N.H.'s Changing Workforce: How to dust off your job-search skill set

The tasks associated with searching for a new job – lengthy Internet searches, countless phone calls, resume-writing and interviews – can be grueling for anyone. For job-seekers over 50, the process can be especially taxing.

Today’s job search calls for new strategies and an ability and willingness to capitalize not only on past employment history but on a portfolio of skill sets honed through years of experience.

“When it comes to unemployment we’re hearing all the negative aspects but that’s not the real picture,” said Ed Redfern Jr., senior project manager for the AARP Workforce Issues Team in Washington, D.C. “Manpower’s quarterly forecast for January 2009 indicates 16 percent of employers were expecting to increase their workforce. Employers are continuing with workforce planning. They’re looking at what skill sets they need in the short term and the long term. They are not static.”

Jamie Bulen, associate state director of communications of AARP NH, remains optimistic about employment opportunities of workers over 50 in the Granite State.

“There are industries that are continuing to hire,” Bulen said. “And there are always going to be people looking to hire good workers.”

But while the 50+ worker brings not only needed skills, loyalty, a strong work ethic and a list of other attributes to the workplace, false perceptions and the acceptance of age-related myths sometimes persist, making career changes or job searches especially difficult.

The challenges, however, can be overcome with the right job-search strategy, according to Redfern.

“In many cases, the 50+ worker hasn’t had to look for a job in a long time,” said Redfern. “When they were looking for jobs in the ‘60s or ‘70s, they would have one resume and send it to human resources, and human resources would look at it and determine where the applicant might fit. The process was really left up to HR or hiring managers. These days, it’s up to the job-seeker to do their homework on a company. The job-seeker is the one who needs to know where he or she will fit. It’s up to them to identify their own skills and those qualities that make them uniquely qualified for the job they are going after.”

Building a foundation

Redfern recommends beginning a job search by taking time for self-assessment and developing a job-search strategy that addresses the type of company you hope to work for, the job you want to pursue, the location you plan to conduct your job search from — making sure it is well organized and free of distractions, when you plan to begin your search and how you plan to proceed.

“And you also want to take a financial assessment. How long will your unemployment benefits last? Do you have savings? Is there a cushion to fall back on? The answer to these questions can determine whether you can hold out for that perfect job or have to settle for a lesser position in order to take care of today’s bills,” he said.

Job-seekers also need to take time to assess their unique skills. Those interested in changing careers may find they need to enhance some skills. Nonprofit organizations often provide volunteer opportunities to do just that.

By taking the time to complete these steps the job-seeker builds a foundation on which to create a job-search strategy and the tools needed to open the doors to interviews.

“Once you’ve identified your skills you can package them, creating your own brand identity,” Redfern said. “This allows you to create that two-minute elevator speech – a short statement offering an overview of who you are and what you have to offer.”

Building this foundation is a key component to creating the right cover letter and resume. What was once a chronological collection of past jobs is now a vehicle to deliver a concise synopsis of the job-related accomplishments and applicable skill sets that separate a job-seeker from countless other applicants.

“It’s not always a good thing to focus only on experience in your resume,” Redfern said. “You want to highlight those transferable skills. You want to demonstrate how you’ve applied those skills and the results you’ve achieved through the application of those skills.”

Keep in mind that acquired skill sets may apply differently to different jobs. For this reason, it is often important to create a separate, individually targeted resume and cover letter for each position being sought.

“Remember, the important thing about the resume is the impression it makes and its ability to successfully demonstrate why you are uniquely qualified for the position.” Redfern said. “This is a vehicle for getting the interview, not getting the job.”

There’s one last resume tip for the techno-savvy employment environment — remember that graphically pleasing resumes look appealing but don’t always format well in text applications, so be sure to have a text copy available.

Networking is another component of a successful job search, and one in which the 50+ worker often has an upper hand, thanks to the years already spent making contacts in the professional arena.

Opportunities to connect with someone who may be able to help in your search are all around.

It’s important to recognize that any situation where there is an opportunity to talk with someone is an opportunity to market yourself. It’s a good idea to have business cards containing your contact information on hand and always be ready to make your two-minute elevator speech.

When it comes time for an interview, leave the canned answers at the door and proceed with the confidence that comes with knowing you’ve done your homework. The time you spent assessing your skills and qualifications and researching the company and position will allow you to answer questions truthfully and sincerely. Redfern suggests focusing answers on your skill set, offering examples of how you’ve applied them, the difference they’ve made and why they make you uniquely qualified for this particular job.

Also, something as simple as turning off your cell phone as you walk into the interview demonstrates a level of comfort with today’s technology and can go a long way in demonstrating the technological prowess of today’s 50+ worker.

N.H.’s Changing workforce series is a partnership between NHBR and AARP New Hampshire.