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The 4 Things Older Job Seekers Are Doing Wrong

Words to the wise from an expert on the subject

By Kerry Hannon

As I examined the latest AARP employment survey revealing that nearly 40 percent of “experienced” workers said they “may try” to find a new job this year, I thought, let’s go!

But based on some of the survey’s findings, and what I’ve heard talking with older job applicants for my new book Getting the Job You Want After 50 For Dummies, I’m convinced that there are four things these job seekers are doing wrong. Luckily, they’re all easily fixable.

Here they are:

1. They’re not stepping up to the plate. If you genuinely want to land a job, you need to get in the game. The would-be job hunters AARP surveyed used the words “may” and “try.” That’s a tad tenuous and wishy-washy. To me, it doesn’t sound like a crew who is in it to win it.

I get it. Mumbling that you may look for a job is far less risky than emphatically telling people you will, since you can soften the possibility that a job search will go nowhere, wasting gobs of time and energy, both physically and psychically.

My advice: Don’t just noodle the idea. If you want a new job, get serious. Yes, it takes time — 10 months, on average, for someone over 55, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But, like anything else, if you want to be successful, you've got to put your heart into it.

2. They're setting their money expectations too high. A whopping 74 percent of job hunters in AARP’s survey said they want a new position to make more money. But the sad truth is that pay is one of the biggest roadblocks for job hunters over 50.

Another AARP survey, in 2015, found that 48 percent of people age 45 to 70 who’d been unemployed at some point during the past five years and were back at work were now earning less than they did in their former jobs.

And a Federal Reserve Bank of New York report last year said that pay peaks for males in the early-to-mid 50s and then declines in the decade before retirement, in inflation-adjusted terms. Similarly, MarketWatch’s Elizabeth O’Brien has written that “an analysis by PayScale of both genders found women’s pay growth stopped on average at age 39, in real terms, while men’s topped out at age 48.”

Brace yourself. You will get frustrated because the jobs you find simply aren’t paying what you think you deserve based on your experience. This is a common problem that older workers knock up against.

My advice: Rather than accept a position where you will resent the pay or walk away from an offer that is not up to snuff, consider ways to negotiate. See if you can bump up your benefits — more flextime or telecommuting, more vacation days, new workplace development and education opportunities and other perks. A flexible workday might be more vital to you now, giving you more time to do the things you value, such as travel or learning. Health insurance, retirement savings plans and paid time off can play a critical role in defining your ideal job more than base pay, too.

Don’t get so caught up in prestige, salaries and titles that you become blind to prospects and great opportunities to move in new directions.

3. They're not keeping their skills up to date. More than one in five of the job seekers AARP surveyed (21 percent) said their “need to update technology skills” may hinder them from getting a new job.


I know: It’s hard to pull your head up from your current projects to find time, and, often, the money for skills training. But if you want to get hired elsewhere, you must prove to an employer that you can improve its business and bottom line, and that means having the necessary skills.

Look at the precise requirements of the jobs you're applying for. If you don't have them, get them. A hiring manager who sees that you're taking classes or working toward a professional certification knows that you're not trapped in your ways and are willing to learn new things.

Plus, the very activity of learning will make you feel less stuck, more positive and enthusiastic.

4. They’re not using the best job-search tool. The job seekers AARP surveyed said the tools they most commonly used in their search were: online listings (62 percent), personal contacts (40 percent) and company career listings (33 percent).

It's not that online and company listings aren’t a good place to start looking for a job. But most positions are filled either internally or through referrals. That’s why I urge job hunters to network, network and network. Those personal contacts can be gold.

These days, employers tend to hire people they know, or people who know people they know. So, reach out to at least one person every day and ask for help and advice as well as names of people he or she knows who might be able to lend a hand. Make it a point to tap your friends, relatives, former coworkers, social media connections and anyone else who springs to mind.

If there's a specific industry you're interested in, join an association associated with it. Attend industry and professional meetings and conferences. College and university career centers help alumni, too, through networking events and workshops.

Join a job seekers meet-up group in your town or launch your own. Get together with these people on a regular schedule to share contacts and leads and help each other stay confident, active and responsible for your job hunts.

Looking for work can truly test your mettle. But if you plug away at it wisely, finding new employment may just be worth the effort — even if the best part is simply the new people you meet along the way.

Photogtaph of Kerry Hannon
Kerry Hannon is the author of Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working From Home. She has covered personal finance, retirement and careers for The New York Times, Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today, among others. She is the author of more than a dozen books including Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life, 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 Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon. Read More
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