Older job-searchers seek work, human connection

Public Insight Editor Andrew Haeg has a new post that explores unemployment for older workers.

Unemployment has afflicted younger workers more than any other cohort.

If you leave out the under-20 set (who are often only fitfully employed) it’s 20-somethings who are the most likely to be out of work.

The unemployment rate is a harrowing 15 percent for 20-24 year-olds. It’s not much better for 25-34 year-olds, 10 percent of whom are unemployed, and 7 percent for the over-45’s. (To learn more, explore the data for yourself and/or listen to Wednesday’s Midmorning on the subject of long-term unemployment.)

Yet when you talk to people who are unemployed, as we do every day, you tend to hear the gravest concerns from job-seekers over 50.

Linda (she didn’t want her last name used for fear of hurting her reputation), 61, has been hunting for a job as a banquet waitress since her photography business hit a rough patch recently. Like a number of her contemporaries we’ve heard from, she has found the search both discouraging and impersonal.

‘”Jobs used to be easy to find when you could just walk in, and if they liked you, you could be hired,” she says. But the Internet, while expediting the process of sending and receiving resumes, has made it harder to make a personal connection.

Her perception is that it’s easier for younger managers to set aside online applications from based on age alone (even if they don’t disclose it, applicants’ age can be easily surmised from length of experience, job start and end dates, etc.). “No one will see us through the Internet,” she says.

She and her husband have held a variety of jobs, and she’s always worked more than one. Now, she says, “it is surprising how we don’t seem to fit into the workforce any longer.”

Roxanne Lange shares the same surprise and concerns. She quit her job as an architectural designer three years ago to care for elderly parents. At 59 she found herself searching for a job for the first time in 30 years (she’s worked on and off since she was 15). After numerous unsuccessful applications, she took some advice and eliminated dates from her resume and removed previous positions. So far nothing has panned out.

Lange finds the experience of sending in resumes online deeply unsettling; she was used to addressing her application to a person and then following up to make a connection. Now she feels lumped in with the rest of the bunch. “A faceless individual is too easy to dismiss,” she says.

Lange says it’s been a deeply discouraging process. She went to the doctor’s office recently, feeling like something was wrong with her heart. Everything checked out. It was the anxiety of feeling she may no longer be employable. “My heart is physically fine, just emotionally broken,” she says.

We reached out to several HR professionals in the Public Insight Network to get advice for Lange and others in their position. The consensus? “The job market is terrible for everyone–young, old, experienced and inexperienced,” says Mike Carey, VP of Global Human Resources for PDI Ninth House.

Carey and other HR professionals agree that older job-seekers have to follow some time-honored job search advice (stay positive and energetic, network, and find someone you know at the company) adapt to some newer realities (edit your resume so it’s easily searchable on employment databases) and take an important age-specific pointer (list only your last 5-10 years of experience).

If they can manage all of that, our HR sources say older job-seekers can be great additions. “They tend to have more loyalty, stronger work ethic, and need much less training than someone fresh out in to the work world,” says Melanie Ulrich, Human Resources Manager for Twin Cities Public Television.

If you’re interested in some more in-depth advice from Mike, Melanie and others, here’s a sampling of what we heard from HR pros in our Network:


Mike Carey, VP Global Human Resources, PDI Ninth House

Job seekers need to be creative about networking and using relationships to get access to decision makers and not rely on blind resumes. In addition to applying on-line, don’t be afraid to send an electronic version or a hard copy version of your resume to friends or acquaintances inside the company ask them to pass it on to the hiring manager. Or, better yet, try to find out who the hiring manager is and send another copy directly to him/her. In short, never rely on a single on-line application or resume. You may need three or more points of entry.

In responding through automated systems, be sure you tailor your resume to the job requirements posted so that your resume will turn up in key word searches. This means you might need 15 or 20 versions of your resume, not one static version. Each one may emphasize something different from your work history. Try to use the same words in your resume that they have used in the job posting.

Be well prepared for questions related to your qualifications and how they fit the job. Know why you might be overqualified but it makes sense to hire you anyway. Anticipate the tough questions and maybe the unasked questions and beat the interviewer to the punch.

