Opinion: The job market is looking up for older workers

For older Americans battered by the jobs market during the pandemic, here’s some encouraging news: There are 7.4 million job openings in the U.S. (as of Feb. 28), the Labor Department says. That’s up from 7.1 million a month earlier and the most since January 2019.

It’s the latest sign that demand for workers is growing quickly as the nation begins to heal from COVID-19. In fact, the Labor report adds, industries that took it on the chin during the downturn are the ones posting more “Help Wanted” signs.

Openings in the food services and accommodation sectors rose to 761,000 in February from 657,000 in January, for example, while openings in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector rose to 137,000 from 81,000. But there is a need in virtually every category, the report said—meaning there’s probably something for you if you’re looking.  

But we all know that despite laws meant to prevent it, age discrimination is alive and well. And if you’re a nonwhite older worker, it’s even worse—what Owen Davis of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis (SCEPA) at The New School of New York calls “the double disadvantage of racial discrimination.” 

Despite all the job openings, these kinds of headwinds make it harder for older workers seeking to re-enter the labor force. What to do? 

Use social media wisely 

Employers look at resumes and cover letters of course, and I’ll get to those in a moment. But these days they’re also likely to Google you and look at your Facebook and Twitter pages, if you have them. While younger people are more likely to have something on these platforms that raise eyebrows—and cause a hiring manager to question their maturity and professionalism—you don’t have this problem, of course. In fact, you can turn these platforms to your advantage by highlighting things that show your skill set and how you work with others. Perhaps you do volunteer work? Like to hike or go on long bike rides? Photos showing you out and about, staying active and interacting with others is a subtle and clever way to manage your image.

Do you have a LinkedIn account? Employers will also look at these. Think of LinkedIn as an online resume, with some powerful advantages. You can and should post a photo of yourself, for example. Want to look younger? It’s OK to be a bit vain here. Consider whitening your teeth and adding highlights to your hair (why not?) Many people have puffy eyes from time to time (full disclosure: I’m one of them), and one way to address this is with tea bags. Yes, says Healthline, it can really make a difference. Also consider keeping those older clothes in the closet. Google “how to dress younger” and all kinds of interesting ideas pop up. 

LinkedIn also allows you to post anything that you think an employer would appreciate seeing, such as recommendations and testimonials from others. It’s a terrific way to highlight yourself proactively, and in ways that you completely control. 

But chances are you’ll have to first get their attention and that’s where the all-important cover letter and, yes old-fashioned resume come in. 

Cover letter tips

Employers are far more likely to give you a second look if your cover letter is compelling. My advice here is to have a template in your computer that you can tweak for each company you’re applying to. If a company says “we’re looking for X and Y skills,” then specifically mention them in your letter. Here is one of the best free resources I’ve seen for crafting a good cover letter:

Resume tips

Resumes are often fed into scanners that search for certain key words. My advice, again, is to have a template that you can tweak for each job you’re applying for. 

If you’re sensitive about age, consider ditching the chronological resume and build one that focuses on skills and achievements instead. If you insist on using a chronological resume, there’s no need to go back more than 10 or 15 years. A friend in his 50s recently asked me to review his résumé and it mentioned his high school and his grade point average. Not helpful. What is helpful are these templates, samples and tools to help you build just the right resume.  

Finding work—at least rewarding work that comes with decent pay and a reasonable benefits package—can itself be a full-time job. If you’re determined to find something, consider taking a step back first and getting your ducks in order first. Social media platforms, good templates for cover letters and resumes that can be easily tweaked. With millions of openings and an economy that appears to be bouncing back quickly from the pandemic this could be your moment. 

Have some career advice for older workers you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you, Write to me at [email protected].

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