While unemployment figures have dropped over the past few months, Australians continue to face significant barriers to employment — particularly those over 55, as they experience much longer periods of unemployment than others.
According to the Department of Employment, as of September 2017, the average duration of unemployment for people aged 55 years and over is 70 weeks, compared with 51 weeks for 25-54 year olds.
“Mature age Australians bring a lifetime of skills and experience to the workforce. It is critical for both the individual and economy that this experience isn’t lost if older workers find themselves out of work,” a spokesperson for the Department of Employment says.
So, how can you market yourself in the modern workforce to leverage your age as an asset rather than a liability?
Greg Goudie, Executive Director of DOME, a not-for-profit employment service for mature age unemployed and disadvantaged people in South Australia, shares some of his tips to help you get ahead of the pack.
1. Tap into your network
Using the network of contacts you have built up can help fast-track your job search. “Get in touch with those people — anyone you’ve worked with in the past — and just let them know that you’re looking for work. These people might know of a job that comes up somewhere else. Using your network is one of the main things,” says Goudie.
2. Fine-tune your résumé
Six seconds is the average amount of time a recruiter or employer will spend looking at your résumé, so the way you present your CV and the details you include are important. Include keywords that clearly highlight your skills and past responsibilities, and add numbers and metrics where possible. “Your résumé doesn’t have to be a huge document but make sure the spelling is correct, and the layout is neat and clean,” he adds.
3. Don’t hide your age
“One of things people do is hide their age and, in a lot of cases, employers are looking for experience and qualifications or certification,” says Goudie. “People tend to leave things out of their résumé because they might look too old, but that only works up to a point in time until you get into the interview, and then people are going to ask questions: What are you hiding?”
Limit your job history to more recent years but don’t be afraid to mention older experience that is still relevant. Celebrate your age! Showcase the qualities most valued in mature age workers: your credibility, your network of contacts, your decision-making abilities, your strong work ethic, and your adaptability to change.
Using professional social networks can broaden your career opportunities
4. Offer more than just your experience
“The next step is for those that don’t have good computer skills or IT skills to learn, and help develop something for themselves,” advises Goudie. Upskilling or retraining in your field of interest is a growing trend for those on the other side of 50. There are a number of flexible online courses and government-funded programs that can assist you in furthering your career.
5. Use online resources
Doing your research, and utilising online networks such as LinkedIn, can help you better understand the companies you are interested in working for. “Look at different businesses and see what sort of people — or what sort of occupations — these businesses employ, and that way, you can tailor your application,” says Goudie. “The internet is probably one of the key areas to get as much information about employment opportunities as possible.”
6. Make an impression
Goudie suggests taking a more direct approach to businesses you are interested in working for, which is to literally knock on their doors. “Some people like to take the easy road by sending off a résumé, but that just puts you amongst the pack of people that might already be doing the same thing,” he says. “Front up to the business — even if you just talk to the receptionist, you’ve at least put your face in front of the people and that almost puts you one step ahead of anyone else that might be applying for a job.”
The challenge and the opportunity
According to PwC’s 2016 Golden Age Index report, if Australia increased the workforce participation of people aged 55 and over, it could boost the economy by up to $78 billion, which represents 4.7 per cent of GDP. Nevertheless, these workers are experiencing barriers at different stages of employment including recruitment, retention, and re-entering the workforce.
“It’s a battle to convince society and employers that these people aren’t sitting, waiting to fall off the perch, as the saying goes. They’re actually deadset keen and, in a majority of cases, very physically fit and capable of doing pretty much any work that’s out there,” says Goudie.
In the 2017-18 Budget, the government announced a $110 million investment in the Mature Employment Package, which includes a career assistance program to help out-of-work mature age Australians reskill, improve digital literacy, and better capitalise on job opportunities in their local area. In addition, programs and services such as jobactive, What’s Next and Restart provide help for older Australians returning to the workforce.
“The Restart wage subsidy program provides eligible employers with a subsidy of up to $10,000 over six months, if they hire a job seeker 50 years of age or older, who has been unemployed and on income support for six months,” says a Department of Employment spokesperson.
While Goudie says these government incentives are valuable in offering people over 50 extra assistance in getting a job, he does not think a payout for employers addresses the ingrained issue of age discrimination.
“Sometimes, it can also be seen as a negative by employers, in that if you’re willing to pay me to take these people on, what’s wrong with them?” he says. “The government needs to back it up with the facts that these people are employable, they’re worthwhile, [and] they’re of value to your business.”
What resources have you used when job hunting?