Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Part II: Finding and keeping a job after age 50. First-person tips

Editor's note: Below is a first-person account from a friend of mine about her experience in finding work after losing her long-time professional job at age 56. This is a follow-up to my previous post and provides excellent tips on finding and keeping a new job. Thank you, Cami for your contribution. Julia

Dear sixtyandsingle readers,
You might have to take a circuitous route to get back into the work force after age 50 and since retail jobs are fairly plentiful, start there.

Six months of retail work can help you get considered for all sorts of other positions (and my advice is to keep applying for other jobs by highlighting whatever skills you acquire in the retail environment). To get into retail, focus your one-page resume on the retailer's needs. Bottom line, they want to generate sales and profit, so start your resume with a short, focused statement under your contact info.

Here is an example. It's always a work in progress: "Offering excellent customer service and cashiering skills to generate business for Costco." 

As for qualifications, I list six or seven short bullet points of skills that meet the needs of the job and also describe my personality. Use terms such as "accurate," "well groomed" and "prompt." At the same time, tell the employer you're good at math, a team player, etc.
       Bonded cashier with excellent customer service skills.
       Prompt, organized, and detail-oriented professional; knack for understanding procedures.
       Excellent math, money-handling and computer skills.
       Strong time-management skills; able to prioritize tasks and meet deadlines.
       Efficient problem-solver who can turn complex situations into manageable tasks.

 Next, use the heading: People Skills and list bullet points like these:
     Friendly and empathetic personality with patient listening skills to put patrons at ease.
     Knack for recognizing opportunities to generate positive outcomes.
     Articulate and effective working with people of different backgrounds and temperaments.
     Genuinely enjoy helping people while maintaining a positive, friendly attitude.
     Polite and well versed in traditional customer service, including saying, “Thank you.”
     Exceptional command of English with great writing skills.
     Cooperative team player who will encourage others and go above and beyond job duties.

Use the heading "Education," to list your degrees and where you got them - no need to add dates, if you don't want to, but you'll likely have to list the dates on the online application. If you don't have a BA or associate's degree, list college classes and any courses you took during your career, such as, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Crucial Conversations.

Last, under "Work History," list your previous jobs using your specific employers.
     Cashier, self-checkout, customer service.
     Staff reporter - daily newspaper.
     Communications - non-profit agency.
     Sales Associate - department store.

No need to list the dates here, either - but you can, if you were employed for several years by some of those employers. That shows you'll stay at the job. Again, the online application will ask for the dates. (Fill out all boxes included in online application.)

Keep the cover letter short for retailers. They don't want your life history or how "excited" you are, etc. They'll get all they need from your online application. Plus, most retailers also administer a multiple-choice skills and personality test aimed at finding out how honest you are and whether you're a team player, good with people and have common sense. Piece of cake for us baby boomers.

Also, on the online application, list that you are available for ALL shifts and rearrange your schedule when you get the job.

Sample cover letter:
Dear Hiring Manager,
I am writing to apply for the teller/customer service position at your branch office listed on the Washington WorkSource Web site. I have enclosed my resume for your review and am certain that I can be an asset to the team while striving to meet the goals and objectives for the position.
I respect your time and feel confident that my value, past achievements and ability to contribute are well outlined in my resume. If you feel, as I do, that I would be a significant permanent member of your staff, I would welcome an interview at your earliest convenience. I have listed references to assure you that the information contained on my resume is truthful and accurate.
Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing back from you.
Sincerely, etc.

The interview: When you get an interview, show up well groomed - neat nails, hair, wearing clean and pressed slacks and a blouse. Be there 10 minutes early and smile at front-counter employees (because some of us older gals tend to look like we're frowning when we aren't smiling). You want your potential coworkers to whisper to the interviewer, "Hey, she looks like a good candidate."

Exude energy, walk with confidence and good posture. Retail jobs involve long periods of standing. Let them know you can do it. Showing up early tells them you'll be prompt for work. Remember, you're likely competing with younger people for the job. And ageism is rampant, but the youngsters often don't take as much care in their appearance and they often have tons of tattoos. If you have tats, cover them up.

Prepare for the interview, which will likely consist of a list of "scenario" questions.
Believe me, the interviewers really want actual scenario answers to questions like, "Tell me about a time that you dealt with a difficult customer. How did you resolve the issue." Go into the interview with rehearsed, specific answers to these questions.

"When I worked in (customer service, volunteer work - whatever), I had a customer who was upset because the name-brand product we carried fell apart at the seams. She became very agitated and angry. I let her finish telling me her story with a sympathetic look on my face. Then I explained that our options were to exchange the item or send it out for repair. She ended up being so happy with our store that she came back often and asked for me to help with her selections."

Make sure that your answers do not involve calling in a supervisor. Retailers want to know that you can handle most situations without additional help from overworked staff.

In the new job.
Once you get hired, the real work begins. Invest in the best pair of shoes for standing on concrete. It's imperative. Bring a notepad because you will have to catch on quickly, take every single shift they give you, not call in sick.

Show up early for work, come back on time from your breaks and lunches, and maintain a positive attitude at ALL TIMES. Don't complain - ever. Most retail jobs start out as "seasonal positions." If you want to stay on, you can't call in sick or have a "bad attitude." Show that you can be dependable and you might get hired as a permanent, which gives you something to talk about at your next interview.

Use your ongoing retail experience to apply for better jobs - and keep applying. That retail experience can open the doors to a lot of better-paying positions within companies that might not have considered you before such as bank telling, front-counter jobs with government agencies and call centers. So, keep applying.

Retail allows you to add new skills to your resume, such as up-selling, return processing, internet sales processing, POS transactions, educating self-check-stand customers, processing credit card payments, issuing store credits - all sorts of things.

And you can be picky about other potential positions. Now that I am working at a big home improvement store, I am earning well above minimum wage, plus I have health insurance, a 401k plan and company stock. When I am called for a job interview with another employer, I ask up front about pay potential. If the new job means starting at the bottom again, I turn it down. I am confident that I'll be working in a better position by this time next year.  
Cheers, Cami.

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