In job hunt, older workers must step up their game

CorrespondentNovember 17, 2012 

  • Resources for older job seekers • AARP’s annual list of Best Employers for Workers Over 50 evaluates companies based on their policies and practices toward those 50 and older. It looks at recruiting practices, training and career development, health and pension benefits, workplace accommodations, and alternative work options such as flexible scheduling, job sharing. Find the current list at www.aarp.org/work/employee-benefits/best_employers/ For information about AARP’s Work Reimagined, visit http://workreimagined.aarp.org/ • Wake Technical Community College’s Plus 50 program offers courses geared toward mature job seekers. Go to http://plusfifty.waketech.edu/ • If you are 55 years or older and economically disadvantaged, you might qualify for the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) available through the National Caucus and Center On Black Aged (NCBA), the N.C. Division of Aging and Adult Services and other agencies in North Carolina. Find information at www.ncdhhs.gov/aging/scsep.htm or http://www.ncba-aged.org/default.asp?contentID=24 • Lloyd Diggs of the Employment Security Commission holds a monthly workshop for older workers at the ESC office, 3351 Carl Sandburg Court, Raleigh. It normally meets from 1 to 2:30 p.m. the last Monday of each month.
  • More information Preparing for the interview Here are some tips from John M. O’Connor, a Raleigh career coach, who believes the older you are, the sharper you need to look. •  Don’t ignore personal hygiene at any level. Men, get rid of hair on the neck, nose hairs and ears. • Men with gray hair should get enough color to be more self-confident but not so much to become self-conscious. Maintain a sharp hair cut. • Dress business casual, which means look like you just left the office or a meeting with clients, not the reclining chair. Wear a pressed shirt and a clean, sharp jacket. No dandruff on the jacket. • Clean and shine your shoes. No frayed tassels. Many shoe repair shops will replace tassels. • Women, consider age and body type when you choose an outfit for networking and job interviews. Stick with basic colors and plain prints. • Don’t wear too much jewelry or hair accessories. Less is more. • Wear a nice scent, something current or classic and not too much of it. • Women, choose shoes that are comfortable and stylish. Also, make sure they are fitting for the industry. Don’t wear heels that are too high or comfortable shoes that make you look frumpy. • If you smoke, make sure your clothes don’t reveal it. To contact O’Connor, go to www.careerproinc.com

Holly Springs resident James Chambers was laid off about two years ago. The 59-year-old Chambers networks, consults with small businesses and stays current on LinkedIn.

But Chambers, like many older workers, is having a hard time finding a new position.

“I have 10 more years to work for somebody,” says Chambers, the former general manager for Carolina Mobility & Seating, an Apex company that provides pediatric medical equipment including wheelchairs, strollers and walking aids.

Chambers has made it to a second interview several times, only to be told he was overqualified. “Nothing changed in my resume between the first and second interview,” he says. “It’s a polite way of saying you are too old. Sometimes I want to say, ‘And the risk to you is what?’ ”

Many older workers like Chambers bring years of problem-solving and management experience, but the statistics clearly show the tide is against them. AARP State Director Doug Dickerson said older workers tend to be out of work a little more than a year, which is longer than younger workers. According to the AARP’s Public Policy Institute, job seekers 50 and older now make up a higher percentage of the long-term unemployed. In 2007, they were 23 percent; in 2009, they were 38 percent and now they are 54 percent.

Because those 50-plus workers make up such a large part of the long-term unemployed, they will be hit especially hard come the end of the year. The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which extended initial unemployment benefits, ends the week of Dec. 29. That means about 75,000 to 87,000 North Carolina claimants will stop receiving an unemployment check, according to the N.C. Division of Employment Security. More than 6,000 of those claimants live in Wake County; 2,803 in Durham and about 500 in Orange County.

Adaptable, trainable

There are companies who don’t want to hire older workers. Managers think older, more experienced workers will have higher salary expectations, and that they could lead to higher health care costs. They also may think older workers are not up-to-date on technology or able to work longer hours. Younger workers are perceived as more energetic and cheaper.

