Seven Job Search Tips for the Mature Worker

This blog, in a slightly different format, was originally posted on

Of all the groups affected by the weak job market, perhaps none has experienced more difficulty than the Mature Worker, those age 50 or older. In many cases, Mature Workers have had long work histories with a single company, and find themselves conducting a job search for the first time in years. Many, after months of unsuccessfully submitting hundreds of applications, have given up, forced into early retirement because they cannot find employment.

This has lead to the belief of rampant age discrimination, that employers illegally overlook older job seekers.

I contend, however, the problem is not that Mature Workers are older, but that they ACT older, by conducting a job search in a way that, true or false, suggests they are out of touch with the needs of employers and their customers.

In short, many Mature Workers are conducting a 2015 job search with 2010 or earlier job search strategies, and it is not working.

Here are tips for job seekers of any age to update your job search:

CC image courtesy Matthew Kenwrick from Flickr

CC image courtesy Matthew Kenwrick from Flickr

1. Seek help

Job search strategies that worked before do not work today. Seek out advice with your County or City Workforce Connection. Use the career services at your university or local community college. Visit a non-profit career center, or consider consulting with a career coach. We are all here to help.

2. Create a new resume

Age-proof your resume by deleting the Objective Statement and the phrase, “References available upon request.” Include a highly focused Summary of Qualifications. Go back only about 10 years in your work history, and emphasize achievements.

3. Consider additional training

Perhaps you spent years in the same position with the same company. Or, your occupation is dying (good-bye, typewriter repair industry). Or, your computer skills are weak. Consider short-term vocational training. In some cases, with as little as a few hours, you can earn a certification that will make you more competitive in a new occupation. Check with your local Workforce Center.

4. Be found online

Google your name. What do you find? The only thing worse than a negative online presence is having no presence at all, which suggests to employers that you are out of touch with today’s market. Get on LinkedIn, and make sure your account is current. Start a blog. Leave comments (preferably relevant to your industry, positive, and constructive!).

5. Get offline

For every position posted on a job board, employers receive, on average, 250 applications. The chance of getting hired based on an application is less than 0.5%. Basically, you are playing the lottery. To be sure, you need to apply for positions online, and job boards can help identify opportunities, but to have the best chance of job search success, you should do most of your searching offline.

6. Meet more people

Hiring decision makers prefer to make decisions based on the recommendations and referrals of people they already know. Your strategy, then, is to know someone who can make a recommendation or referral for you. Make sure everyone you know, knows what you are looking for. And then, go meet more people. Go to job fairs and hiring events. Attend trade associations and conferences. Chat up the person ahead or behind you in line for coffee. The cliché is true: you never know where your next opportunity will turn up.

7. Don’t give up

Job search is discouraging, demoralizing, demeaning. You will have bad days, and you will face a lot of rejection. But you only need one Yes. If what you are doing isn’t working, then try something new. Keep at it, and one day, maybe not when or where or how you expected, you will find success.


4 ways to reconnect with employers’ needs

Job seekers are too often disconnected from employers' needs

It is up to Job Seekers to show how they are qualified, and to reconnect with employers’ needs.

I recently attended an Employer Forum to discuss their opportunities and needs. Several gave the same complaint:

Job seekers are failing to show how they are qualified for the positions to which they are applying.

Most job descriptions will include Required Qualifications, and Preferred Qualifications. When possible, the employer of course chooses to interview applicants who meet the Preferred Qualifications.

Too often, though, applicants do not show that they meet even the Required Qualifications.

For Job Seekers, if you do not meet even the Required Qualifications, do not bother applying. Otherwise, you are wasting your time. This is why job seekers submit 50, 75, 100+ applications and never get a callback.

On the other hand, it is possible that you do meet the Required Qualifications, but your resume or application is not connecting with employers.

There is a better way.

1.         Understand who you are. Are you a manager? A customer service representative? A food service worker? A warehouse and distribution associate? You can be more than one thing, but know who you are. Connect with employers by applying for positions where you can demonstrate a skill set.

2.         Rethink your resume. How often does your resume use the phrases, “Responsible for” or “Duties include?” Saying you were responsible for a duty does not say whether you are skilled at performing the duty. Connect with employers by demonstrating achievements and accomplishments.

