Common job search mistakes made by older workers

There are 10 job search mistakes often made by older workers which cause them to miss out on opportunities for work that they want. This article will outline them for you, but first…

Let’s not blame everything on age discrimination

It’s easy to blame age discrimination, but consider if you could be causing your own employment problems? Many older workers make basic job search mistakes that lead to them being overlooked.  The result is they have to live with the consequences of being stuck in a job that they hate, underemployment, or unemployment.

One woman’s story: Could this be you?

Today I had a phone call from a past client, a lovely capable woman who is currently unemployed.  She left her job because of serious bullying issues that management refused to address.  Rather than “make a fuss” she chose to leave a workplace that she found stressful and unhappy.

Her dream is modest.  She wants a job that enables her to prove her worth.  Ideally, she’d like to be given further opportunities for responsibility and some training.  She is keen to grow in skills and confidence and to add value to the company.

Female older worker being interviewed by male Unable to find work

She knows what she would love to do but is unable to find work opportunities that lead to that role.  Her dreams are not unrealistic.  She is prepared to work below her level of experience to get a foot in the door.

However, her work history does not show a steady commitment to a couple of companies.  On the contrary she has changed jobs quite a lot, a combination of personal circumstances and leaving work when she found she was unhappy.  Yet this woman isn’t a quitter.  She is determined that she will find the work that suits her, that she suits, and where she can give great value.

Many people are in this situation

This is not an unusual situation.  There are many people, hidden from the jobless figures, who are unemployed or underemployed but don’t want to be in this situation.

Many ask, seeming not to expect a positive answer, “Are there any jobs for over 50 women or men?” They are unaware that their own job search mistakes are getting in the way of their success.

What were the classic mistakes she was making?

I have analysed her situation, her resume and cover letter, and observed the following 10 classic mistakes being made.

Common Job Search Mistakes of Older Workers

Common Job Search Mistakes Made By Older Workers

Job Search Mistake 1: Resume Objective

A resume should commence with a summary of what you have achieved, not your objective in applying for work.  Frankly, the company doesn’t care what you want.  They want to know if you can deliver what they need and want in the position you are applying for.  There are many sample resume sites online so read through some summaries and create one for your own resume.  It should tell the reader, in 3 or 4 powerful sentences, about your experience and your achievements, and through them indicate some personal traits that they are looking for. I also have tips on successful resume writing that you should check out. 

Job Search Mistake 2: Not Adapting Resume For Each Application

Job Search Mistakes stop you from getting an interviewIn this client’s case, she had created a great list of her skills, which immediately gives strength to her resume. However, she wasn’t adapting this list to meet the requirements of each job for which she is applying.

Your skills tell the story of your capabilities in the workplace to date. Make sure that they address specific skills in the job description. Using a generic resume for all applications does not showcase how well you are suited for a particular job.  This is one of the most serious job search mistakes you can make. Know the transferable skills that you should include in your resume.

Job Search Mistake 3: Not Focusing On Achievements

When only duties are listed for each job, a resume seems one dimensional.  It conveys no sense that the work has been carried out to the best of your ability. 

Perhaps you feel you were only a tiny cog in the wheel at your workplace. Maybe you didn’t get the opportunity to achieve much.  But there would be things that you did there that no-one else did or that no-one else had thought of doing.  Whenever possible include some achievements for each job.  

Use past tense verbs

If you genuinely think you didn’t achieve anything look at the list of duties and rephrase a couple of them to make them sound like achievements.  Separate ‘Duties’ and ‘Achievements’ to make it easier to read and understand. Use a small header for each. Achievements are generally written starting with a past tense verb – Adapted, Created, Organised etc.  When you write them in this way you just may realise that you actually did make a difference in that workplace. (That helps with Mistake #9 as well!)

Job Search Mistake 4:  An Unstable Work History

If you have changed work many times address that in your summary and in your cover letter.  “Adaptability and the skill to quickly develop rapport within teams has developed from 20+ years experience in health and environment-related businesses throughout Australia……”  They know up-front that you have moved around.  However, you have implied that this has some advantages that make you a better employee. A random work history can give the impression of unreliability unless it is justified.  Allowing them to get the wrong impression is a big job search mistake.

Job Search Mistake 5: Going Back Too Far

Business men on twisted pathIf you have been working for around 25 or 30 years or more you have a lot to share in your resume.  The sad truth is they don’t want to know about it all! Most potential employers only want to know about the last 10 or so years in detail, with the briefest outline of previous work if it is significant to the job for which you are applying. Including too much information and detail is a common job search mistake.

Find ways to tell them what you need them to know

So what do you do if all the significant work you have done was prior to this? You must include roles that demonstrate that you are capable of doing the job you are applying for. You need to do this without listing every job you have had back to when you left school.  There are no hard and fast rules about resumes so be creative in how you share the information.  You could simply put a new section header PREVIOUS EMPLOYMENT and elaborate on the one role which is relevant to the job application.

