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Job Hunting After 50

San Ramon Patch seniors columnist shares some job-hunting tips for the middle-aged and older.

Last month, this column covered financial issues for those facing retirement. But what if you're not ready to retire? The recent recession has forced many people to continue working longer than they planned. Others have lost their jobs during these lean times. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the approximately 14.6 million people who were unemployed in June, nearly 2.1 million are age 55 and older.

Job hunting in the 21st Century is a whole new ballgame. No more dusting off the resume, updating your cover letter and mailing it off in a manila envelope.

I recently met with Patrick O'Donnell, Manager, The Plus Group, a staffing firm in business in San Ramon since 1992.

I asked him about the current job market for the 50-and-older job seeker. "There is an uptick, for sure," says O'Donnell. Markets now hiring include biotechnology and telecommunications. Most jobs are temporary, but there are positions waiting to be filled. "The opportunity certainly is present right now."

What about jobs located in the Bay Area or Tri-Valley? O'Donnell advises against focusing your job search geographically, but instead toward targeting specific industries, such as non-clinical health care, which is among the fields now being funded by the federal government. Full-time, as well as temporary positions, are available now in these companies.

A common mistake older workers make that can hinder their chances of finding employment is a lack of belief in themselves, a defeatist attitude.

"Experienced workers have valuable strengths – they're professional, they know what's expected, and they're committed," says O'Donnell. It's critical to believe in yourself and exhibit confidence in interviews.

O'Donnell outlined five key tips to enhance job hunting efforts for the experienced worker.

First, it is imperative to keep your skills current.  This applies to all job levels from office assistant to CEO. "What's critical in this day and age is one's ability to use the internet, and…(to be) application savvy…word processing, spreadsheet, database, presentation software," says O'Donnell.

When a person is laid off, often their skill levels decline over time.  

O'Donnell encourages job seekers to make use of free tutorials. The Plus Group offers free educational modules at their San Ramon office. In addition, Microsoft offers no cost educational tools for their applications on their website.

Second, become involved with networking associations such as AARP, and California State Employment Development Department's Experience Unlimited. These groups offer opportunities to share job leads and provide support to one another through the job search process.

Closer to home, says O'Donnell, "There is a great organization called Community Presbyterian Church Job Connections. It is awesome, very supportive of … anybody searching for work." CPC Job Connections offers opportunities to network with like professionals.

Take advantage of social networking sites, as well, particularly LinkedIn, designed specifically for business professionals. Many positions posted on LinkedIn, and other similar sites, are not advertised anywhere else. In addition, employers routinely search member profiles for candidates with specific skills and experience.

The third tip in a successful job search for experienced workers, is to expand the number of companies you are targeting. "Job seekers typically have a range of specific companies they're targeting to work for," says O'Donnell. Unfortunately, bias against older workers does exist.  For this reason, broadening your target can significantly improve your chances of landing a position.

Tip number four addresses your resume. O'Donnell advises that, rather than showing a specific number of years of experience, emphasize positions you have held that utilize skills and experience relevant to the job you're seeking. It could be 20 years experience, if it's relevant. But just include that piece and nothing else. The number of years is not important. 

Additionally, don't include dates of graduation from high school or college, or completion of specific job-related certifications. Prospective employers can use simple math to calculate your age.

The final key tip, according to O'Donnell, is to utilize the services of a temporary staffing firm. These firms can be excellent resources. Advantages of a temporary position are that it generates income, and it helps you continue to advance your skills. Further, it puts you out in the business community, which affords you the opportunity to build on your professional network during the course of the assignment.   

In today's economy, companies are still resistant to hiring full-time staff. But they have projects that need to be done, making temporary hiring attractive. Here the older worker offers the distinct advantage of experience over the younger worker. The learning curve can be shorter for an experienced worker, which can be of particular benefit in a temporary position.

Finally, a short-term project can sometimes turn into one of longer duration if the employee is viewed favorably by the employer.

It's no secret that finding a job in today's market requires a little extra effort, especially for mature job seekers. If you are proactive in your job search, the rewards can be a satisfying position that can last as long as you desire.

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