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For Older Workers

Times have changed. If you’re an older adult looking for work, you’ve probably discovered that job hunting is very different from the way it used to be. Today’s job seekers must be more aggressive and tech-savvy. They need to be constantly on the lookout for anything or anyone that can give them the edge in the job hunt.

You’ve probably also heard that employers are more reluctant to hire people close to retirement age. Employers may fear that you will be over-qualified, too expensive, use more sick time, take longer to train, lack technology skills, have less energy, or won’t stay long.

You can reduce concerns about your age by switching the employer’s focus to the value that your maturity, skill level, experience, and stability would bring to their company. Prove to them that you are the best choice, have stayed up-to-date in your field, and are a team player and leader.

Your cover letter should be as short as half a page, according to AARP. Mention two or three accomplishments from your career and your strong interest in the position. Be self-confident, but don't come across as boastful or desperate. If you were referred to the job, mention the person's name. You can also highlight:

  • Your desire for a long-term position
  • Your solid attendance history
  • Your reliability and honesty
  • Your flexibility and adaptability
  • Your ability and willingness to learn new skills
  • That you're a team player
  • Training and professional development courses and programs you have attended

A resume is not a history book. Your resume should focus on how your skills and accomplishments match the open position. You can limit the experience you include on your resume to the most relevant jobs you’ve held. Visit CareerOneStop’s Resume Guide for detailed help writing your resume.  Here are specific tips for older workers:

  • Update the format if your resume is more than a few years old.
  • Write a “functional” or “combination” resume to downplay the length of your career and emphasize skills and accomplishments.
  • List your employment history beneath that.
  • Cluster your skills under three or four categories that are important to anyone working in the position you are applying for. These may include leadership, teamwork, innovation, computer skills, communication skills, supervisory skills, and so on.
  • Make sure the words in your resume reflect terminology that is currently used in your field.
  • Leave out irrelevant jobs you held in the distant past.
  • List where you went to school and your degrees, but not the years you received them.
  • Computer skills are important in nearly all jobs these days. List your computer software and technology-related skills on the first page of your resume as close to the top as possible.

Most employers want resumes to be submitted electronically, so you need to know how to apply online. Save your resume in several formats. Common file types include plain text, PDF, and word processing (like Microsoft Word). Before you hit the "submit" button, make sure you check the preview screen so you can review and correct any formatting errors.

Networking has become very important in finding job openings since employers often connect with job seekers through referrals. This means you must increase your exposure and be able to sell yourself to anyone who will listen.

Older job seekers tend to know more people who have been working or are working than younger job seekers. This is a big advantage. Who you know and who they know can make a big difference in getting hired. Whenever you’re speaking to friends, family, or acquaintances, ask if they know anyone in a position to hire, or more specifically, any employers who prefer hiring older workers.

Don't forget to add your online networking accounts to the contact information on your resume and/or cover letter.

Search online job resources for older job seekers. AARP lists employers recognized for exceptional practices regarding older workers and national employers that abide by age-neutral policies. Its foundation also sponsors a worker information network to help older workers manage their job search.

Also check out Retirementjobs.com, which lists jobs and offers “age-friendly certification” to employers that are open to hiring older workers. Other useful sites include:

Use an interview to stress your skills and your experience. How you come across in an interview reveals your attitude. To many employers, your attitude is just as important as your job skills when making an employment decision. Stay positive.

  • Don’t come across as a know-it-all, but do communicate that you can add value. Stay away from starting any sentence with “when I was your age...” or “this is how we used to do that...”
  • Have one or two stories about how you were able to quickly master a new skill or task to solve an employer’s problem. Interviewers prefer stories over a laundry list of facts from a long career.
  • If the interviewer is around your age, stick to the topic at hand. Avoid revealing details about your personal life and stay away from sharing gossip about people in your industry. Even if you’ve been working for decades or you interview with a colleague, don’t get too chummy.
  • It is illegal for an interviewer to ask your age, unless you are interviewing for certain jobs such as an airline pilot. If you are, ask in a polite, conservational tone how your age would affect your ability to do the job.

Be realistic about wages and benefits. Just because you have 30 years of experience doesn’t mean you will be paid more than a younger candidate.

  • Study all offers closely. Look at the employment status (contract or regular employee), pay, health benefits, secondary benefits (disability and/or life insurance), paid time off, retirement savings plans, work schedule, and potential for growth. Ask for this information in writing.
  • If you like the job, take it. If you have concerns, talk with the employer or recruiter. If the salary appears too low, ask if the employer will consider a counterproposal. If so, request a minimum of a 10 percent bump due to your expertise or experience. Keep in mind that the employer has the right to say no.
  • Negotiating for higher hourly wages is possible in the skilled trades, personal services, administrative and clerical areas, but basic benefits are unlikely to be changed. You can also ask for flexibility in scheduling and more training.
  • Professional, salaried positions often offer a higher salary, deferred compensation, incentive pay, stock options, and other benefits. For these jobs, insist on a written employment agreement. Senior professional and upper management jobs have the greatest negotiating opportunity on every aspect of employment.

Explore self-employment. Millions of Americans have found satisfaction and success by going off on their own.

  • You could start your dream business, buy an existing one, or enlist in a franchise program. Each of these career paths has an advantage in that the only person who can fire you is yourself. But they also come with a high failure rate.
  • Switching from job hunting to consulting isn’t that much of a stretch. Many job seekers consult while they look for jobs. Some even stop job hunting because they have become successful consultants and like the flexibility. Some even surpass their previous salary.
  • Self-employment is not easy or without real challenges, such as the cost of health insurance. You need to find and nurture clients, manage business partners and staff, network, research, learn new skills and be a self-starter. Self-discipline is a necessity.


Department of Labor CareerOneStop is sponsored by the U. S. Department of Labor,
Employment and Training Administration