October 11, 2009
Older and unemployed: Despite the recession, job seekers over 50 can beat the odds
Special to NWjobs
Jill Ste. Claire Berndsen’s eyes sparkle while helping couples select wedding bands at the Ben Bridge jewelry store at Seattle’s Northgate Mall. It’s a long way from what she calls her “terrifying days” of finding a new job.
“It was very scary to be 51, as I was, and changing careers -- especially with so many people out there and so few jobs,” says the former construction-industry sales specialist, who was hired by Ben Bridge in January 2009.
It’s a fear shared by many of her 50- to 55-year-old “pre-senior” peers, as well as the more than 10,000 King County residents age 56 or older who are currently collecting unemployment insurance. But armed with job-search strategies and resources designed specifically for folks over 50, many are beating the unemployment odds, according to Seattle-area AARP spokesman Jason Erskine.
The most effective way for seniors and pre-seniors to find work is simple, according to AARP WorkSearch program director Nora Norminton. “It’s networking,” she says. “You can shoot résumés into the online abyss all you want, but at the end of the day, the No. 1 way people find their jobs is through networking.”
Resources for older job seekers
AARP/Real Relief: Job listings and job-training links, plus links to topics covering resume writing to self-employment. 206-526-7918
AARP/WorkSearch: Open to low-income workers 55 or older, for community services and part-time work-based training with nonprofit and public facilities to bridge to other employment. 206-624-6698
Mature Workers Alliance of Puget Sound: Team of public and private groups sponsoring free workshops and job fairs for workers 50 or older. 206-448-0474
Seattle SCORE: Local chapter of non-profit entrepreneur-education program and partner of U.S. Small Business Association, offering free one-on-one consulting and group workshops for small-business development. 206-553-7320
WorkSource Washington: State’s multiservice jobs resource, with links to free workshops and resume assistance.
She recommends that mature job seekers attend workshops, volunteer in the public or private sector, and talk with people who work in the job they are pursuing if they’re new to networking.
It’s also smart for successful seniors and pre-seniors to freshen up their resumes and cover letters, says Erskine. He says it’s critical for over-50 job seekers to convey “activity, energy and achievement” and avoid the word “experience” in their resumes and interviews. Cover letters should highlight technical credentials, recent training and certifications to show willingness to improve.
Even so, older job seekers remain the hardest hit in today’s economy.
Nationally, among workers 55 or older who were laid off in the past year, just 28 percent have found new work, according a recent report by online job site CareerBuilder.com. The competition gets even tougher for mature workers, Erskine says, when you add in the previously retired “50-64 set being pushed back into the workforce because their nest eggs didn’t cover the rising costs of health care.”
According to the CareerBuilder report, many are relocating, starting their own businesses, accepting internships and entry-level jobs, and even changing careers late in life.
That’s where Ste. Claire Berndsen found success. After working with an Eastside career counselor, she realized “the bottom line was that I had to be true to my heart,” she says. “I had never given retail much thought, but I found that it fulfills my romantic side. It’s important to tap into what it is about your experience that motivates you and go after jobs where you can shine.”
To make herself more competitive, Ste. Claire Berndsen focused on emphasizing her accomplishments in a “non-threatening way.”
“You need to show you can get along with everyone and not be a know-it-all,” she says. “Someone in their 20s may be your boss. They may not have the life experience, but they have the company experience, so it’s a very delicate balance of mutual respect.”
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