older job seeker at a laptop

Laid Off and Over 50? Here’s How to Navigate the New World of Job Search


You worked at your previous employer for many years, and now you’ve been laid off and there’s no new job in sight. The world of job search has changed. A lot.

Here are some realities that older job seekers can expect these days, along with advice on how to handle these new realities as you move ahead to your next position!

Less Personal Contact

HR acts as gatekeeper

In the “old days” you could often get lucky by fairly easily contacting the actual hiring manager and fairly quickly getting hired. Maybe you still can talk with the hiring manager because of your connections. But now, the HR Department acts as a buffer between you and the hiring manager.

The HR Department must screen you, even if the Hiring Manager expresses strong interest in you. It’s all about security, corporate and team culture match, detailed job fit, salary expectations, credit and background checks, equal opportunity laws, and other aspects of what make a successful hire.

Stress on Networking

With less personal contact these days with HR and hiring managers, you will need to rely more than ever on social media and a network of your own contacts.

older job seeker networking

Get out and meet people. Talk with people you liked and respected a while back. Talk with family members who are working, and with your old music buddies. Take a former co-worker or boss to lunch. Ask for hiring managers’ names and contact information. Get active on LinkedIn and Facebook. Talk with your alumni association.

Let everyone know you are looking, and give each person a clear picture of what you are looking for so they think of you when hearing of a job opening. Be sure to read our blog post about the importance of networking.

Online Application

Maybe the last time you submitted your resume for a job, you carefully selected the paper stock and typeface, worked hard on the formatting, and dropped it into a mail box. Not these days.

Yes, you can present a nice version of your resume in a face-to-face interview, but initially you might need to submit it online or through email. There are many pitfalls to applying online, not the least of which is that the recruiter might prefer to find the right person through networking and social media!

However, if it appears you are an excellent fit for a particular position, you should apply online as instructed. Not to discourage you, but don’t count on it bringing results; try to find someone to talk with directly about the job.

applying online for a job

Applying online or through email now means you must make the resume professional and appealing without the help of all that desktop publishing flourish, like special fonts, lines or borders. That kind of excess formatting can “confuse” an online application system.

You must also attach your resume in a recognizable format that the system on the employer’s end can open. Sometimes the employer will tell you what format to use. If not, just put it in basic text format, to be safe.

And you must include keywords. Keywords are words that directly pertain to the job, usually related to skills and abilities. The right keywords will help your resume get through the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and into the hands of the HR staff. That is not a guarantee, but it’s a start. Continue to try to make a more direct contact.

Common file formats for your resume are a .doc (a Microsoft Word file) or a PDF. We do not recommend that you upload a PDF version to an employer’s applicant tracking system (ATS), since not all systems can read PDF files. Your resume would most likely get tossed out…and nobody from HR will call you to tell you to submit it in a different format.

By the way, there’s no harm in alerting the person through a voice mail that you responded via email and you just want to confirm he or she received your submittal or follow-up message. Only do that once or twice, though. Again, not to discourage you, but recruiters are very busy and may not get back to you.

You are “Overqualified”

You have many years of experience in a particular field. That’s a good thing, right? But no, now you are “overqualified.” How many job seekers over 50 have heard that?

Overqualified: big fish, small pond

When you apply for a job that appears to be “beneath you,” it can be seen as a red flag. The recruiter might wonder, for example: have you lost your touch, or would you leave the lower level job the minute you found a more suitable one? Would you underperform at the job, being bored? Would you outshine your new boss?

Be sure to subtly address the possible issues, convincing the interviewer that you’re looking for steady advancement, not a rocket ship to the stars. And, be sure to sincerely state that you welcome new challenges and the opportunity to grow with a good company.

Ageism? Maybe Not

Yes, ageism is a reality, but it’s hard to prove. It’s in your own best interest to move on from the idea.

In his article What Does “Overqualified” Actually Mean?, recruiter Dave Fecak says, “I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of a claim of ageism from a candidate that has moved around in their career and stayed current with technology. The problem often isn’t age, it is relevance.”

overcoming ageism when you're over 50

Create an energetic, positive impression so employers won’t think about your age, but will instead notice your value as a potential employee. Subtly demonstrate that you have no interest in retiring any time soon.

A hiring manager or recruiter who sees that you’re taking classes or working toward a professional certification, for example, can see that you know the importance of staying current and learning new things. (Our WIOA training grants may help you upgrade your skills.)

Another way that job seekers over 50 can show their relevance is to maintain an active and professional online presence. Be sure to read our blog post about managing your online brand.

A Long History With Your Previous Employer

It may seem counter-intuitive, but having stayed at one employer for 20 years can work against an older job seeker. You’ll need to work around the prejudices that assume you are stuck in your ways.

Be sure your resume shows that you moved up and around in the company, almost as if regularly changing employers. Show how you respond to ever-changing job demands and how you seek out and/or respond to opportunities to grow and make new contributions.

You, Yourself and the Over 50 You

Consider the possibility that your biggest challenge as an older person looking for a new job might just be you yourself.

So much of your job search success will be determined by how you feel about yourself, and how you “come across” in all of your meetings and communications. You need to set aside your own qualms about being older and having to find a job. Think about it this way: you might actually be more concerned about your age than the person interviewing you.

successful older professional

Focus on your years of experience, on the knowledge and proven track record you have built for yourself. Think of all the people who have enjoyed working with you over the years. Think of the accomplishments you’ve achieved, and the contributions you’ve made. See it all clearly in your mind; show it clearly in your resume.

You can’t do anything about prejudices except prove them wrong through your own behavior, attitude and communications. That’s always been true, from the time you first applied for a job.

Remember when you were “too young,” or didn’t have “enough experience?” Now you are on the other side of the competition. Age and experience can be seen as plusses. As an older job seeker, you can make them work in your favor!

Assistance With Your Job Search

The workNet DuPage Career Center offers many services to help those who’ve been laid off. These services range from workshops, to assistance with your resume, to the possibility of getting up to $10,000 of funding to help you get new skills or certifications.

Learn More about our Job Search Services »