Navigating the workforce in your 50s and beyond

We all remember that ubiquitous (and basically awful) car commercial from the 1980s, promising “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” The tagline has since been applied to just about everything that’s new and different, including the evolving concept of retirement. In the case of retirement, though, it’s literally true — and becoming more so every day. Your father had canasta; you have canoeing and kayaking. Your father had a strong pension; you have peanuts. Your father had 10 or 15 years of retirement to fund; you may have 20 or more.

All of that may help explain why a recent AARP survey of boomer-age voters found that nearly three-fourths of working boomers believe they will probably be forced to delay retirement. Half of them doubt they’ll ever be able to retire. Because so many of us are (wisely, I think) seeking to wring every last minute out of our working careers, AARP has made it a priority to help older workers find employment, through initiatives such as

As we’ve worked with 50-plus job-seekers over the years, we’ve found that they have myriad questions about how best to market their skills and experience in today’s competitive job market. We’ll even be addressing many of these questions in a free live webinar this month, which you can find at In the meantime, here’s a snapshot of the types of questions we get, and the best answers we have.

How does an experienced worker compete for work against a recent college graduate?

It’s often hard for employers to replace the wide skill set of an experienced worker with that of a new college graduate with little to no work experience. In addition there are several “soft” skills that employers often say they value in experienced workers, such as better communication skills, better work ethic and lower attrition.

You should highlight the breadth of your experience in your resumes and interviews, but provide specific examples of how you’ve applied those secret weapons to solve a relevant problem for your previous employer.

Um, can you give me an example of an employer who really believes that?

I’m glad you asked! AARP and the Society for Human Resource Management have a biennial awards program, called “Best Employers for Workers Over 50,” that highlights employers that recruit experienced workers and retain them by offering a good workplace culture, solid health and retirement benefits, and flexible work options. Visit to learn more about the program and get acquainted with our 2011 winners. In late June, we’ll post the 2012 winners.

Also, make sure to check out AARP’s Work Reimagined program with LinkedIn, which connects experienced job seekers with peer networks and with job openings at more than 160 employers that have signed a pledge indicating they value mature workers and have immediate hiring needs. Using the LinkedIn website, you can find job openings near you and a list of your friends or contacts who have connections at those companies.

How do I create different resumes for different positions I’m applying to? Should I post them all online?

An attention-getting resume conveys your personal brand — the unique combination of skills, achievements and abilities that shows you’re an outstanding candidate for a particular job. Make sure you tailor your resume to the specific jobs you’ve targeted. Don’t send the same one to hundreds of employers.

Another helpful tip? Use the exact keywords and language that the employer used in the job posting — especially when submitting your resume online — or your resume may not make it through the company’s automated filters.

Does it make sense to make a career change later in life?

The process of re-inventing yourself is revitalizing — and it may be the smartest course of action if you’re in a dying field.

Start by identifying your skills and passions — we’re talking about the very essence of what makes you, you. At> , you can get a little help with identifying your passion and figuring out which jobs, industries and environments would harness that fire.

How about starting your own business? AARP and the Small Business Administration are working together to provide counseling and training to budding entrepreneurs who want to start or grow a small business. Visit to learn more.

I’m not getting any responses to my applications, what should I do?

• Are you treating your job search as a full-time job? You should be. Develop a search strategy, create a home office for executing your search, and try to spend four to six hours each day on specific tasks related to your search.

• Are you tempted to “throw everything at the wall to see what sticks”? It’s important to know your skills and match them to a specific industry and specific types of jobs   within that industry. At that point, consider all available options, whether full-time, part-time, contract, work-at-home or even seasonal employment. Sometimes, just getting in the door will lead to a more permanent opportunity.

• Are you “pounding the pavement”? Attend events and career fairs, and work with your school’s alumni career center.

• Do you need to focus on the trees for once, rather than the forest? Make sure your resume translates your years of experience into specific skills and accomplishments that will grab the attention of recruiters.

• Do you feel like your “age” is holding you back? You may want to target your employment search to companies that value mature workers.

• Are you feeling a little lonely during your search? Use social media sites to connect with colleagues and prospective employers, and join AARP’s Work Reimagined group  on LinkedIn to network with peers and find answers, advice, inspiration and job opportunities.

• If you’re getting interviews but no offers, focus on how you present yourself. In mock interviews with friends, focus on how you’ve applied your relevant skills in the past, and the outcomes of those situations. Practice relaxation, and make sure that your frustration isn’t coming across in your interviews. It might also be the time to update or refresh your look and wardrobe  .

• If you still find yourself truly “stuck,” consider talking to a career counselor.

Check out AARP’s free webinars, available online at, for more helpful tips & advice.

Jean C. Setzfand is vice president of the Financial Security team in the Education and Outreach group at AARP. She leads AARP’s educational and outreach efforts aimed at helping Americans achieve financial ‘peace of mind’ in retirement. She can be reached at or on Twitter at @JSetz.