In job market, age is obstacle or attribute - Tucson Local Media: Editorials

In job market, age is obstacle or attribute

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Posted: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 12:00 am

It was only a couple of years ago when most retirees were actively involved in sorting through a countless assortment of leisure activities accompanying their new stage of life.

But then one morning an unanticipated challenge emerged — a recession. That squelched the ideology of having three distinct stages of life; learning, working and retiring. We've evolved into a fourth stage that appears to have somewhat merged the three stages into a fluctuating, unpredictable, lifelong phase of re-learning, working and occasional relaxing. The notion of being retired for life and immersing one's self in a sea of leisure activities is no longer a practical doctrine.

In today's recessionary world, once you've retired you're on your own and have to take care of yourself. That's blunt, but countless retirees are learning it the hard way from their former employers, especially when companies go belly up.

Out of necessity, many retirees have gone back to work, and their category in the workplace is cautiously defined as "older workers." The phrase now applies to anyone older than age 45. This group comprises about 25 percent of the workforce and nearly 35 percent of the current national unemployment total.

I suppose the good news is that older workers tend to have fewer financial obligations than those in younger age brackets. But if your former employer goes bankrupt, makes poor pension investments, or maneuvers legal ways to cut benefits and raise annual premiums for health care coverage, then suddenly the household budget becomes tighter and lifestyle changes occur overnight.

For many retirees, part-time work is becoming the answer, and often in jobs they've never done. They need additional income, and low-paying jobs with health care benefits are becoming attractive, competitive considerations. From an employer's perspective, they're getting a lot more for their money than just a year ago, when former executives and specialty personnel demanded higher wages and benefits. For those living with a diminished income stream, desperation dictates that they'll take what they can get.

The term flexibility, or a lack of it, is synonymous with aging. But when used in the context of finding a job, it's proving to be more significant than a distinctive resume.

Many frustrated, over-qualified, older job seekers are utilizing a creative procedure known as dumbing-down a resume to avert the presumption of being too pricey to hire. The quickest, simplest way for accomplishing this fix is by rewriting a resume and highlighting past interests and leisure pursuits resulting in additional skills. With these interests in mind, it's easier to offer valid examples of personal flexibility during job interviews. In this oversaturated job market, forget salary and title demands and concentrate on hearing the phrase, "When can you start the job?"

Those fortunate enough to be in the job force have an advantage when it comes to using another valuable tool — networking. Online resources are necessary, but having direct interaction with others in a field of expertise is most effective. Conversely, retirees that haven't worked for a year or longer typically lose meaningful contacts. That's when job fairs and employer-hosted events become invaluable. Attending these functions with a well-written resume may land an on-the-spot opportunity to sell yourself.

Another formidable challenge for long-term retirees is getting motivated to rejoin the workforce. A fundamental problem is overcoming the fear factor associated with the thought of whether or not you can compete. Those most successful are the ones who are able to shift their perspective to that of excitement about having the opportunity for beginning a new and rewarding career.

Earlier, we touched on reworking a resume by highlighting skills obtained through previous interests and hobbies. A valuable adjunct element is the cover letter. Several years ago, this document was considered unimportant. Things have changed, and the cover letter is essential for several reasons.

Primarily, a cover letter is a genderless, age-neutral summary that focuses on critical elements being sought by a prospective employer. It's now commonplace for a cover letter rather than a resume to result in a job interview. Considerations: 1) customize your cover letter to each job for which you're applying, 2) forego a chronology of specialized job experience; instead, offer recent accomplishments and interests that demonstrate how your skills align with those in the position description, 3) check your grammar and spelling, and 4) submit electronic documents. Use postal mail as a last resort.

When job hunting, age is a barrier or an attribute, depending upon the way you package it.

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