3.         Speak in the employer’s language. If the employer seeks a Customer Experience associate, and you talk about your stellar Retail Sales experience, you are not connecting. DO NOT claim that you have experience that you do not have, but there are different ways to describe your experience. Two applicants being equal, the employer will choose the one who connects by demonstrating a fit into the company culture.

4.         Above all, your resume must match the job description. If the position requires 2 years experience and you cannot show 2 years experience, do not apply. But if you can show 2 years experience by combining your experience across multiple previous employers, then connect with employers by framing your Summary of Qualifications to match their needs.

Do not be the applicant who mindlessly hits the Submit button day after day, wondering why you never get a call back.

Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.

I want to hear from you. Connect with me on FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter, or leave a comment below, and let me know what you think!

Create your STAR Stories

You find a position you want. You create a resume that shows you are basically qualified. You make sure that the resume includes the key words that are important to this employer, in order to get past the Application Tracking System.

Congratulations! You survived the first round. But there is still a lot of work to do.

According to one study, of the 25% of applications that survive the Applicant Tracking System, only 20% of those will be invited for an interview.

Actually, 4 - 6 interviews out of 100 applications seems high to me, when you consider that each posted position receives many hundreds of applications.

Actually, 4 – 6 interviews out of 100 applications seems high to me, when you consider that each posted position receives many hundreds of applications.

In order to be one of those, you cannot simply rely on your experience; you must highlight your achievements that allow you to stand out from the other applicants. An excellent technique is the STAR Story method.

STAR is an acronym for Situation / Task / Action / Result:

What is the Situation or Task that you faced?

What Action did you, personally, do, specifically?

What was the Result of the action you took?

I prefer to think of Benefits in place of Results, but that turns the acronym into STAB, which is a bit more sinister. We’ll keep it positive and emphasize Results.

Write the story out, in full. Do not skip any steps. Often, the Result can become a bullet point you can add to your resume.

For example, you faced an irate customer, either through your own error or a colleague’s. You took care of the situation (how, exactly?). As a result, the customer was not only satisfied, but bought more product from you, and referred additional business. You excel in converting dissatisfied customers into loyal customers. Bullet point!

It might be easier to think of a Result you are proud of, and work backwards. You created a method to decrease the amount of time it takes to process an order (if you can put a number or a percent on it, “decreased production time by 10%,” this becomes your bullet point). What did you do, and why?

Come up with five to seven STAR Stories / five to seven bullet points, and if I am an employer, you have my attention. You didn’t just “do” things, you “achieved” things. You are standing out from the crowd. You are getting the interview.

Bonus: by writing out your STAR Stories, you have ready answers to (experts say) up to 500 interview questions. You can use your STAR Stories as examples for the “Tell me about a time when…” questions. And because you now stand out from the other applicants, you will get the interview!

Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.

Agree? Disagree? I am interested in your thoughts and opinions! Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter and let me know, or leave a comment below.

Book Review: “Unemployed but Moving On”

Cheryl Butler Long, in her book, Unemployed but Moving On, identifies herself as a “Workforce Development Specialist for a mid-western state” (I believe Missouri, based on the references in an appendix). She has been doing workforce development longer than I have, and she has worked with more job seekers than I have. She writes with a blunt, sarcastic wit of someone who has seen and experienced a lot.

I do have issues with the negativity of the tone. Basically, Ms. Long is saying (this is not a quote), “The economy sucks, there are not enough jobs for everyone. You probably won’t get hired, but if you follow my advice, you might have a shot.”

Now, the economy does suck. There are more job seekers than there are jobs. And the jobs that are available are not equal to the jobs that were lost. However, I know that there are jobs out there for those who are smart about their job search, and are willing to put forth the effort — which does not include simply submitting your resume to hundreds of online job opportunities or complaining about how bad the job market is. I have been hired three times since the Great Recession started in 2009, I’ve enjoyed each of the jobs I’ve held, and currently love what I do.

Despite the negative sarcastic tone, I find myself agreeing with much (but not all) of what Ms. Long says: decide what you want to do, make sure your resume includes all the appropriate key words, always attach a cover letter, and prepare for the interview.

Ms. Long includes a very helpful chapter on how to deal with criminal convictions, which I rarely see addressed in any job-search book.