What if the job you are applying for is most closely related to one that you did twenty years ago? Try a few different ways of getting the message across.  So long as you have included some information about the job and outlined your achievements, you can draw their attention to it in the cover letter.  State that your most satisfying job was some years ago but it was because of your success in that role that you are now applying for this new position.

Job Search Mistake 6: Unattractive Resume Layout

Make your resume look attractive, classy, and professional.  Consider how you can divide the different sections using lines or different styled headers. Again get inspiration from professional resume examples online. The reader of your resume should perceive only what enhances your profile as an employable strong candidate. There should be no distractions that may encourage them to put your resume on the “don’t bother” bundle. This is where I must mention spelling and punctuation which must be flawless in a job application.

Don’t ever use a fancy template

Don’t ever be tempted to use one of the bright colourful online templates to create your resume.  That screams “Year 9 double period resume class with a teacher who doesn’t know much about resumes”!

Job Search Mistake 7: Not addressing the correct person in the cover letter

Whenever possible you should address your letter directly to the correct person.  Sometimes this is as simple as finding their name on the job description.  Telephone the company and ask to be told to whom you should address your application.  If they just say some generic title, eg HR manager, then ask if you may have their name.  You may even look up the company online and see if you can find their name.   However, if you cannot find out the name of the person then use their title correctly and respectfully.

Job Search Mistake 8: Not using your network

LinkedIn book coverThe client I mentioned had a limited local network and so had no-one to reach out to who may be able to help her. People in your network may have information about who is employing or inside knowledge of the local industry. Ask them.

You network is where you are most likely to get help

Reach out to your existing network and or miss out on the potential help that could come from them.

LinkedIn is another wonderful way of using your network to find out about job opportunities and to make connections with people who may be able to help you.

Job Search Mistake 9: Not believing in yourself

You can break the habit of not believing in yourself. It is an ingrained habit that has been allowed to grow and take over your view of the world.  Only you can change this problem and develop greater confidence.  No amount of praise will make any difference to you until you decide that you can accept and value yourself.

Self-belief is vital

Don’t let your head be filled with thoughts of your inadequacies. Flip those thoughts around and remind yourself of the good things you have done. Instead of dwelling on your failures, look towards the future.  How do you want it to be?  What is your picture of your life over the next few years?  What can you do today to start working towards that future?  I’m not meaning to sound unsympathetic to your lack of confidence, but I do know that only you can change that negative thought pattern that is looping through your brain.

Job Search Mistake 10:  Not getting professional assistance

So often I see clients who battled on for a long time trying to get a job without success.  They have never considered that they might be causing the problem themselves through their job search mistakes.  They believe that it is the current job market, age discrimination, the attitude of younger people, their work history. These are all perfectly valid obstacles in an unsuccessful job search, but aren’t always the reason.  Until they remedy their job search mistakes, they keep on trying, doing the same things. This often leads to depression about their prospects for the future.  By eliminating these job search mistakes their results could be very different.

Professional help can make a big difference

Often it takes a meeting with a trained career professional to see what is really going on.  It may be a combination of the common job search mistakes that I have outlined here. It may be another problem altogether.  But it is usually something that you haven’t recognised yourself.  You are too close to the situation, as are your partner, your best friend, and your mother-in-law, to be able to see it objectively.  Value yourself enough to get some professional career management support.

Review your job search strategies

After reading through these 10 common job search mistakes I hope that you will review your own job search strategies.

NEXT: How To Write A Good Resume With Content That Grabs Attention And Builds Interest

⇐ PREVIOUS: Five Effective Strategies To Consider When Searching For A New Job

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Jenni Proctor

Hi, I'm Jenni Proctor from Boomers Next Step. Remember when the formula for success in life was simply to strive for good marks at school, gain qualifications, get a great job, work hard and save for your retirement? Yes, I believed it too! For years my husband David and I wanted to develop a business that we could operate anywhere in the world, but both of us were educated to be employees.  We had entrepreneurial dreams and ideas, but still had employee mindsets. 14 years ago I took the giant leap!  I left my job in Education to start a business as a Career Counsellor and Coach, helping mature adults transition from one career path to another, and particularly from employment to entrepreneurship.  I had studied long and hard to gain new qualifications but sadly I hadn’t learnt how to market my new business. About 12 years ago we realized that we were not tracking well towards having the sort of retirement we wanted. We’d saved; we’d invested; and like so many other people we’d also lost some money along the way. It didn’t help that my business was not bringing in as much as I had been earning as an employee. Our dreams of extensive travel and helping our family were being replaced by a growing concern that we would outlive our savings. It seemed that a traditional retirement would not allow us to maintain the lifestyle we wanted. I love helping people plan the next phase of their lives, but we realized that was not going to be enough.  We needed a way to create an income stream that would pay for the travel and other lifestyle luxuries we wanted, that would provide mental stimulation, and would interest us both.

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