Published July 25, 2013
Older workers’ resumes can be jammed packed with a wealth of experience and work history, but to remain marketable for employment in today’s labor market, they better be able to prove their tech skills are up to date.
Whether it’s for personal or financial reasons, baby boomers are either staying in the job market longer or looking to re-enter it, and it’s important they remain relevant.
Thomas Kamber founding executive director of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) and Beth Finkel, the state director for AARP in New York discussed with me the challenges older workers face in today’s labor market and how we can maintain competitive. Here’s what they had to say:
Boomer: What skills and technology do older workers need to focus on to stay competitive when looking for work or retaining their current employment?
Finkel: If you’re looking for work, it is critical to build your network, both online and offline, and leverage the networking power of the people you know. Understand your skills and strengths so you can create and promote your personal brand. Stay positive and connect with communities in your related field to share experiences.
No matter the industry, workers can demonstrate their value by staying up-to-date on relevant advances – in technology, yes, but also in business trends, current events and the competitive landscape. Volunteering, taking classes and attending seminars are great ways to keep skills fresh and expand your network at the same time.
Kamber: The most important skills and technologies for older adults in the workplace are actually the least esoteric. Applications like Microsoft Word, Excel and Gmail are essential for functioning in the modern workplace, and many older adults need to brush up on or develop new skills in these mainstream tools.
In addition, it’s critical for older individuals to stay up-to-date on general trends such as social networking, mobile communications and cloud computing, since familiarity with these topics is often required for decision-making in a wide variety of contexts. Finally, there may be sector-specific tools that are important for data management, graphics or project tracking, such as Salesforce, Photoshop or BaseCamp. Basic familiarity with these kinds of applications can really set an older applicant apart in this job mar
Boomer: Should older adults try to hide their age or present themselves as "younger" when interviewing?
Kamber: Ageist stereotypes regarding older adults’ memory problems, unwillingness to learn, and lack of flexibility are unfortunately all too common, and job seekers must counteract them by demonstrating clear thinking, a commitment to learning and a positive attitude during interviews. This doesn’t mean hiding your age or presenting yourself as younger, but rather projecting a sense of confidence and self-awareness as an older person who has a great deal to offer. Mentioning a recent computer class, for example, can reduce an employer’s anxiety about your resistance to learning new skills.
Finkel: It’s important for interviewees of all ages to make a good first impression. So it’s a good idea to get an up-to-date haircut and dress appropriately in line with both the company and current fashion. And naturally, never lie. Demonstrate in interviews that you are up to date with technology to fight off any ageist perceptions. Talk about your accomplishments during the interview – highlight the results you’ve produced without dwelling on the timeline.
If you feel like your age is could be an issue, consider re-ordering your resume so that it is not chronological – list your accomplishments in order of relevance to the position and avoid easy tipoffs of your age such as years of graduation.
Boomer: Are social platforms important for baby boomers to use when searching the job market and why?
Finkel: Yes. Today’s job market is difficult to navigate, radically different from the market of a decade ago and now predominantly online. When you apply for a job today, here's what the recruiter is likely to do to get a more rounded view of your accomplishments:
If you look competent online, you might get a response to the reume that you emailed to the company. If you have no digital footprint, you're likely to get a pass. The only exceptions might be jobs at very small companies or nonprofits, or lower-level jobs, for which résumés are enough.
All this might come as a shock to job seekers over age 50, but the traditional job search has changed, technology has changed, and employers today need people who are comfortable online.
It’s worth noting that 85% of people 50-plus use social media, and nearly one-third of all people who use social media are 45 or older.
Kamber: Social platforms are a critical component of any job search today. Older adults should be actively participating on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to find out about available jobs, expand and strengthen their social networks, and initiate dialogue with potential employers. And while you’re at it, lose the AOL account! Nothing says "outdated skill-set" like an email signature that ends in "@aol.com."