She says in one chapter that she was in junior high during the Beatles’ invasion, which by my math means she is in her mid-60s (which, dear readers, is why you never go back more than 10 years on a resume!). This may explain why she is fascinated with computers, spending three pages talking about how the world is different now thanks to computer technology.

She also includes a chapter talking about how one is likely to face discrimination if over age 40, female, gay, or speak with a non-English accent. Sadly, she offers no advice other than to expect it.

Overall, while I agree with much of the book, it is difficult for me to recommend it. The sarcastic negative tone might work when speaking to a group, when you have immediate feedback about how the group is accepting it. In writing, absent external feedback, there is no uplift of mood.

I deal with hope. I am confident that there are jobs available for those who are smart with their job search and put forth the effort.

Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.

Long, Cheryl Butler. Unemployed but Moving On! Smart Job Searching in a Web-Based World and a Sucky Economy. Manasas Park: Impact Publications, 2012. Print.400000000000000522352_s4

I want to hear from you. Connect with me on FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter, or leave a comment below, and let me know what you think!

6 steps to create content for a resume

I have cautioned before that you cannot have just “a” resume that you submit to every employer; you need to customize your resume for each position to which you apply.

That said, you do need to have a “base” resume to start from.

Many resumes I see woefully undersell past achievements. A typical warehouse worker, for example, might include,

  • Picked product
  • Packaged product in cardboard box
  • Attached label and shipped product.

Now, this job seeker is a laborer and not a resume writer. And, the job seeker is guessing about what is important to employers.

So, how does a job seeker know what employers are looking for, and what to include on a resume?

Ignoring format for now, there are a few simple steps anyone can use to create employer-relevant content for resumes:

Step 1: Decide what job title you want, whether you want to stay in your current occupation or switch careers.

Step 2: Go to O*NET Online. Enter your job title in the “Occupation Quick Search” box. Find the occupation title that best describes your actual role. This opens a page that lists common Tasks, Tools & Technology, and Knowledge / Skills / Abilities for the occupation. Print the page.

For example, a search for “Warehouse” brings up “Laborers and Freight,” which when printed, results in seven pages of Tasks. You did much more than just “picked product.”

Step 3: You likely do not have experience with everything on the O*NET list. Circle what you have done.

Step 4: Next, find seven to ten job descriptions on a job board for your title. For this step, I suggest a major job aggregator, like or NOTE: You are NOT applying for the position; you are simply looking for the description. Print them.

Step 5: Circle the common key words from the descriptions you printed.

Step 6: Compare your list of Tasks from O*NET Online with the key words from the job descriptions. Then, create a resume that incorporates the overlap.

You now have a base resume that you can begin modifying.

Next, you will want to add your unique benefits and accomplishments.

Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.

Agree? Disagree? I want to hear from you. Connect with me on FacebookLinkedIn andTwitter, or leave a comment below, and let me know what you think!

Seven elements of a cover letter

When I ask employers about cover letters, about half say they want one. The rest don’t care, but say that it never hurts to attach one.

I advise to always include a cover letter:

  • It sets you apart from other applicants
  • It is another opportunity to sell your value
  • It proves that you are, in fact, qualified for this position. If you cannot articulate why you are qualified, then chances are you are not, and you can save yourself and the employer time by dropping this position and finding one where you are better suited.

Cover letters do not need to be elaborate, nor difficult to complete. They should, however, be very specific to the position. And they should give this employer for this position a reason to want to meet you. Therefore, you should start with a blank page for each position.

Be creative and show your personality, but in very general terms:

1. Your name/contact information, which match your resume.

2. Today’s date, and the name/contact information for the company.

3. Address it to a specific person. This is part of the test. Ask your friends, family, and personal network if they know the hiring manager for the company. Look for it on LinkedIn. Ask your Career Developer. Call the company and ask the receptionist. If you have done all this and still strike out, then just start the letter. Do not address it, “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.”

4. First line: What position you are applying for, and how you found out about it.

5. Second line: Why you are applying for this position. Balance your personal needs/desires with those of the company. Are you switching careers, or applying for a more entry-level position than for which you might be qualified? Or, are ready to resume your career in this industry with this company? Tell them why.  Think, “If I was the employer, what would I want to know?” Then, tell them.

