Age in (Work) Place: Tips for marketing yourself as an older candidate

What does retirement from employment look like in 2019? The reality is, there is not one answer but rather everyone is self-defining this. Yes, there are those who embrace retirement in the traditional manner of no longer working for money, focusing on other items such as traveling, grandchildren or long-ignored hobbies. But others are choosing to continue working well into their 70s, 80s and sometimes 90s.

The reasons for this continued work are as varied as the individuals themselves. But with longer life expectancies, many people work for additional income, to keep active or simply for the joy of it. No longer is it unusual to find someone in their 70s working full-time and being fully engaged in the organization. Companies have recognized this and are tapping into this experienced pool of individuals during a tight labor market.

If you are looking to continue your career past the traditional retirement age, here are some tips for marketing yourself and obtaining a role to meet your needs:

  • Update your resume. Before you start the application process, be sure your resume is up to date and communicates your strengths. Include dates on your resume as leaving these off can signal employment issues. Include the recent and relevant work history, but do not feel it necessary to include every job you have had since you were a teen. This can make the resume long and tedious to read. On your resume, do not include personal information such as your age, date of birth or marital status. Though popular back in the 1970s or 1980s, these items should no longer be included on your resume. Research current formats to be sure you are incorporating a modern look into your resume.
  • Double check email addresses and voicemail greetings. Though cute for personal reasons, avoid email addresses such as, “#1grandma@…” “IHeartKittens@…” or “Stantheman@…”  A good alternative would be to utilize your name for your email address such as, “john.smith@…” Be sure to set up your voicemail greeting so that you are able to accept messages. And, make sure your former employer is no longer included in your greeting. Be prepared to receive text messages also. Many employers might reach out to you via text rather than by phone.
  • Reverse mentoring. Consider finding a younger person who can mentor you through all the hoops and pitfalls of applying for work in the digital age. This may include online job boards and applications, what email domain you are utilizing, how to respond to text messages and even what is appropriate dress attire for an interview. This type of mentoring can be a win-win situation with you sharing your work experience and the younger person sharing the cultural norms of the day. It also goes hand-in-hand with establishing a good networking group. Tap into local organizations, such as the Chamber or the Ticker, to meet folks in the area, learn about potential opportunities and spread the word about your desire to find a specific role.
  • Express your passion about the position and the organization. The number one concern I hear as a human resources professional around hiring an older, non-traditional employee is the worry that they just want to “float” into retirement. And, frankly, sometimes you see this during an interview. Unfortunately, many candidates communicate more interest in their recent move to their dream retirement location in northern Michigan than their desire to work for your organization. No matter the role an organization is filling, they are always looking for candidates that are engaged and have an interest in their company. So, be sure you are communicating what type of role you are looking for and why you are interested. Even if you desire to work part-time at the local food store, talk about why you chose this store in particular to apply. Do you like the products? Have you been impressed with the customer service? Is it in a good location? How do your unique skills support the mission of the organization? This may be especially true if there is a significant wage difference between your last job and the one you are applying for now. Be able to explain why you are willing to make a pay cut and what you hope to gain from the role. Be upfront about the desire to work part-time or seasonally so that the employer can place you in the appropriate role. And, most importantly, show enthusiasm for the job.
  • Be realistic. Even with the tight labor market, it is going to take more than one application to find that right role. Additionally, you want to be sure you understand the wage for that role and adjust your expectations appropriately. I have seen many non-traditional candidates self-deprecate about their age during an interview: acting under the assumption that the interviewer has a pre-conceived judgment about their age. This, however, can make the candidate look awkward and unsure, potentially limiting the opportunity for the role.  Approach the interview with confidence knowing that you have a proven history of work experience and bring a number of skills to the role.

Finally, do not let your age limit your work interest. As discussed earlier, there is not one “rule” around at what age an individual should retire. Rather, as long as you are engaged, adding value to the organization and are personally gaining from your job, retire when you decide it is the right time for you and your family.

Jennifer Ewing, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is a partner with Human Resource Partners in Traverse City and works with employers to improve the people side of business.