It’s not surprising for mature workers to feel they are being discriminated against, Dickerson said. “They feel a high degree of job insecurity, especially women,” he said.

Such an extended time without a job is taking its toll.

“People are worried about insufficient 401(k)s and reduced health care benefits,” Dickerson said.

And because many may have put off families to focus on careers, they also are the generation that may have children in college and aging parents to care for.

Because of such stresses, many seasoned professionals tend to be looking for high job satisfaction more than a high paycheck. And Dickerson said, employers need to realize that older workers are adaptable and trainable, and usually have a shorter learning curve than inexperienced workers.

But with employers still having the upper hand, mature job seekers must up their game. One way to do that is to tap into organizations that provide resources specifically for older workers.

Resources available

Ivan Gobern, the state program coordinator for the National Caucus and Center On Black Aged(NCBA), a national subcontractor of the U.S. Department of Labor, said local and regional employers are seeking older workers who are comfortable with, or willing to learn, contemporary business norms (email, online applications, team-based performance, etc.), have strong interpersonal and customer service skills, are interested in both learning and sharing what they know, and are flexible while functioning in faster-paced environments.

Gobern manages one of the state’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) offices with the ability to support 240 mature job seekers in 18 central Carolina counties. The program is designed for unemployed men and women who are 55 or older. Applicants must be capable of performing part-time training duties and have an annual family income that does not exceed 125 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines.

Participants are paid a stipend to train and job search for a maximum of 20 hours per week. The positions range from working at a library to a custodian at a school. Training resembles on-the-job learning with business partnerships that are mainly nonprofits or government agencies. Participants are paid no less than the federal or state minimum wage.

In 2011, more than 60 older job seekers successfully left the NCBA program by securing full or part-time employment, Gobern said. Even in this economy, Gobern’s experience is that there are jobs for seniors who go after them and employers who are looking for their talent.

The state’s Division of Workforce Solutions has older worker coordinators at most of its Employment Security Commission offices. “We provide them with advice and resources on how to best advertise themselves for jobs,” said Jim Korth, one of the coordinators.

Korth said he and the other coordinators assist the 50-plus crowd with up-to-date job search practices including how to apply for jobs online and in some cases hide their maturity to potential employers.

Lloyd Diggs, an employment coordinator at one the ESC’s Raleigh offices, leads a monthly workshop for older workers. They can come and talk about the obstacles they face in securing employment.

His advice to job seekers?

• Emphasize “your value” not “your age.”

• Leverage what you have in term of experience.

• Understand that wages are suppressed so you might not be able to command your former salary.

Project positive attitude

John M. O’Connor, a Raleigh career coach with Career Pro, has his own advice for older job seekers, who he says sometimes say the right things but don’t project a positive attitude.

“You have to believe good things are going to happen,” O’Connor said. “Be mission-oriented. That’s infectious. Find a way to own that you have something to offer the marketplace. If you have an inner spirit that comes through, many potential employers will overlook some shortcomings that can be taught.”

Both employers and employees really need to think beyond their stereotypes of aging.

“Forget the antiquated notion of the older man or woman wandering around who may break a hip,” Korth says. “They have the ability to learn new technology and are willing to try new things. They are less likely to call in sick than younger people with children at home.”

Some companies with older clients are recognizing their seasoned workers relate better to customers, he said.

Suzanne LaFollette-Black, AARP’s associate state director for community outreach which includes workforce issues, says some of the best North Carolina companies for older workers include Durham Regional Hospital, GlaxoSmithKline, SAS and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

Earlier this year, AARP unveiled a new tool for job seekers called Work Reimagined. Companies sign a pledge acknowledging they understand the value of experienced workers. Job seekers can access companies who have signed the pledge by following Work Reimagined on LinkedIn.

Remember looking for a job is a process, Diggs said. So pace yourself but stay steady on the course. Also be creative. You might start off volunteering and then land a job.

“You’re just looking for a crack, not even a window,” he said. “You want an opportunity to display what you know.”

Lacy can be reached at RIFworker@gmail.com

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