Approaches and Tactics for Older Workers Who Can’t Find a Job

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by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.

If you’re over 40 and unemployed, don’t despair. Try these key job-search strategies and tactics for older workers:

  • Keep your skills current. Computer skills are especially important. Depending on what type of job you seek, be sure you are savvy on the Internet and with Windows-based programs, such as word-processing, spreadsheet, database, and presentation applications. Microsoft offers training programs though such organizations such as the AARP.
  • If you’ve been downsized, look for new work as soon as you can. The longer you’re out of work, the harder it will be to land a new position.
  • Seek out companies that embrace older workers: The CVS drugstore chain is one example, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The paper reports that, like many other companies, CVS Corp. is courting older workers and positioning themselves to attract Baby Boomers who plan to work in retirement. A decade ago, employees 50 and older made up about 7 percent of the CVS work force; now they make up 14 percent. The Post-Gazette quotes Stephen Wing, a director for the Woonsocket, RI-based drugstore chain: “Older workers are very responsible. They care about the customers. They’re good examples to our younger employees.” The Post-Gazette also cited Deloitte Consulting’s Senior Partner Program. Noted the paper, quoting Karen Morrell, managing director of human resources at New York-based Deloitte: “We ran the numbers and found that in five to 10 years, a pretty large bubble of experienced partners would be retiring. We wanted a way to keep some of that experience. To do that, we had to have a tailored program that would allow them to do their most passionate tasks.”
  • Networking is especially important for older workers because jobs at the senior levels are the least likely to be advertised. It’s important to fight the perception that your skills and knowledge might not be on the cutting edge. Stay up to date with technological trends and be sure to demonstrate your savvy when you converse with network contacts. See:
  • Use networking venues as opportunities to show what you can do. Get involved with professional associations, volunteering or consulting. Advises Janet Scarborough Civitelli, Ph.D. of “If you are an older job seeker and you are concerned that your age is working against you in your job search, find ways to shift the emphasis away from your age and toward your ability to make tangible contributions. Perhaps join the board of a professional association and then work to demonstrate your skills to the membership. Or seek a consulting or volunteer role that will afford the opportunity to achieve measurable results and will enable you to build relationships with a wider network of people. As you become perceived as a valuable team member, your age will seem less relevant. You will be thought of as John, the person who designed a new sales process that increased revenue, rather than John, the older worker in search of a job.”
  • Broaden your pool of targeted employers. In the syndicated column he writes with Kate Wendleton, Dale Dauten suggests looking at the pool of prospective employers this way: “Say that at age 40, 40 percent of employers won’t consider you; at age 50, it’s 60 percent; and at age 60, it’s 80 percent. Those are grim numbers — too high — but I want to illustrate a point. If at age 40, you picked 10 companies you wanted to work for, four wouldn’t even consider you, leaving six. At age 58, and wiser, you know to broaden the search to identify 30 target companies. Guess what? That leaves six who would consider you, the same number as at 40 years.”
  • Consider starting your own business — and in the ultimate twist — think about starting a business that targets other older workers as customers or employees. The SCORE Association (Service Corps of Retired Executives) is an appropriate source for assistance to prospective older entrepreneurs since it is a nonprofit association in which working and retired executives and business owners donate their time and expertise as volunteer business counselors and provide confidential counseling and mentoring free of charge.
  • If you’re retired and already have a pension and health benefits from your old employer, consider working for salary only. If being productive means more to you than additional benefits, consider companies with programs in which workers in their 50’s who would otherwise take advantage of early retirement provisions in their pensions are offered the chance to work reduced hours and supplement their reduced incomes by tapping those pensions. IBM in Canada, for example, has a retiree-on-call program for those willing to come out of retirement and work up to 1,000 hours a year. Similarly, GE’s information unit in Rockville, MD, has a Golden Opportunity Program. Other companies with this type of program for retirees include Avaya, Monsanto, PepsiCo, and Lockheed Martin, reports the New York Times.
  • Consider flexible options that may be advantageous to both you and the employer, such as a compressed work week, flextime, job reassignment, job redesign, part-time work, job sharing, phased retirement, or telecommuting. See more details about these options in AARP’s article, Flexible Ways of Working.
  • Consider offering to put in odd hours that younger workers with family obligations might not be able to work.
  • Register with a temp agency so you can generate some income, update your skills, and build your resume while waiting for the perfect job. Some temp agencies even specialize in older workers. See our article, Temping Offers a Way to Build Your Resume — and Much More.
  • Some problems with landing a job turn out not to be age-specific at all but are issues that any job-seeker could encounter. Read our article Ten Questions to Ask Yourself if You Still Haven’t Found a Job.
  • Locate programs that help with job training and employability skills for older workers, such as the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP).
  • When all else fails, consider legal recourse. It’s difficult and expensive to prove age discrimination in hiring, but if you are truly convinced that you’ve been denied a job because of your age, you may want to pursue a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or talk to an employment attorney. (You can request a list of employment attorneys in your state from the National Employment Lawyers Association.) PrairieLaw on has a good article on initiating a discrimination action. See also the numerous links at Aging Horizons to organizations that can offer legal assistance.
  • Use all the resources available to you:

    Older Worker/Job-Seeker Websites:

    The AARP, formerly the American Association for Retired Persons, offers seminars on post-career planning, workforce re-entry, and resume writing. The seminars provide not only information but networking opportunities. Call the national headquarters at 800-424-3410 (on the Web at to find out about sessions near you. See also AARP’s Careers, Jobs, Work, and Retirement Issues section, which includes a great collection of resources for older workers who are job-hunting, changing careers, or thinking about starting your own business.

    National Council on the Aging’s MaturityWorks site., the official site of Canada’s Association for the Fifty-Plus.

    The Resource Directory for Older People.

    The Administration on Aging’s Jobs for Seniors site.

    Quintessential Careers Job Resources for Mature and Older Jobseekers.

    Older Worker/Job-Seeker Organizations:

    Exec-U-Net, Inc.
    25 Van Zant St.
    Norwalk, CT 06855
    Phone: 800-637-3126
    Fax: 203-851-5177
    Web address:
    E-mail: [email protected]
    Exec-U-Net is a career management information service and career advancement networking organization exclusively for executives and senior professionals with salaries in excess of $75,000. Started in 1988, it is a membership organization that helps executives leverage their networking and take control of their careers.

    Five O’Clock Club
    300 E. 40 St. – 6L
    New York, NY 10016
    Phone: 212-286-4500
    Web address:
    A national career counseling network with certified career counselors across the United States.

    Forty Plus
    Web address:
    (Forty Plus apparently does not have a national Web site, but this California site lists local chapters around the country.) A nonprofit organization that provides professional job search programs, networking opportunities, and a wide variety of resources to members, who are executives, managers, and professionals.

    Older Worker/Job-Seeker Books:

    Job and Career Books for Mature Workers — a growing collection of books about the older worker, including resume and job-search strategies, as well as other issues facing the mature job-seeker, such as dealing with age discrimination.

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Katharine Hansen, PhD, Creative Director Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at) Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

Have you seen all our career and job resources for older workers? Go to: Job and Career Resources for Mature and Older Job-Seekers (Including the Baby Boomers).

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