6. Next paragraph: How you are specifically qualified. You are already modifying your resume to meet the company’s stated qualifications, so you do not need to recopy your entire resume, but you should show at least the most important requirements. Sometimes, you can set up a grid with two columns: “Your Requirements” / “My Qualifications.” Or sometimes you just list out your qualifications. You also may want to add the little extra that makes you stand out from other applicants, Make the employer excited to meet you.

7. Last paragraph: Thank them for their consideration (professional, polite), that you look forward to discussing your qualifications in more detail (confident), and that you will follow in a week (proactive), “Regards,” and your full name. If you are hand delivering a printed copy, leave room for your signature.

It takes extra effort, but you will stand out. And in the competitive environment, you want to give yourself every opportunity to succeed.

Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.

I want to hear from you. Connect with me on FacebookLinkedIn andTwitter, or leave a comment below, and let me know what you think!

Dealing with gaps in your work history

In the days immediately after the State of the Union Address, President Obama called on companies to revise their hiring practices so as to not discriminate against the long-term unemployed. I am encouraged that a sizable proportion of some of the largest companies in the US are agreeing to do so.

And yet, the stigma remains among many employers – if you have large gaps in your employment history, or are currently unemployed, then you must not be employable.

Many of us have gaps in our employment history. There are honest and legitimate ways to fill most gaps on your resume, to address gaps in a cover letter, and to explain gaps in an interview.

First, honestly assess why you have gaps. From there, we can devise a strategy:

I became ill / injured / took some personal time. If it is just a few months and a while ago, then don’t worry about. If it lasted several months, or is the reason for your recent unemployment, then you might address in a cover letter that you “took a personal sabbatical, but I am now ready and eager to resume my career as (POSITION), using my (SKILLS…)”.

I left my job to take care of an ill family member. You were a Caregiver, and you can claim so on a resume. If you are seeking a health care field, this is directly relevant and you can flesh out your Caregiving accomplishments.

If this was an interruption of your career, you might include only a line or two on a resume so as to concentrate more on your relevant experience.

If your family member passed away and you spent some time closing the estate, then you were an Estate Manager.

I was incarcerated. What did you do while you were incarcerated? Did you work in the library / commissary / laundry, even if only a few hours per week? Then you were employed by the State and can put it on a resume (check with a Career Developer for proper wording for your jurisdiction). Did you finish a degree or complete a certification course? If relevant to the position you applied for, then include it on a resume. NOTE: Do NOT include on a resume that you were incarcerated!

I have had jobs I am not proud of. I have had clients who have been exotic dancers, web-site models, drug dealers. I do not judge. You were Self-Employed, and should include on a resume. You do not need to include exactly what you were doing, but you can include your relevant transferable skills (marketing, appointment setting, delivery, sales, etc.). Be prepared, however, that employers are likely to be intrigued and will want to know more (self-employed people impress me, so I would ask), so spend some time thinking and practicing what and how much you want to say. DO NOT LIE! But you do not need to give the whole truth, either.

I was a homemaker. You were a Family Manager. List everything you did as a homemaker and translate into transferable skills (planned and prepared nutritious meals, purchased supplies and maintained inventory, established a budget and tracked spending, taught/tutored, etc. and etc.) You may not have been paid, but you do have a vast amount of transferable experiences.

It just took / is taking me a while to find a job. What have you been doing? Have you picked up a certification? Finished a degree? Volunteered in a capacity that furthers your qualifications for the position? Then include on a resume. Note that Volunteer work does not need to be listed under a section labeled, Volunteer. Just include it as work. No one needs to know you were not paid.

Did you write a book? Volunteer in a capacity that is not directly related to what you want to do? Whatever the case, you can say in a Cover Letter that, “While I have looked for my next opportunity as a (POSITION), I (DID WHATEVER YOU DID). But I am eager to resume my career and believe my skills match what you are looking for…” (and then tell them why.)

At no time will I ever advocate that you make up a job that you never did, or stretch dates beyond their actual time to bridge gaps, or otherwise provide false information. But I do advocate, you likely have more skills, qualifications, and most importantly experiences that employers seek. Use your full experiences to your advantage!

Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.

I want to hear from you. Connect with me on FacebookLinkedInand Twitter, or leave a comment below, and let me know what you think!