Job-hunting in your golden years

Experts say we need to work as long as we can. Getting hired is a challenge, but it’s possible.

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 2/19/20

Go ahead and search “job hunting tips for seniors.”

The internet will give you lots of suggestions, from “don’t be lazy” (Thanks, internet!) to “use Indeed and …

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Job-hunting in your golden years

Experts say we need to work as long as we can. Getting hired is a challenge, but it’s possible.

Posted

Go ahead and search “job hunting tips for seniors.”

The internet will give you lots of suggestions, from “don’t be lazy” (Thanks, internet!) to “use Indeed and Glassdoor.”

Then you read on to discover countless horror stories of age discrimination. The rapidly shifting job landscape is confusing, and you’re left asking if a senior can even get a job these days.

Yes, they can, says Francis McKenna, senior director at PathStone, a nationwide community services organization.

Why it matters

The average Social Security benefit for a retired worker, says www.ssa.gov, is $1,503 per month. Medicare has copays and treatments it doesn’t cover. Food can be expensive. Housing, utilities, taxes... the list of expenses goes on.

Not everyone relies just on Social Security, of course. Choices magazine pointed out that 20.7 percent of households aged over 55 have pensions, and 20.6 percent of those people are in rural areas. The average pension contributes $19,000 to a senior’s life.

But pensions are underfunded to the tune of trillions of dollars and can go bankrupt (see www.bit.ly/TRRpension
crisis and www.bit.ly/TRRunderfunded
pensions). The money we thought would be there for us might not be, and rising costs eat away at Social Security; financial advisors recommend working as long as possible. That’s great, especially if you’re in a city where there are lots of jobs to be had and it’s less hard to find one that fits your physical condition.

Out here in the countryside, it might be trickier, but finding a job is possible.

PathStone offers answers for the unemployed senior

PathStone helps people with everything, from housing and education to food and health. Its mission is to guide those it helps toward self-sufficiency and that includes job training for low-income people aged 55 and over—part of PathStone’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP).

“It’s for folks who are having difficulty getting back into the workforce,” said the 62-year-old McKenna, who is based in Bradford, PA. His region includes Wayne and Pike counties. 

“We compassionately support seniors on their way to employment,” added PathStone’s Regional Administrator Robert Jones, who covers a region including Orange and Sullivan counties.

And compassion is the key. Seniors re-enter the workforce for a number of reasons: finances became strained, a spouse died, or they took on caring for other family members. Whatever the reason, sometimes life happens and the money just doesn’t go far enough. There are barriers to be overcome, but it can be done; people just need a little support.

Hence, PathStone. The program works with local agencies to get its clients paid work experience, which teaches job skills. In Pennsylvania, they earn $7.25 an hour for a 15 hour week or $11.80 in New York. “It keeps the wolf away from the door while they’re trying to get back on their feet,” McKenna said. They match the client’s skills with what’s available, but the reality is, our abilities change over time. “Sometimes they have to think along a different line.”  After they gain work experience, the seniors can transition into regular employment.

Jones and McKenna list placing seniors in local businesses as part of their many successes. Sometimes the work is clerical, sometimes it’s food service or janitorial. “Bus monitors, school bus drivers,” said Jones. Sometimes it’s being a companion to someone in poor health. “It’s not nursing or aides,” McKenna said. “It’s a little cooking, help with errands.” Just being there is something that can make a huge difference in the lives of everyone involved.

Other seniors can find work too

At the moment, program funding is focused on low-income seniors since that’s where the greatest need is, although often some types of income are excluded, so it’s worth calling PathStone even if you don’t think you qualify.

Still don’t qualify? Don’t despair. I talked to job-search consultant, and long-time friend of mine, Susan Rich, who is also the author of “How to Write a Kick-Butt Resume Cover Letter.” We came up with a list of suggestions, based on her expertise and my experience as an almost-senior trying to find work.

Network: Talk to people and put the word out that you’re looking. We’ve all been job-hunting at some point, and people get it. They like to help.

Look around: What needs doing? Do your skills match?

Tweak your resume: Use your most recent work experience, concentrate on what’s relevant to the job you’re applying for, and keep it short. “One page if it’s a general job,” Susan says. “No more than two if you are re-entering the work world.”

Soft skills might be more valuable than hard skills, she adds. The latter are teachable, but the ability to manage people or money? That’s experience talking. If you have those skills, say so. “Good at customer service? Definitely say so.”

