There is no shortage of age discrimination in the labour market. In my capacity as a Job Developer/Coach at JVS Toronto, I have worked with countless of our unemployed and underemployed clients who belong to the “mature worker” category — anyone over 50 years old. Many talented job seekers from this group have reported cases of age discrimination that have resulted in unfairly not getting a job offer. The challenges facing these demographics can be daunting as I have met individuals who have been out of the workforce for at least 30 years, or have been stay-at-home moms raising children and are grandparents or are forced to return to work due to widowhood and new financial problems. I cannot imagine what it is like to be forced to return to the competitive labour force after an absence of over 30 years due to financial concerns intensified by widowhood.
I have observed that such clients, who have not looked for work for a while, often do not have a suitable resume or cover letter and do not always have the computer or social media skills required in today’s labour market. Needless to say, the job hunt is overwhelming and causes tremendous stress and anxiety, and the labour market has significantly changed since the last time these clients have looked for work. Whereas such job seekers might not have the up-to-date computer skills, many definitely have invaluable transferable skills, such as excellent customer service, coordinating, and multi-tasking abilities, to name a few. Their extensive past work history means that they do have an in-depth understanding of a specific sector and I have no doubt that they could be responsible, reliable and trustworthy employees.
The following six strategies have been useful in my work to help this client group with securing employment, and dealing with possible age discrimination:
1. Do not look for work alone.
Job seekers of all ages in Ontario can register with an Employment Ontario centre closest to their home. JVS has five such Employment Source Centres, located throughout the city, which provide a range of job search skills, free of charge for eligible job seekers. Call our intake line at the location nearest your home and secure an appointment with the counsellor. Consider attending job search workshops (to learn such skills such as resume writing, interviewing or using LinkedIn), as well as career decision making workshops which would help clarify your current skills, experiences, and strengths, as well as your possible limitations (what is needed to learn to become more competitive) to ensure that you have selected a realistic employment goal.
2. Brush up on your computer skills.
One of the biggest concerns I hear from employers about older workers is about their computer skills. It’s an especially good idea for older job seekers to make a special effort to gain or update computer skills. It doesn’t have to be expensive — there are short courses online (look for the continuing education departments of the community colleges in Ontario, who offer courses via OntarioLearn, or the free courses offered on sites such as GCFLearnFree, at the local community centre or the adult education centre nearby. To figure out which skills are needed, seek out suitable job postings online, and figure out which computer skills are most often listed as required qualifications. Generally, skills such as Microsoft Office (especially Word and Excel), as well as social media (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) are often needed by employers.
3. Research the labour market in your field to gain sector knowledge.
Consider joining professional associations, clubs, sector-specific groups, to network and gain industry knowledge and information regarding your target field.
Look up job postings in your target field — sign up for job alerts with sites such as Indeed, and review the job postings that come into your email inbox, to read the job descriptions as well as volume of the jobs in your field.
Set up a good LinkedIn profile, research other professionals who are employed in your field in the local market and connect with them. Review their work history, education, training, etc. This information should give you a sense of how fellow built their careers and where they are now. Join groups in LinkedIn; research the ones which are appropriate for your sector and industry.
Try to meet with relevant colleagues for information interviews, where you can learn more about the companies and meet people in your field.
4. Set goals and develop a plan.
“Go to the market” suggests Tudor Robins in one of her fantastic 10 Tips for Making a Successful Career Change in Canadian Living magazine. She is adamant that career changers need to get out and make contacts. Develop a project plan for your career change, complete with 30, 60 and 90 day goals to keep your search on track. Focus about 30 percent of your efforts on “public” positions — those posted in want ads or on job boards — and spend the rest of your time exploring opportunities you find through research and your network.
While you in the process of learning about careers and gaining skills, try to start building your resume on your own. Contact the volunteer managers or even the executive directors of the organizations that you have identified in your research. Cold call the individual and ask for opportunities to contribute (research the organization and employees on LinkedIn and Google, etc, if possible before you call).
As I suggest to anyone who is struggling with job search, and gaining experience and references, approach the volunteer coordinators with an idea that you will do the jobs which no one likes to do. This is no time to be proud. Do whatever it takes to get your foot in the door and start by building a reputation that you are a “Go-To” person. Get noticed through volunteering!
You would be surprised how quickly the word spreads quickly. Once you prove yourself to your supervisor and team where you volunteer, you can start asking for more related work in your field. Be flexible regarding your volunteer tasks. This is a great strategy to network, secure some concrete and relevant experience on your resume, learn about your field, gain some references and be engaged in your field of choice and start building your career.
6. Keep busy.
Keep a structure in your daily life while you look for work; use an online calendar or your day-timer. Break the day down into hours. Each hour should be dedicated to a different activity related to achieving your dream career goal. For example, from 8:30 – 9:30 am: check your emails, 9 – 10 am: respond to the emails, between 10 – 11 am: research companies. After lunch, use the afternoon to cold-call for information sessions with professionals in your field. You can work at your desk at home, or you can work at the library. Insert time for a break and meal time. I recommend always getting dressed up as if you were going to work. Don’t hang around in your pyjamas. Get out as much as possible from your home. Participating in programs such as those offered by JVS`s Employment Sources locations will help — attend job search workshops, receive individual employment counselling, and access to employer information sessions and job opportunities in your field.
“It’s important to remember that that time flies quickly”, says JVS Employment Counsellor, Karin Lewis. Don’t get stuck in the trap of your fears related to returning to school, or changing your career. “If you don’t do this now, you will have regrets, which will probably be more painful and difficult than actually pursuing your dream job. I often see clients come back a year after meeting me for the first time, still not having made any progress, lamenting how far they might have come by now, if they had taken that big step already”.
Together with an Employment Counsellor, you can prepare a suitable resume based on your current skills and experience. I suggest that you clarify how many hours you can work, your realistic salary expectations, and how far you will travel for work. Make sure you have a telephone number with a voicemail and a professional message while you are looking for work. Once you learn the basics of computers including emails, create a professional email as well. These are the preferred ways of communication of employers these days. Once you have a resume targeted to your employment goal, and understand the interview and the hiring processes, you can hit the road by dropping into retail stores, and accessing job opportunities at JVS.
What could be an overwhelming and scary event — the search for work — can become manageable once you prepare for it with the support of an employment counsellor, regardless of your age or stage.
Joanna Samuels B.Ed. (Adult Education), M.Ed., CMF, CTDP, RRP is a certified Life Skills Coach, and certified Personality Dimensions Facilitator who works at JVS Toronto as a Job Developer/Job Coach/Workshop Facilitator. Also, Joanna is a part-time instructor of employment counselling with people with disabilities at George Brown College.