Uplevel Your Job Search Over 50


If you are in an unexpected career transition over 50 and struggling through your job search, you are not alone. 56% of workers over 50 are forced out of their jobs, while only 19% retire voluntarily.

This is according to a Pro Publica/Urban Institute review of the most recent Univ. of Michigan Health & Retirement Study. No wonder your job search is feeling like an uphill battle.  Companies that once welcomed us and promoted us are now turning their backs on us simply because we are older.

While more companies are starting to wake up to the value of older workers, for the most part your job search will be more difficult than ever, and you will likely be out of work for a longer period.

But take heart! There are a number of key paradigm shifts you can adopt in order to take back a measure of control in that job search, and steer your career towards a more positive and rewarding outcome.  The economy has changed, HR has changed, so you must adapt your strategies to keep pace and create opportunities.

Here are three of the top obstacles you are most likely facing:

  1. You’re submitting resume after resume, but not getting even the courtesy of a reply – much less an invitation to an interview.
  2. You’re being told you’re “not a fit,” or “overqualified” for the position, even though you know you can do the job.
  3. In your interview, you go into specifics about what you’ve done in the past that qualifies you for this position, concisely listing your top accomplishments, but it seems to fall on deaf ears.  You don’t get the job.

Here’s what’s going on – and how to fix it.

Your Resume Won’t Get You Hired

The average corporate job posting gets 250 resume submissions – and the first one arrives within three minutes of it being posted. Over 425,000 resumes are posted each week on Monster.com.

Recruiters are overwhelmed with submissions.  Most mid-level corporate jobs are being managed electronically – resumes are scanned for keywords that relate to experience, skills, and other secret ingredients that an employer might be looking for.  Internet services like JobScan will help you optimize your resume to perform better in those scans.

I’m not suggesting you throw out your resume.  A well-worded and well-formatted resume is a key part of your job search process, and the record of your achievements.  But it’s the fact sheet that recruiters and hiring managers will share with their colleagues – once they’ve decided to consider you.

So if your resume won’t get you in the door, how to you get in?

Credit: Adolfo Felix on Unsplash

Cultivate your network!

I had a client who indulged in what I call “open position porn.”  He hated his job, feared that he was going to get fired any day, and would come home at night and spend hours browsing through job postings on Indeed or Monster, fantasizing about these openings on a job search to nowhere.

He would email me pdf. after pdf. of open positions that were all wrong for him. Sure, he could do these jobs.  But they were positions that were all looking for no more than eight or ten years’ experience. He had a Master’s degree and twenty years’experience… No one was going to consider him for these positions.  And, indeed, he never got any responses to his applications.

Why wasn’t he finding open positions that he was more suited for?  Because they were already being filled through networking.

Eight five percent of open positions are filled through referrals, not through resume submissions.  Particularly at more senior levels, where experience and leadership matter more, a hiring manager is going to prefer to hire someone who comes highly recommended by their network vs. someone whose job search brings them in “over the transom” via HR.

As an entertainment executive, when I had an open position, the first thing I did was call my most trusted colleagues and ask: “Who’ve you got for me?”  I never paid much attention to the resumes I got from our own recruiters, and indeed only rarely found viable candidates from that pool because I was meeting pre-qualified candidates through my network.

To learn about and be considered for the positions you deserve – positions that will leverage your wisdom and experience – you have to rely on your current and prospective professional relationships.  Seek out, cultivate, and engage with people who are doing the kind of work you want to do, who can understand and appreciate your value, and who are willing (even excited!) to connect you to other like-minded professionals. Sooner or later, the connections will yield results.

And the results will be longer-lasting.  A position with an organization that is in sync with your outlook, values, and professional approach is a place where you can grow and thrive. You don’t want to be forced into a job/any job. You probably won’t last long and you’ll be back at square one.  It’s like playing Russian roulette with your career.  And remember that statistic:  one third of people who manage to find another job after being forced out over 50 repeat the cycle at least once.

Stop chasing open positions and start chasing relationships.

If your job search includes fantasizing about positions you’re not going to get interviewed for, do what my client did. Get out off the job boards, build a spreadsheet of relevant contacts, and start emailing them.  Use my three step career relationship funnel process to categorize your contacts and get strategic about who can help you achieve you goals.  Not every person in your contact list is an asset.  And different people have different value. Some may be great connectors, some may be great problem solvers.  Some may be people you want to nurture and cultivate for the future.  And once you get to the end of your current list, get out there and meet more people.

Your Experience is Overrated 

“What?! I’ve spent twenty, thirty or more years doing great things.  My experience defines me!”

In principal, you’re right.  But as they say in the financial services business: past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Today’s business climate is changing too fast. What served you well in your previous job may not work in the next one. A prospective employer wants to know how you can help them today.

Putting undue emphasis on your background and experience may backfire in an interview with a recruiter or hiring manager:

  1. They stand a good chance of being intimidated by you.  You’ve done so much.  You know so much.  They are likely quite a bit younger than you, and might wonder how willing you will be to take direction in this position.  Will you be willing to adopt new practices? Are you too set in your ways?
  2. By focusing on what you’ve accomplished, you’re talking about yourself and you’re talking about the past.  You’re not addressing them, their concerns, or the challenges they’re facing now.

Turn it around. Focus on the future and focus on them.  They’ve invited you in because they already know you’re experienced. Your task is to put them at ease, and make the interview all about them.  Engage them on what’s going on in the company right now, and ask plenty of questions about how they’re strategizing for the future. Your questions should reveal that you understand how the company operates.  Make suggestions or reference possible solutions, but let them ask you to go into detail.

Only then should you talk about how you used this particular idea to solve a problem in the past, and how you would update it to apply to the current opportunity.

We Have a Higher Bar to Clear

With age comes experience and wisdom, but also greater expectations.  If we’re applying to jobs we did ten years ago, we’re going to lose out to candidates who have ten years less experience (and who are likely ten years cheaper).

We have to update our sense of what we can do and what we want to do.  We have to reflect more seriously on who we are at this time in our lives. What are we best at doing? What value can we provide? What transformation(s) can we effect? How useful can we be?

Your honest answers to these questions will likely move your job search into a new orbit around the work that you do.  Your updated professional identity will provide potential employers, investors, and networking contacts with an impressive and authentic value proposition they’re going to want to support and promote.

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John Tarnoff is an executive and career transition coach, speaker, and author who supports mid and late-career professionals in defining, planning, and achieving more meaningful and sustainable careers.

Fired 39% during his 35 years as a film producer, studio executive and tech entrepreneur, he learned how to turn setbacks into successes in a volatile business. He reinvented his own career at 50, earning a master’s degree in counseling psychology to share his career lessons with others going through similar challenges.

Since leaving entertainment in 2010, John has coached individuals, groups, and led career workshops for university alumni, including for UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Corporate coaching clients have included Bank of America, Bridgewater Assoc., Levi-Strauss, Softbank, TD Ameritrade, and Thrive Global.

He is the author of the best-selling Boomer Reinvention: How to Create your Dream Career Over 50 and has been named a Top Influencer in Aging by PBS/NextAvenue.


  • Savvy words John. I’ve followed your advice and I can see the results. I look forward to other blogs and pieces of advice.

  • What works for 50 plus me personally is an entrepreneurial mindset that puts an army of talented 50 plussers to work with “newer-think” approaches that leverage phenomenal competitive advantage and that eat the aegist corporate establishment’s lunch. Developing your own e-mail list and building relationships of trust and authority with your content and managing this with Customer Relationship Management tools and strategies WORKS. BRAVO! John Tarnoff!

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