an interview, job seekers had to pay upfront fees of $1,200 to $2,500. In many instances, the defendants pocketed consumers’ money knowing the job opportunities were fake, according to the FTC. A federal court halted the scheme and froze the defendants’ assets at the FTC’s request.

8 Tips for a Job Hunt After 50

Now, as promised, here are my favorite eight job-seeking tips from Dalton. They can be summarized in three words: people skills and patience:

1. Don’t be embarrassed. “There’s a lot of needless embarrassment and shame associated with job searching mid- or late-career, when nobody at that age has been rigorously taught how to job search, particularly in the online job posting era. Don’t be ashamed. Embrace this as a new skill set — turning strangers into advocates on demand,” says Dalton.

Steve Dalton
Steve Dalton

2. Get contacts at your prospective employers to talk about why they are so good at their work. “Set up an informational interview. This can take some persistence. Find people whose work you admire, preferably at companies where you want to work, and reach out by phone or in person to learn about their jobs,” says Dalton.

3. During these conversations, resist the temptation to sell yourself. “It is the sell-yourself mentality that sends the conversations off the rails. Focus on really learning. When you embrace the humbling process of no longer selling yourself and instead dedicate yourself to listening, you will get so far, so quickly,” says Dalton.

4. Hone your listening skills. “When I give my talks, I show the audience a GIF of dog cuddling up to its owner because dogs are experts at this. When they look at their owner, there is not another person in that dog’s world. They block everyone out. They are singularly focused. We don’t love dogs because they are good conversationalists. We love them because we are the only person in their world when they look at us. That is the key to listening well,” says Dalton.

5. Be likeable. “The point is not to tell them why you are so great. The point is to let them know that they have been heard. That you are open to learning and are passionate about learning about their employer or the work they do. You are perceived to be likeable if you are listening. It’s how you build a booster relationship. It is counterintuitive concept,” says Dalton.

6. Take advantage of LinkedIn. “I don’t endorse a lot of career -related websites, but I do consider LinkedIn a must. Even better, it’s free [if you don’t sign up for the premium version]. A LinkedIn People Search helps find contacts at a target employer. It’s six degrees of separation. You supply the name of employer and it shows the closest connection you have to someone who works there. If it’s someone who shares an alumni connection with you, even better. LinkedIn Groups are also helpful to find connections, or people to reach out to with a short, fewer than one-hundred words, email that has no mention of a job, just your connection to him or her and expressing an interest in learning about a topic,” says Dalton.

7. Use job boards for research. “Online job postings aren’t good for getting you a job, but they’re great information about what sorts of jobs are available in a particular city. I recommend using Indeed for meta information; what employers are looking for in your city, even different jobs than what you’re looking for. I always figure the specific jobs listed are already spoken for. The chance of a random applicant online going through and getting that job is a longshot. Remember, you are looking for people. I have never heard of a job seeker finding a job online who didn’t have a booster,” says Dalton. 

8. Don’t fear technology. “The good news there is really no intimidating technology anyone has to learn to pull this off. Use a simple spreadsheet to create your list of employers; LinkedIn and Google searches to learn about trends in the industry that interests you and to discover smaller companies in the field doing interesting things that you may not  have known. You may also tap into databases such as an alumni one or Dun & Bradstreet’s Hoovers to learn about competitors of companies you’re interested in that may tip you off to less obvious employers. Back in the old days it was accidental networking; you meet or know somebody who knows somebody. Now the game is about having those accidental meetings, but on purpose. That is terrifying, but not a lot of new technology to learn,” says Dalton.

By Kerry Hannon
Kerry Hannon is the author of Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life. She  has covered personal finance, retirement and careers for The New York Times, Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today, among other publications. She is the author of a dozen books including Money Confidence: Really Smart Financial Moves for Newly Single Women and What's Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond. Her website is kerryhannon.com. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.

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