Truths About Older Workers

Older Worker Myths

As you market yourself to potential employers, it's important to understand the qualities that you bring to the table that can best benefit them. Unfortunately, many myths about older workers persist. You can help yourself by knowing the realities and being able to talk freely about what you can offer as an employee.

  • Practical skills: Older adults tend to have superior interpersonal and problem-solving skills, and are generally better able to deal with co-workers and customers than their younger counterparts. They also know how to maintain contacts and relationships and seek help when necessary.
  • Patience: Years of experience gives older workers the patience to step back and think objectively, rather than react emotionally in stressful situations.
  • Productivity: Workplace wisdom often is the greatest asset of an older worker. Every aspect of job performance improves with experience, especially productivity. Older workers generally know where to invest time and effort to avoid costly mistakes.
  • Reliability: Older workers generally use fewer sick days than younger workers. Also, a 50-year-old employee is likely to remain with an employer longer than a 20 or 30-year-old.
  • Focus: Older workers are generally better able than younger workers to avoid non-work distractions, such as family and social media.
  • Ability to learn: Training costs related to older workers are typically lower. Most older workers have seen many technologies and techniques come and go over their years of work. Experience with other ways to do things, coupled with awareness of related topics, gives them an edge when it comes to learning new approaches.
  • Lower health care costs:  Contrary to popular belief, older workers tend to have lower health care costs, as most do not have children as dependents on their health care plans. In addition, workers age 65 and older are eligible for Medicare, which can further reduce an employer's health care costs.
  • Safety: Older workers are less likely than younger workers to have workplace accidents, and the causes of those accidents differ. While it is true that we all experience physical and cognitive changes as we age, experience very often helps older workers more fully compensate for loss of ability.

Carol Gilmore (courtesy Adam Cairns, Columbus Dispatch)Carol Gilmore took advantage of an early retirement program from her federal job in 2005 but soon realized she would need additional income to supplement her government pension. Her situation was complicated by the loss of her adult son and her new responsibility as caregiver to her two grandchildren. She “unretired” and found several part-time and short-term jobs, followed by full-time work that was cut short after a year. Carol found Employment for Seniors, a Columbus-based non-profit that connects employers with older workers. Employment for Seniors connected Carol with the Columbus Sign Company, where she is now employed full-time. Carol stresses the importance of networking, keeping up job skills, and doing her homework in searching for a job, but also knowing the full financial impact of retirement.

(Photo courtesy of the Columbus Dispatch, Adam Cairns, photographer. Used with permission.)

Mike NicholsMike Nichols was a pilot who decided he needed additional funds for retirement after his employer’s shift in 2006 from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. Mike plans to continue working until he is 65, but volatility in the airline industry spurred his decision to start a small business, Prudential Construction Company, in 2011. As a veteran, Mike typically hires other veterans, either directly or as subcontractors, for his projects. The Small Business Development Center at Wright State University helped Mike start his business. “They were the lynch pin; a group of graduate students helped me develop a business plan and showed me how to use social media to reach potential clients.” The need to feel productive and help other veterans are both strong motivators for his business success.

 

Marketing Yourself

Searching for a job has changed over the past several decades and many older workers seeking employment don’t know where to start. Most job applications are completed on-line rather than in-person. As it has always been, networking is an excellent way to learn about job opportunities.  Social media, such as Facebook and LinkedIn can connect you with potential employers. Creating a personal marketing plan that sells what you have to offer includes a polished resume, cover letter and thank-you notes.

Training and Re-training

Older workers may need or choose to upgrade their skills to reenter the workforce, switch jobs or even remain in their existing positions.

  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act services available through OhioMeansJobs centers provide employment, education, training and support services to help job seekers of all ages succeed in the labor market, as well as help employers find skilled workers.
  • The Senior Community Service Employment Program provides income-eligible individuals age 55 and older with work-based training opportunities in non-profit organizations that can lead to full-time employment.
  • Lifelong learning programs at Ohio's four-year universities and two-year technical colleges allow residents age 60 and older to attend classes at little or no cost.

Fred Slack

Fred Slack lost an eye when he was hit by a truck and found that this was an obstacle to employment in fields he knew well, such as auto sales and advertising. In 2009, Fred graduated from the University of Akron with a degree in social work. Mature Services, a senior employment organization, linked him to a training program to assist people with chemical dependencies. He then gained employment as a resident supervisor at the Oriana House, a nationally renowned corrections and chemical dependency treatment agency in Akron. He currently is pursuing his master's degree in social work.

