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Seniors, boomers hit the job trail

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More Americans over 55 say they plan to work until the age of 69 or beyond, according to a new report by the MetLife Mature Market Institute. However, many in this group will face difficulties if they find themselves in need of a job. At the same time, the Department of Labor anticipates that the over 55 group will make up nearly 93 percent of the total increase in the work force between 2006 and 2016.

The study, entitled “Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?: The New Realities of the Job Market for Aging Baby Boomers,” includes survey results for more than 1,200 individuals between the ages of 55 and 70 as well as in-depth interviews of job-seekers and employment experts. The study data reveal that older job-seekers need to change their attitudes and expectations and develop fresh skills in order to be successful in the rapidly changing workplace.

Notes Sandra Timmermann, MetLife Mature Market Institute director, “The fact that so many job-seekers over 55 have difficulty finding work means such individuals need new solutions to compete. Largely due to the economy, many of those looking for work may not have the money to retire. For this group, finding work is a necessity and they would benefit by making major changes in what they present about themselves to potential employers.”

The study delineates the “significant seven,” seven mistaken assumptions older Americans make when looking for a job. They are “I’ll just do what I was doing before,” “My experience speaks for itself,” “I don’t have time for this touchy-feely stuff about what work means to me,” “I know! I’ll become a consultant!” “Of course I’m good with computers,” “I’ll just use a recruiter for some career coaching” and “I’ve always been successful, so why should things be different now?”

Instead of these unhelpful assumptions, the report recommends older job-seekers adopt the following five strategies for success:

  1. Accept the reality of your situation. Anger over perceived age bias won’t get you hired. Remember that there are still opportunities for older job-seekers, and these are likely to increase as the recession abates. As part of your search, identify industries and organizations that are experiencing growth or are at lease stable. Next, seek out organizations with a culture of respect toward all workers. Then, look for opportunities in small- or medium-sized companies, where the majority of new job are created. Last of all, consider self-employment.
  2. Demonstrate your value to potential employers. Older job-seekers need to identify and articulate how they will bring value to an organization. At the same time, it is helpful to acknowledge that the underlying skill set must continue to evolve. For instance, a mere eight years ago Internet marketing was on the cutting edge; today it is considered a prerequisite for anyone wishing to work in marketing. Your job hunt should not be simply about networking or brand-building but also involve clarifying what you have to offer and developing the contacts you need to be successful in a tough job market.
  3. Work your contacts. Every job-seeker needs to utilize his or her network of contacts, but it’s especially important for older job-seekers. Begin by focusing on your passion so that you can connect with people of similar interests. Such connections are more likely to yield valuable opportunities than a network of contacts with unrelated interests. Networking should not just be about meeting those who might help you find work but also be about learning new things.
  4. Polish up computer skills. One theme that ran through the interviews of older job-seekers was a lack of updated computer skills. Familiarity with Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking sites is essential. You don’t want to be caught unprepared when a 40-year-old hiring manager asks if you are on Twitter. To stay competitive, older job-seekers need to spend some time getting up to speed on the latest Internet trends.
  5. Work through your ambivalence. Baby Boomers need to face their retirement goals and move past any negative feelings they may have about returning to work. A significant percentage of job-seekers interviewed were ambivalent about staying in the work force, and job counselors had to struggle against their tendency to sabotage themselves in job interviews. Older job-seekers need to be realistic about their financial needs in retirement when making the decision to return to work.

“Older job-seekers who don’t recognize that they’re viewed differently in the job market are in for a rude awakening,” said study author David DeLong. “Lots of aging Boomers will need late-career employment in the years ahead and this study shows what they have to do to make themselves relevant and successful in the changing employment market.”