When New York City employment attorney Lori B. Rassas wrote The Perpetual Paycheck: 5 Secrets to Getting a Job in 2015, I interviewed her for Next Avenue. Now, she’s back with an excellent new book specifically for older job seekers, with the provocative title: Over the Hill But Not the Cliff. So I rang her up again.
Here are highlights from our interview, with blunt advice for job seekers over 50:
Next Avenue: I have to start by asking you about the title. Why did you call the book ‘Over the Hill But Not the Cliff?’
Lori B. Rassas: The perception about older job applicants by some employers is that they get to a point in their career where they don’t want additional stress and they’re happy to coast until they retire. To undermine this, you need to show the employer: ‘I’m not done yet. I want to continue to learn and grow and move up.’ In the job interview, you should talk about things showing that you’re not at the top of the hill yet, you’re still climbing.
How serious a problem do you think ageism is for job seekers over 50?
I think it exists and is prevalent. You should assume you’re going to face it. But a lot of times, I find the cover letters of these people are not so great or they’re applying for the wrong jobs. I look at ageism as one obstacle to getting a job, but it can be overcome.
In some sense, I think the pendulum is shifting a bit, with Millennials moving jobs so quickly. I get a sense that employers want stability and long-term commitments and they’re more likely to get that from older job candidates. So things are almost getting better for older candidates.
You write that the most common reservation about hiring older candidates has nothing to do with their actual age, but what their age represents. What do you mean?
I mean stereotypes of ageism. Things like: 'They don’t know how to use computers' or 'They will retire in five years 'or 'They’re inflexible.'
You recommend job hunters over 50 make a list of companies that are least likely to disqualify them from consideration due to age. How do you do that? Think about employers who are targeting older customers. They’re likely to be more receptive to you.
You say it makes no sense to hide your age when you’re applying for a job. Why? Usually, people don’t hide it particularly well, so it’s a red flag. If you have no dates for your former employers on your resumé or your LinkedIn profile, that’s a red flag. Too often, older job applicants write functional resumés noting their skills, but not their employers. Or they just have a list of employers. When I see that, my first thought is: That person must be old. You don’t necessarily have to include the year you graduated college; that’s not such a big deal to leave off.
And focus on your past 15 to 20 years. If you’ve worked longer than that, you can list some special projects before then. But you don’t want to write a career obituary. What you did 50 years ago is not relevant.
You also recommend reaching out to the hiring manager. Why, and how do you find him or her?
That’s one of the keys for anyone having any obstacles to getting hired. And it’s one way to get to the front of the line. If I post a job, I may get 200 applicants, but if 10 reach out to me directly, I will review their applications.
Finding the hiring manager is not as hard as you would think. You may be able to find a company directory through Google or LinkedIn.
How should your cover letter and resume show you’re comfortable with technology? It depends on the level of the job. For a more senior job, I get suspicious if the applicant says: ‘I know how to use Microsoft Word or Excel.’ That’s so basic. But if the job requires certain tech skills and you have them, highlight them right away.
You think older job applicants can often have better luck getting interviews, and getting hired, at small businesses rather than big ones. Why?
There are a number of reasons. Smaller companies have fewer applicants, so there’s less competition, which is always great. They also tend to have less of a pipeline of people working for them who could fill open positions. Larger companies tend to promote from within for senior positions.
How do you know which small businesses are hiring and which jobs they need to fill?
That’s where the hard work comes in. You have to be proactive about it. Go online to LinkedIn and search by company size. Then, target smaller companies that don’t have a recruiter or money for job postings.
You recommend saying in an interview that if the employer has any concerns, you’d be happy to discuss them. What do you mean?
This way, you can get out in front of them. I often hear older candidates complain they don’t get feedback when they don’t get a job. If you flag any concerns in an interview, that may not help with that job, but it might help for future jobs. If you hear a concern about your not having tech skills, you can say to yourself: ‘Great, I’ll get them.’
What’s your advice for someone who is applying for a job paying less than their current or last job? Or someone who wants a job paying less than the employer thinks the applicant would accept?
Be upfront. If you’re willing to take a pay cut, say that. If you’re switching industries, say that you understand you may have to work your way up.
You tell older job candidates to share more on social media. Why? You need to show that you have tech skills and you need to be out there on social media. Employers expect people to be on social media. If they don’t find you on it and you’re 55, that feeds into the stereotype.
And what kinds of things should you share on social media to help get a job?
Show that you’re engaged and knowledgeable about the field where you want to work. Write articles on LinkedIn; post articles on Facebook and Twitter; comment on articles of others and on new ventures you see posted on LinkedIn. Relate these things to your own experience.
If you go to a conference, share what you learn on social media.
Find people who work at companies you’re targeting for a job and then follow them on social media, too. If a senior manager at the company posts something on social media, comment on it.
This all goes to fight the stereotype that if you’re 65 you just want to relax and unwind with your grandchildren. That’s not the kind of person a CEO wants.