How would you like to be viewed as the #1 Candidate for the job? Think it's impossible once you've hit fifty or older? Think again! Although it's true that older job-seekers face special challenges in today's market, you might be surprised to learn that some of the best ways to successfully compete against younger applicants have little to do with technical skills or physical prowess. Rather, these key strategies rely on good, old-fashioned social skills.
One defining factor remains the same no matter what your age: people get people jobs. Your attitude, the way you present yourself and the contacts you generate are critical determinates of your ultimate success. Here are three simple practices that will go a long way to creating a dynamic, positive presence and help to turn you into candidate #1.
1) Ask for Advice
This may seem counterintuitive, especially for mature job-seekers. Shouldn't you always strive to present yourself as a skilled, self-assured candidate?
It is true that you will want to project an aura of professionalism and confidence. Nevertheless, by asking a contact for advice, a piece of information or their thoughts in general, you will immediately engage them in the conversation. You are also far more likely to make them want to help you. Therefore, consider using one or more of the following examples the next time you interact with your network:
- "I've been looking to expand my target list of companies. Do you have any suggestions or recommendations of organizations that might be a good fit for me and my career goals?"
- "You've got such a visible presence in widget sales, do you have any thoughts on people I might contact to enlarge my network in the field?"
- "Although I pride myself on keeping my skills current, do you have any suggestions for ways I could increase my knowledge base so that I'd be viewed as an even more valuable candidate?"
2) Follow-up with Flair
People love being asked to give their thoughts and opinions. But be certain that you thank your networking contact for their help and advice. Besides displaying your good manners, there's an added bonus to this practice. After letting them know how much you've appreciated their help, you can use this second opportunity to ask them for additional names--thereby enlarging your circle of potential leads:
- "This information has been so helpful, do you know anyone else who might be willing to give me their take on the current marketplace?"
In general, following-up with your contacts in a timely and courteous manner is vitally important to your job search success. People, especially those who have gone out of their way to provide you with either information or networking partners, will appreciate knowing that their time was well spent with you. So, along with your expression of gratitude, list specific ways you have or will follow-up on their suggestions:
- "Thank you for suggesting I contact Mary Marketer. We have an appointment set up for next week."
- "I appreciate your suggestion that I read the article in Salesperson Weekly. I've done so and found it to be extremely helpful."
- End your networking message with "Thanks again and I will keep you apprised of my progress."
That way, you will have opened the door to contacting them from time to time. Later, you can express your ongoing thanks and/or ask for additional help and references. And don't forget that successful relationship building needs to be two-way street. So pay it forward and send articles or other pieces of information that will be of interest to your networking partners.
3) Use Your Network to Maximize Your "Halo Effect"
Nothing can compare with the "Halo Effect" you will enjoy if you are recommended by a trusted colleague, co-worker, employee or friend. Employers want to know as much as possible about applicants so that they can avoid hiring any dreaded bad apples who might spoil their team. Equally, if not more important than work-specific skills, personal traits such as integrity, a willingness to cooperate, and a strong work ethic are prized. These kinds of strengths are assumed if a recommendation comes from someone they trust.
So spend the majority of your job search time on your network! Don't be shy about requesting your contacts' input and support. People feel good about recommending and helping their friends. Even more, this is an area where people over fifty have a decided advantage. You have a lifetime of relationships built up over the years including family, friends, coworkers, customers, clients, fellow club and church members, and professionals you've hired (e.g., doctors, lawyers, CPAs), to name a few. Also, your connections are generally with people close to your own age. Therefore those in your network may hold senior positions and will likely have ties with decision makers in your targeted companies.
Although mature candidates do have negative stereotypes to overcome, you also bring multiple pluses to the job search. You have a well-honed skill set, market knowledge, an extensive personal and professional network, a mature work ethic and much, much more. Despite the realities of the modern job market, people do get people jobs. So use your social skills to your advantage and anticipate success--you just might become candidate #1 and land that great job sooner than you think!
Mary Eileen Williams is a Nationally Board Certified Career Counselor with a Master's Degree in Career Development and twenty years' experience assisting midlife jobseekers to achieve satisfying careers. Her book, Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50, is a step-by-step guide that shows you how you can turn your age into an advantage and brand yourself for success. Updated in 2013, it's packed with even more critical information aimed at providing mature applicants with the tools they need to gain the edge over the competition and successfully navigate the modern job market. Visit her website at Feisty Side of Fifty.com and celebrate your sassy side!