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How to Compete with Younger Job Seekers  
8/9/2011 12:41:07 PM

By Angela Rose, BioSpace.com

Much like Moby Dick’s great white whale, the supposed mythical “gray ceiling” may indeed be based on reality. According to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 15 million Americans remain unemployed; at least three million of which are over the age of 50. Perhaps even more disturbing, the average duration of unemployment for these older workers is one year. This is longer than the length of unemployment for any other demographic.

Is age discrimination against baby boomer job seekers (those born between 1946 and 1964) a factor in their lingering unemployment? Quite possibly so, at least according to recent data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Of the six percent of all charges brought by individuals to the EEOC alleging hiring discrimination, age discrimination is by far the largest category. While it is illegal for employers to discriminate based on age, many older job seekers state that it happens regularly. So what is a seasoned, gracefully aging and intelligent professional to do? Consider a few updates to help you compete with younger job seekers.

1. Update your look.
Call it shallow if you will, but appearance matters. You don’t need to look younger than you are, but you do need to appear current. Image experts advise that outdated eyewear and hair are the most aging. Whether you make a few small tweaks (fashionable glasses and a fresh hairstyle) or go in for a major overhaul (image consultation and new wardrobe), updating your look is one of the easiest ways to prove that you’re in touch with the modern world.

2. Update your lingo.
From tweets and status updates, to linking in and going 4G, get a grasp on the language of the newest technology. With many companies utilizing the Internet and social media in some way, it’s quite possible that one of these topics will come up in an interview. While you’re at it, set up LinkedIn and Twitter profiles. Include a current, professional photo (after you’ve updated your look) and begin working these modern tools to enhance your job search.

3. Update your skills.
You’re likely familiar with the old saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” While this may not be true, it is an unfortunate misperception on the part of some employers. Fortunately, it’s easy to prove them wrong. When you take a class or attend a workshop, you demonstrate your ability (and willingness) to learn. Some options: sign up for classes at the local community college (some are offering boomer-specific programs), audit a university course (for free!) or attend a local government or nonprofit-sponsored seminar for older job seekers.

4. Update your resume.
Does your resume look like it traveled time in a DeLorean? If so, update everything about it –from design and content to the paper it’s printed on. You don’t even have to be a graphic designer to create an eye-catching, modern resume. There are hundreds of resume templates (many free) available online. As for content, some experts recommend omitting any dates older than fifteen years. Others recommend serious culling. Communicating in texts and other language snippets is a hallmark of the younger generation. Adopt their brevity and your resume will appear more youthful as well.

5. Update your interviewing skills.
Interviewing can be a rough experience for everyone, whether they’re 25 or 55. Practice answering both the routine and the difficult questions you may hear, including “don’t you think you’re overqualified for this position?” Keep your answers specific and always stay on topic. Emphasize what you’ve learned from your years of work experiences, and how that can benefit the employer. If you’ve retained valuable industry contacts, mention them.

The “gray ceiling” may exist, but it can only hold you back if you allow it. You are an experienced, dedicated and intelligent professional. Not only can you compete with younger job seekers, you can transcend them with your wisdom and willingness to keep yourself current.

About the Author

Angela Rose researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for BioSpace.com.

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