By Kathleen Sullivan
Finding a job when you are over 40 poses a number of challenges, some real, some perceived. Employers may have preconceived ideas about job applicants who are over 40 in terms of their image, drive, relevance, and potential value to their organization. Job seekers over 40 may also have their own preconceptions about how they will be viewed in the job market before they even start looking. To be successful in your job search if you are over 40, you must effectively manage both the prospective employer's perceptions and your own.
Image: Your image precedes you when you are looking for a job. Prior to any physical contact with a prospective employer, your resume, cover letter, and online profile will project an image and create perceptions. The language, format, and style have to be contemporary. You must learn and leverage new technologies to market yourself. If you use outdated job search styles, you will be defined as out of touch. An up-to-date physical image is also critical to success. If you have not revamped your wardrobe, hairstyle, or accessories in several years (or decades), it is time for a makeover. Staying healthy and fit will project your physical vitality and convey that you have the stamina to keep up with younger colleagues.
Drive: Employers often have concerns that job seekers over 40 have lost their drive and that their best years are behind them. It is very expensive for them to hire an experienced person who joins an organization and wants to coast until retirement. One of the greatest advantages you have if you are over 40 is your wealth of experience and skills. Demonstrate how you will continue to leverage your experience and skills in your next job. For example, you can provide the prospective employer will a 30/60/90 plan outlining the goals you will accomplish for them when you are brought on board. Also, you can discuss new trends in your industry you find exciting or your plans to continue to learn about new technologies you can apply on the job. Create a vision for the employer on how you will be a productive and forward thinking member of his organization.
Relevance: When hiring, employers focus on the critical knowledge, skills, and experience that meet their current business needs. Unfortunately, job seekers over 40 often try to impress prospective employers with their entire history and range of skills even if they are outside the scope of the position. If you try to showcase all of your qualifications rather than the specific ones the employer is seeking, you will seem irrelevant. The employer may also develop the impression that you do not understand how to meet his business needs. Focus on the specifics of that position and impress the prospective employer with your ability to solve their problems. You have an edge because you have solved similar problems before and can use your past success to help your new employer.
Value: Employers are seeking the best value for their money when they are recruiting a new hire. Job seekers over 40 can seem over-rated and over-priced. They may also seem focused on their title, prestige, and salary. You must make a strong business case for why you should be hired and compensated at a certain level, especially if you are competing with someone who will cost the employer less in terms of salary and perks. Your value to this employer is your proven record of producing business results, improving the bottom line, satisfying customers and making good decisions. Market yourself in terms of the dollars you can earn or save for his business, your success in completing projects on time and within budget, your customer relationship building, and your strong work ethic and you will prove your worth to the prospective employer.
Managing perceptions can be one of the most difficult and subtle challenges of your job search if you are over 40. You must stay aware of the perceptions that employers may have, even if they do not express them. You must also guard against your own misperceptions. Be proactive: project a current image, show that you are driven, demonstrate your relevance, and market your ongoing value to an employer.