America’s workforce is aging. According to the U.S. Department of Labor statistics, by 2019, more than 40% of Americans aged 55 and older will be employed, comprising over a quarter of the U.S. labor force. Several demographic and cultural changes contributed to this situation. First is the sheer number of “Baby Boomers” in the workforce, many of whom who don’t consider themselves “old” and ready to retire. Second, a smaller generation is coming behind, creating a shortage of younger workers to replace them. Furthermore, with people living longer, healthier lives, many older workers remain in the workforce longer.
Some employers hold negative stereotypes about older workers, but a 2015 AARP found that the facts don’t support their concerns. Results showed that older employees offer more experience, better judgment and a stronger commitment to quality, are more reliable with regard to attendance and punctuality, and have lower turnover. In addition, they bring real world experience, an established work ethic, a record of previous successes, and an understanding of the bigger picture.
If you are a more mature job seeker, the key is to present yourself as a “value-added” candidate.
Stay up to date
While you have the same legal education as younger lawyers, as an older candidate, you also must keep up to date on technology. Get additional computer training, if necessary. The reality is that technology is changing so rapidly that everyone’s skills need constant updating. You also need to stay abreast of what’s going on in the dynamic legal marketplace. Read the legal press and blogs, scan your LinkedIn news feed regularly, and surf the web. Get involved or remain active in professional organizations.
When writing your resume, focus on what is relevant to the position being sought. Separate legal and non-legal experience, and briefly summarize your pre-law career if you had one. Include dates for your JD and all positions held since you earned your law degree. Leaving dates off your resume doesn’t fool anyone and can work to your detriment. Avoid aging yourself, however, by the use of phrases such as “X years of experience”.
List hobbies relevant to the position or that show you’re fit and energetic, but omit those that show your age. Include any activities or memberships that may have business development potential. Show your e-mail address and cell phone number, which are expected at this point. Likewise, list your technical skills but exclude obsolete technologies such as shorthand or typing speed. Leave off personal information such as marital status, children, height, weight, and health.
As an older job seeker, in interviews it’s especially important to carry yourself with good posture, energy and vitality. Make eye contact, give a firm handshake, sit up straight, and look alert. Eat and sleep well beforehand. Your appearance should be contemporary, but neither too “hip” nor staid. It’s best to stick to classics, but watch hemlines, lapel and tie widths. Women, you should update hair and makeup. And, men, please, no comb-overs or obvious toupees! It’s fine to cover the gray, but aim for a natural look.
Your attitude also is very important. Be confident, upbeat, and optimistic, not defensive or a victim, nor condescending or a know-it-all. Remember to listen, and answer directly and honestly. Use up-to-date terminology, including tech-jargon, if appropriate. Don’t use outdated expressions (such as “girl” or “gal” in reference to women), or reminisce about “back then”, “when I started out”, or “in my many years of experience”.
Your top priority is to communicate your interest in the position and your desire to contribute to your prospective employer’s success. Counteract any negative stereotypes your interviewer might have regarding more mature job seekers by giving examples of your teamwork, flexibility, innovation, and creativity, ability to learn new things and work in different and changing environments, your ability to work long hours, and to get along with a variety of people. Use recent illustrations so as not to date yourself. Stress (if appropriate) your record of attendance and punctuality. Focus on your concrete skills and experience relevant to the job, and keep it professional; don’t reveal personal information.
Describe your technological savvy. Mention your sports or exercise activities to emphasize your physical fitness and stamina. Highlight your enjoyment in learning new skills and taking on new challenges. Mention your long-term professional goals so they know you plan on working for many more years. Describe your business development potential, such as memberships, network of contacts and, if you have done so, the fact that you built a business previously.
Prepare for sticky situations
Anticipate and practice answers to tough questions and techniques for handling awkward situations. For example, if asked your age, don’t be defensive or apologetic. First of all, it’s an illegal question. But, better than pointing out that fact, ask what their concerns are, then address those issues. Remember, humor is always a good for diffusing an uncomfortable situation.
If the interviewer is younger than you are, don’t remark on it! Also, don’t assume that youth means inexperience or lack of knowledge. Remember, the interviewer is in a position of power and authority, and treat him or her with the respect due to an equal or superior. Take the interviewer seriously; don’t condescend or lecture, nor be overly informal or familiar. Remember not to refer to people or events that the interviewer is too young to relate to.
If asked whether you’d be comfortable working for a younger person, stress your enjoyment in working with people of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Give examples, if possible. State that you respect ability, regardless of age of the person, and that you believe that age has no bearing on leadership skills. Emphasize that you enjoy learning new things, and can learn something valuable from each person you meet, regardless of age or background.
If your interviewer remarks that you may be overqualified, state that you’re “fully qualified”, and describe how your experience fits the job sought. Mention only experience relevant to the position, not all of your experience. And, avoid phrases such as “my many years of experience”.
If your chronological age isn’t typical for your law school graduation date, state that you have X years of legal experience and expect to be treated the same as other attorneys in your class year. Let them know that you anticipate the same compensation, billing requirements, assignments, status/title, years to partnership, evaluations and feedback, and to be judged by the same standards to compete equally with others at your level of seniority.
If there’s a gap in your career, for health or family reasons for example, briefly and factually state the reason and describe how that situation has changed. Emphasize that you’re ready to fully commit to your career and describe what relevant activities you did during that time, if any. If appropriate, describe skills you gained, such as budgeting, management, prioritizing, etc., and mention leadership roles you held. Also explain how you kept current with business issues and technology trends during your hiatus by reading trade blogs, participating in professional organizations, taking courses, or doing free-lance work, and the like.
If questioned about a long tenure with a previous employer, state that your record shows commitment, loyalty, stability, and a strong work ethic. Stress that your career wasn’t stagnant during that time, however. Discuss your growth, promotions, new skills and functions, and describe your contributions and track record.
If you had a career prior to law, be prepared to explain how and why you made the change. Say, if appropriate, that you were seeking new challenges. Mention what you like about the law, and how your previous experience built relevant skills for your legal career. Communicate your long-term career goals and stress a positive desire to work hard in the position you’re seeking.
Maturity as an advantage
And, finally, if asked why you want to work for that particular employer, use your maturity to your benefit in answering. Say, “Through my previous work experience (but not ‘many years of experience’), I learned what is important to me . . . .” Before your interview, really give thought to the type of environment that best suits you and your long-term goals, career and otherwise. Consider your lifestyle and family and financial obligations. Use your hard-earned self-knowledge, wisdom, and realism, bolstered by research (talking to contacts, surfing the net, etc.) to choose a firm or organization that really fits you. Then, be prepared to express to a prospective employer why it is a fit for you and for them, and how you, better than any other candidate of any age, can contribute to their success. Show them that, as an older but wiser job seeker, you are a “value-added” candidate.