Finally, if you do get an interview, make sure you put your best foot forward in how you present yourself … Take the time you have during your unemployment to get into the best shape you can. Lose weight, make sure you have one or two good outfits for interviews that fit well and flatter you. Whiten your teeth, get a little sun, maybe look at your hairstyle and color. Most importantly, act energetic and youthful. Smile, ask questions, be curious. Show that you still have a lot to give and a lot to learn so you convince them that you will be both engaging and engaged.


Melissa Lord Illsley, Human Resources Manager for a Faribault manufacturer

I am sure that some HR people and hiring managers discriminate based on age as it appears on resumes through years of work history, etc., but I must ask — if I can have an experienced candidate who can ALSO navigate the technology we use to drive our business every day, why would I not choose them over a candidate that can text and tweet but has no experience? By showing employers that he or she is familiar and comfortable with the various technologies, every candidate, including an older one, shows that they have an important ability to stay current in a work environment where things change rapidly. If a company relies heavily on technology in their recruiting process, chances are it is a big part of the work environment, too.

My own parents are in the age group you discuss and I think about this quite a bit. My mom is a nurse, still working full-time in a clinic setting that has migrated fully to on-line patient records in the last three years. She worked hard to learn the new skills, and now she works well with that technology and is also a very avid Facebook user. Anyone who thinks she, at 67 years old, is at a technology disadvantage is mistaken. She may be unique, but I think we would be discounting many excellent candidates if we don’t at least consider them viable candidates. Skills and the attitude of constant learning matter much more to me than age.


Melanie Ulrich, Human Resources Manager for Twin Cities Public Television

People need to adapt for the times–not just the older population but anyone looking for a job in this on line application world. They need to talk to friends, friends of friends, recruiters, temp agencies–whomever they can to make a personal connection in the non-traditional way to get their foot in the door.

There are also other things that can be done to “get a leg up” on other online applicants. Listing only the last ten to fifteen years of work experience is a practice that I do on my own resume. Employers don’t need to see that I worked at KFC twenty years ago. Changing each resume to tailor the job they are applying for is essential. There are many more tips but not enough time to list them all!

Last thought–I as a person who has done hiring knows that experienced older workers are GREAT employees. I for one would look at the resume of what I can tell is a person who has “experience” (i.e. age) over a person who has none. They tend to have more loyalty, stronger work ethic, and need much less training than someone fresh out in to the work world. This is not true for every hiring person or company, but I wouldn’t dismiss the hiring practices of all business as age-based. Some research on the part of the potential employee for places to work for that tend to hire more experienced workers can be done on the internet.


Nora Compton, Human Resources Manager for a Twin Cities-based global manufacturing company

With the current economy and the higher levels of unemployment there is a glut of talent in the market. Many organizations have taken on a strategy of delayering, which has lead to the elimination of middle management positions. I recently posted a manager level position in HR and had approximately 600 applicants. These applicants came from across the country despite the fact that there was no relocation being offered and many of the applicants knew nothing about the Twin Cities. From an employer perspective, this means that we can be very picky and only talk to the candidates with the exact qualifications that we are looking for.

Candidates need to have a compelling story to tell. Employers want to be certain that you really want this job with their company–not just a paycheck. We need to know that you will stick with us–even if the economy turns around in two years. Ms. Huhn, for example, needs to find a way to help employers understand why she passionately wants to be a banquet waitress. Many HR people might see her resume and suspect that she really wants to still be doing photography and will return to it at the first opportunity. Employers don’t want to invest the time and energy into training someone only to have them jump ship a few months later.

On a personal note, my 60-plus year old mother was laid off late last year from a position she had held for more than 10 years. She was not optimistic about her odds of being considered for other positions in light of her age. And while she was not excited about it, she joined LinkedIn and got the word out to her network that she was looking. Within a few months she was fortunate enough to get a call about a long-term contract position. It doesn’t offer the security that she had hoped for, but the new job is challenging and has broadened her skills. She’s now Tweeting on a daily basis–something I have yet to do!

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