BVT resident Lorraine Lawson shares her experience of being an older worker and her favourite tips to navigate the challenges they can face.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) predicts that over 50s will form a third of the workforce by 2020. However, long-term unemployment is higher in the 50+ age group than any other.
Even though employers believe older workers can bring skills and benefits to the business, the fact remains that over 50s are least likely to be recruited once out of work.
Studies have shown older workers are just as productive as their younger counterparts (at least up to age 70), are just as successful in training, take less short-term sickness and tend to offset any loss of speed with better judgement based on experience.
As an older worker myself with the added twist of looking for a career change, I understand how difficult and frustrating job hunting can be. Applying for jobs can sometimes feel like a fruitless, energy-sapping exercise; but experience tells me that optimism, determination, flexibility and persistence will pay off.
The following pointers, a blend of my favourite online tips and my own experience, may help you to circumnavigate the challenges faced by the older worker.
1. Job boards
Some refer to job boards as ‘black holes’ and for good reason. How many times has your CV disappeared into the online abyss, never to be seen again? However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Job sites that collate vacancies from numerous sources such as Indeed can be a good way to see what employers are looking for and how much they’re willing to pay. Once you’ve searched for a job on Indeed, the ‘Advanced Job Search’ link appears. This is a good way to fine-tune results with the added bonus of being able to exclude staffing agencies. Applying through an employer’s website can take longer, but the effort-reward ratio is likely to be higher than simply watching your CV disappear into the proverbial black hole.
2. Applicant tracking systems (ATS)
It’s worth noting that when you apply online, sometimes your CV can be swept up by an applicant tracking system (ATS). A key function of an ATS is to complete the first sift by looking for keywords and ranking candidates in order of closest match. Given the typically high volume of applications received for each job, many applications don’t even make it to a human being. It’s also quite common for candidates who’ve not been shortlisted to hear nothing back at all. Sound familiar? Achieving a higher ranking by an ATS takes a bit of extra work. By researching jobs and optimising each application with closely matching keywords, you’ll give yourself a much better chance of passing the ATS.
3. Recruitment and employment agencies
With the current prevalence of short-term contracts and fewer permanent roles, often referred to as the ‘gig economy’, many of us ‘older workers’ have concerns over a lack of job security, employee benefits and access to a workplace pension. The role of the recruitment agent is to find suitable candidates to present to an employer. In my experience, they generally prefer to work with candidates who are clearly focused on their next career move or have extremely marketable skills as an independent contractor. If you are looking for greater flexibility or a career change, then doing some temporary work via an agency can be a good way to test the waters before committing to a total change of direction.
4. Direct applications
Older job seekers run the risk of unwittingly exacerbating their chances by relying too heavily on outdated job search techniques. One example is sending the same CV to multiple employers. Whether delivered in person, through the post or via email, unsolicited communication can be viewed as unwanted spam. If you’re not sure about a company’s preferred recruitment methods, then check their website or give their HR team a call.
The amount of freely available advice about CVs is phenomenal. Most tips are common sense, but the following are my personal favourites:
Write in the first person
Opinions vary, but many (like me) prefer a CV written in the first person. After all, it’s a personal document. Beginning each bullet point with an action verb such as administered, launched, developed, etc. can alleviate any repetition of ‘I’. Using a variety of interesting action verbs can make your CV stand out.
Don’t reveal too much personal info
Date of birth, nationality and marital status can all be excluded from your CV. For reasons of privacy, be wary of including personal address details and phone numbers too, especially if your CV is to be posted online. If you’re using a public computer, remember to email your CV to yourself and delete it from the PC before you leave.
Use the first third of page one to make the biggest impact
It’s common to see headings such as personal statement, profile or objective followed by key skills on a standard CV template. However, these sections can be combined into a single summary with bullet points. It’s important to get the first section right as it may be the only one recruiters read.
There’s no need to list every job you’ve ever had
It can be hard to let go of past achievements but they lose relevance over time. Your employment history doesn’t need to span more than 10 years. There should be a sensible limit on the number of pages too – most recommendations suggest using no more than two sides of A4.
Avoid the double-space after each full stop
This is a habit I have broken within the last few years. Two spaces after each full stop originated in the typewriter era. With today’s keyboards and fonts it is no longer necessary to put additional space between sentences for ease of reading.
Ditch the references section
It is now generally accepted that references will be available at some point. Better to use the space for something else and remember to keep your references confidential.
Networking is still viewed by many as the best way to find work. The Age and Employment Network (TAEN) produced an online guide in 2014 called 50+ Works – A guide for Older Jobseekers which contains a good section on networking. The online blog 4 Ways to Get Back to Work after a Long Period of Unemployment (2017) says: “Networking is important for job seekers at any stage of their career and in any situation, but it’s especially critical for those who have been away from the workforce for a while”.
7. LinkedIn and social media
Having an online presence is becoming increasingly important for every job seeker. Many employers now research job candidates online as a matter of course. Unfortunately, there are some unfair stereotypes about older workers, particularly the belief that older people are not technically savvy or somehow set in their ways. If you haven’t done so already, taking the time to build an online presence will serve as a direct counter to unfair stereotypes by demonstrating you can learn new skills and embrace change. See Support with Digitals Skills on BVT’s website to find out more about the ways in which BVT can help.
8. Voluntary work
If you are over 50 and unemployed, you will need to work much harder to find work, regardless of your prior experience, so it makes sense to have some recent or ongoing voluntary work on your CV. The benefits of making a contribution to your community in later life by Centre for Ageing Better (2016) is well worth a read if you are on the fence. Initially, I had reservations about doing voluntary work, but my first experience took me in directions I wasn’t expecting to go. I have been a member of BVT’s Scrutiny Panel and Communications Forum since July 2017 and haven’t looked back. It’s been a very satisfying and rewarding experience so far. It can take a while to find your volunteering niche, so I would recommend you keep trying and don’t necessarily give up at the first attempt. The right role will find you if you continue to follow your main interests and passions.
Overall, I hope these tips have given you some fresh ideas and some reassurance that you are not alone as an older worker in today’s job market. I wish you all the best and good luck.