(Photo courtesy of Mature Services Employment & Training Solutions)

Barb WolfeIn 2007, Barb Wolfe lost her job at a small Marietta factory where she had worked for 18 years, and from which she had always assumed she would retire. With few opportunities in her community, Barb enrolled in the medical assistant program at Washington County Career Center, through the Workforce Investment Act. She admits that going back to school in her 50s was scary: "I had to put everything I had into it to keep up with recent high school graduates."  One of Barb's instructors encouraged her to enroll in evening classes, which tended to be smaller and to have students who were a bit older. She completed the program as one of the top students and quickly found part-time work at the local hospital that eventually turned into a full-time job. She is now an advocate for older adults returning to school to be trained for a new occupation and encourages others to do as she did.

Gary JosephsonGary Josephson has had several careers; he worked at the Ohio State University as a civil service worker, for a labor union, then found a career in real estate appraisal and sales. As a result of the 2007 economic downturn, his real estate career did not work out as planned. Gary recognized his writing and communication skills needed improvement, so he enrolled in classes at OSU through their Program 60+, which allows adults aged 60 and above who are low income to take classes on a credit basis. Gary relies on Social Security and a small pension from his union job. Following completion of his degree in English, he hopes to find a job so that he can have enough income to travel.  “I don’t know when I’ll retire. I’m 67 now and never had expectations of retiring at a certain age – I want to work for as long as I’m able.”

Networking

When it comes to finding a job, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know, that matters." As a matter of fact, up to 80% of available jobs are never posted, but rather filled by word of mouth. Discovering and hiring candidates this way gives companies more control over the pool of applicants along with confidence that candidates they are considering have been vouched for by trusted colleagues and employees.

In this type of job market, it’s extra important to build and maintain a network of colleagues, peers and mentors that can help you spot opportunities and can speak about your skills and experiences with others. According to AARP, here are the basics of a good networking strategy.

  • The “Elevator Speech” – Always be prepared to explain to someone in about 30 seconds what you’d like to do professionally, along with the skills and experiences that give you the ability. Create business cards for your job search and be prepared to send a résumé in follow-up.
  • A List – Keep a list of anyone who can help you find the job you want. Naturally, this includes current and former colleagues and business associates, but it should also include neighbors, relatives, friends and acquaintances.
  • Regular Contact – Many job seekers find they are more successful when they make building their network their number one priority. Contact people in your network when you don’t need anything. Be social and ask for advice, not a job.

Even when you get a job interview, make networking your top goal. You may not walk out with the job, but you can walk out of almost any interview with new relationships that can help with your job search.

Résumés

A well-written, targeted and current résumé is a must to effectively market yourself to potential employers. If you’ve been out of the job market for a while, you might find that résumés have changed a great deal. Gone are the days when you would develop one résumé, making sure it was only a page long, print multiple copies on high-quality paper and mail it to every employer you’re interested in. Today, employers rely almost exclusively on technology to collect and screen résumés, meaning that how your résumé looks is far less important than what it says. Here are some elements of a modern résumé:

  • Keywords: The modern résumé is all about keywords. Most employers now use computer software to screen applicants by comparing the words in your résumé to the language in their job description. The more words the two have in common, the better your chances of being selected for an interview. So, it is important to know the job you’re applying for well.
  • Targeting: Your résumé should be specially-tailored to the job for which you’re applying. Mention the job title by name in your objective and highlight your accomplishments, experience and skills that demonstrate that you know how to do that job well. This means you will need a unique résumé for each job to which you apply.
  • Functional: You no longer want your résumé to be a chronological list of your education and work experience. The tasks you performed and the duties you had say much more about what you can do than the titles you’ve held, and will lead to more keyword matches.
  • Proofreading: It’s always been important to make sure your résumé is free of typos and grammatical errors, but perhaps there’s a different reason behind it now. Misspellings and other errors can cause you to have fewer keyword matches that will get you selected for an interview.
  • Be Selective: You don’t have to include every bit of your work history in your résumé, and in many cases, it’s better if you don’t. Include only the jobs, training, certifications, degrees and volunteer experience that demonstrate you have the skills needed for this job.
  • Appearance: Of course, not every employer relies exclusively on computers to screen résumés, so yours should still be neat and attractive. Avoid fancy fonts and formatting and focus instead on providing the most relevant information in the most straightforward and understandable way.

Your local OhioMeansJobs center can help you develop the résumés you need to be successful in your job search.