Determine whether you need a class or to pass a test. (See the community colleges and cooperative extensions in the sections below.) It’s less expensive than a four-year degree and might be all that you need. Think through the budget impact of student loans before you sign on, though.

Complete a self-assessment: How are you, physically? What are you good at? How far are you comfortable traveling, especially in winter? How is your internet access?

Buy a paper: Read the classifieds. Check online. Sites like Monster and Indeed may be less useful here in the country.

If you use online job search services, check reviews from a number of sites first. In fact, “check the reviews of any business you might want to join,” says Susan. “Look for three-star ratings. Highs and lows are suspicious.”

Clean up your social media platform: “What’s true for 20-somethings is true for you,” she says. If there’s something controversial in your social media, get rid of it or make it inaccessible to casual searches. Susan recommends using LinkedIn, where there are numerous senior groups for advice and leads.

Watch out for scams, and if you don’t need to earn money immediately, volunteer first (see sections below).

Be open to new experiences: You may not be able to get back into your field. You may have to park your pride and do something very different, but “something very different” means an opportunity to learn new skills. “Your job is not you,” Susan stresses. “It is not your identity.” 

Seniors know that some things are easier with age, but job hunting isn’t one of them.

Yes, there is prejudice and yes, senior job hunting can feel like you’re climbing a mountain with senior legs. But work provides more than money; it can give you a reason to keep going and to feel valued. 

Why hire seniors?

They’re loyal.

They work hard.

They’re not looking to move on; they stay.

They show up early and work late.

They’ll work shifts that young workers can’t, like mid-day.

They have life experience, so they keep a situation in perspective.

 “They bring a world of knowledge and they bring life skills,” McKenna said.

The challenges

Of course, it’s not all roses.

There is ageism, McKenna said, where seniors “are not perceived as people who have something to contribute.” Employers fear that seniors are hard to train. Scams target job hunters of all ages.

Transportation is a significant problem in rural counties like Wayne, McKenna and Jones agreed, so initial meetings can be held in a public place (like a library) near a senior’s home if they can’t make the trek to the office. Sullivan’s new bus service also helps and is working on expanding to more outlying areas.
Sometimes they’re caring for grandchildren or an ill spouse.
Preconceptions about senior health linger. Some of it is real: Health can limit types of work or hours. Some of it is prejudice: Seniors can be perceived as frail, said McKenna, “but they will come through a blizzard to get to that job.”

(from PathStone and from around the web)

Be careful of scams

From pyramid schemes to the direct-deposit scam, there are so many ways for a job-hunter to be victimized. Clichéd but real: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Never give your personal financial information out, don’t pay for your training and check multiple sources online for information about the job.

Unfortunately, low-income seniors are seen as more desperate, and the scam artists are taking advantage. Be extra careful. It’s worth calling your local office or agency for the aging if you aren’t sure.  (See gateways section below.)

For more info:
www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0243-job-scams 
www.career.arizona.edu/jobs/avoiding-employment-scams 
www.thebalancecareers.com/list-of-fake-job-scam-examples-2062168 

From Caryn Mathews at the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), Monticello, NY.

The benefits of volunteering

You acquire new skills.

Make new contacts.

Get a feel for today’s work environment.

Gain in-depth knowledge about a specific cause (especially helpful if you want to work in that field).

Improves your LinkedIn profile.

Shows you’re staying engaged in the work world; you just aren’t getting paid for it. Employers want to see that you’re involved.

Boosts your self-confidence immeasurably.

Gateways to senior employment

Start by networking. Ask working seniors if there are openings at their job. Visit your local library, which holds resources and knowledgeable staff who can guide you in the right direction. They know the most reliable internet sources, and library computers will get you there.

Here are the places and numbers you need to find help:

PathStone

In Northeast, PA: 814/362-1855

Middletown, NY (covers Sullivan County): 845/343-0771

Community colleges and Sullivan BOCES will teach new skills. There are online classes, too.

NCC: www.northampton.edu, 610/861-5300

SCCC: www.sunysullivan.edu, 845-434-5750

BOCES: www.scboces.org, 845/294-4152

Our cooperative extensions offer certification training and much more.

Penn State Cooperative Extension: 570/253-5970 x4110

Cornell Cooperative Extension: 845/292-6180

Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) in New York: 845/807-0251

RSVP in Pennsylvania: 570/253-4262

For more information and other help:

Wayne County’s Agency on Aging: 570/253-4262

Sullivan County’s Office for the Aging in Sullivan County: 845/794-3000 x0241

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