Interviewing

While many parts of the job search process, such as how jobs are posted and how you apply, have changed considerably in recent years, most employers still rely on interviews to determine if a candidate is the right fit for their organization. For a job-seeker, the job interview is naturally an opportunity to convince an employer that you’re the best candidate for the job. But, even if you don’t land the position, an interview offers you the opportunity to learn more about your field of interest and add more people to your professional network.

Practice Interview and Tips from OhioMeansJobs.com

  • Preparation is key. Before the interview, learn as much as you can about the potential employer and the person or people you’ll be meeting with. Know their company website well, particularly their “About us” page and employee directory, if available. The company’s social media accounts are also great sources to learn about the company’s staff, mission and work.
  • Ace the interview. Some things never change, and key among them is the importance of making a good first impression. Be on time and dress appropriately (a good rule of thumb is to dress “one notch” better than you’d expect to dress on the job). Be friendly, make eye contact and smile. By focusing on adding new contact to your network, instead of landing the job, you should be more relaxed and come off as more natural and generally interested in helping the company.
  • Avoid pitfalls. Focus on your skills and achievements, rather than years of experience. If you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification. If overqualification is a concern for the interviewer, focus on what you bring to the job beyond qualifications. Don’t bring up salary in an interview; if the interviewer asks what you’re looking for, ask if they have a range in mind and if it’s negotiable.
  • Ask questions. Know the job and company as well as you can, and ask questions that will help you demonstrate your ability to help them solve problems, introduce new ways of doing things and succeed at their goals and mission. Also ask questions throughout the interview that will help you get a feel for the company’s culture and goals, such as how they get the most from their employees, how they measure success, and their priorities for you in your first few months, if you get the job.
  • Follow-up. Timely and personal thank-you notes are a must after an interview. Even if you don’t get the job, follow up occasionally with the person or people who interviewed you as part of your networking strategy. Ask for advice and offer your insights on developments in the field. They may not have picked you, but they may know someone else who could benefit from your skills and experience.

Your local OhioMeansJobs center can help you prepare for a successful job interview.

Fred Slack

Fred Slack lost an eye when he was hit by a truck and found that this was an obstacle to employment in fields he knew well, such as auto sales and advertising. In 2009, Fred graduated from the University of Akron with a degree in social work. VANTAGE Aging (formerly Mature Services, Inc.), a senior employment organization, linked him to a training program to assist people with chemical dependencies. He then gained employment as a resident supervisor at the Oriana House, a nationally renowned corrections and chemical dependency treatment agency in Akron. He currently is pursuing his master's degree in social work.

(Photo courtesy of VANTAGE Aging)

Barb WolfeIn 2007, Barb Wolfe lost her job at a small Marietta factory where she had worked for 18 years, and from which she had always assumed she would retire. With few opportunities in her community, Barb enrolled in the medical assistant program at Washington County Career Center, through the Workforce Investment Act. She admits that going back to school in her 50s was scary: "I had to put everything I had into it to keep up with recent high school graduates."  One of Barb's instructors encouraged her to enroll in evening classes, which tended to be smaller and to have students who were a bit older. She completed the program as one of the top students and quickly found part-time work at the local hospital that eventually turned into a full-time job. She is now an advocate for older adults returning to school to be trained for a new occupation and encourages others to do as she did.

Gary JosephsonGary Josephson has had several careers; he worked at the Ohio State University as a civil service worker, for a labor union, then found a career in real estate appraisal and sales. As a result of the 2007 economic downturn, his real estate career did not work out as planned. Gary recognized his writing and communication skills needed improvement, so he enrolled in classes at OSU through their Program 60+, which allows adults aged 60 and above who are low income to take classes on a credit basis. Gary relies on Social Security and a small pension from his union job. Following completion of his degree in English, he hopes to find a job so that he can have enough income to travel.  “I don’t know when I’ll retire. I’m 67 now and never had expectations of retiring at a certain age – I want to work for as long as I’m able.”

 

Ohio Means Jobs - Help for older workers

Myths About Older Workers

Marcie Pitt-Casouphes, Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College, discusses the negative perceptions that employers often have about older workers and what older workers, who seek to be hired, can do to overcome them.  She also dispels the myth that older and younger workers cannot work together productively.

 

Age Discrimination

Laurie McCann, AARP Foundation Senior Litigation Attorney, discusses age discrimination, how to file a charge of age discrimination and provides tips for older jobseekers. (Courtesy of OverFiftyAndOutOfWork.com)

AARP Age Discrimination Fact Sheet

 

Special thanks to the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University for contributing to the content on this page.

Information for Employers