Job Search Skills You Need for Your Second-Act Career


Disregarded, ignored, and shut out of the job market. That’s the fate that befalls many of us over 50. Here’s how to bring a fresh approach to your job search, getting back to work, and building your second-act career.

Hell Over 50

The last place you want to be is stuck in is an interview with a millennial recruiter, trying to charm them into seeing you as a great fit for their open position. You know from their thin smile and glazed-over expression that they can’t wait to get you out of their office.

Ageism and misinformation about the value of older workers is a huge problem in the workforce, and to fight back, you’re going to need to up-level your career game to circumvent the obstacles.

The traditional job search skills we were taught long ago no longer apply. Today’s 21st-century jobs marketplace is more fast-paced, more automated, and overloaded with applicants of all ages. Downsizing and layoffs are not just for older workers. In this disrupted economy, everyone at every age is subject to re-orgs, management changes, and shifting business strategies.

But because of ageism and outdated HR policies and practices, older workers are put at a big disadvantage.

Going From “Sought After” to “Supplicant”

One day you’re in, the next day you’re out – with a vengeance. The loss of status is often shocking. A client of mine in his mid-fifties had been CEO of a successful San Francisco ad agency. In what would ironically become the last big deal of his tenure, he arranged for the merger and sale of the agency to a larger company.

Their first move was to fire him.

To his surprise and disappointment, in the ensuing six months, he couldn’t get any traction on landing another job. He had essentially become invisible. He had never had any trouble getting work. His portfolio, contacts, and skill set had always served him well. Now, he was met with blank stares and shrugs. He began to feel like it was his problem that he wanted to keep working. No one flat out said this to him, but he felt as if the message was: “Why are you even trying? You’re done.”

Wrong! You (and my client, who eventually landed) are not “done!”

There is a way for you to go from being hat-in-hand in every conversation with a contact, a hiring manager, or a recruiter, to feeling clear, confident, and decisive about the work that you do, the value that you provide, and the impact that you can deliver.

And get their attention and their consideration.

Why a “Second-Act Career?”

To stay in the game over 50, you really have to look at your next job as the beginning of a new phase in your career – a second-act career.

This is because you have changed and grown significantly as a professional since you first entered the workforce in your 20s, rose up through the ranks in your 30s and 40s, learned significant skills, had some successes, and likely some failures along the way. You now know more than ever. You see the shortcuts to how to get a deal done. You see the pitfalls of a proposed marketing campaign. You see the solutions to a project management problem before anyone else.

As we enter our 50s and arrive at this level of life and work experience, we start to see things differently. We look at life and work with this new perspective, and we get more satisfaction from seeing and understanding the meaning behind what we do. We also take increasing satisfaction in sharing our perspective with others so that they can benefit from it and apply it in their own lives.

You Are More Than Your Resume

You are now a very unique individual with a very unique outlook. You need a way to put all of those career and life achievements to work for you.

It doesn’t matter if you are one of a number of people in your company or in your department who performs the same role. The fact that you have made it to this point means that your achievements, lessons, takeaways, and approaches are uniquely yours. They are and have been molded by the path that you alone have taken. No one else has that particular combination of insights or experiences.

It’s time to start looking at yourself as this unique resource, and to start enumerating all of the ways in which what you do, how you do it, and why you do it, makes you someone who should be taken seriously.

Career Development as Personal Development

You’re familiar with traditional career coaching. It’s a very mechanistic process. Basically, it focuses on your resume and your interview skills. You get someone to draft your resume for you in the format that recruiters are asking for these days, and you sit through a series of mock interviews to prepare for all of the annoying questions that will be thrown your way. And when it comes to networking, which most of us freely admit we hate, your coach will just encourage you to get out there without really helping you overcome your reservations.

Perhaps that’s a little too dismissive. I do recognize the value of these traditional approaches. And they’re not wrong – just outdated. Today’s jobs market requires a more in-depth strategy, especially for older workers.

As an older and more experienced professional, a smarter strategy is to build a strong and articulate sense of conviction around who you are and what you offer. When you’re feeling clearer and better about your abilities, your skills, and your background, you’re going to have an easier time attracting and engaging potential employers, investors for your business, and colleagues to promote you and refer you.

This strong personal foundation informs and guides all of the steps you need to take (and hoops you need to jump through) to get back out into the jobs marketplace and build the traction you need.

I want you to go from being a “job seeker,” to being a “job magnet.”

I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear. – Rosa Parks

Eight Core Job Search Skills

These are the primary skills (maybe they’re skill sets…) that are essential in building a strong personal foundation for the job search process and for building your second-act career.

  1. Keep an Intention Journal. As management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured gets managed.” Use a brief daily hand-written journal to capture your thoughts, plans, strategies, brainstorms – as well as your fears, problems and other issues.
  2. Reframe Limiting Beliefs. You may be holding yourself back without even knowing it. If you find yourself saying things like “That’s not me,” or “That’s not how I work,” or “That’s not how the world works,” you might want to consider re-evaluating your accepted reality. Open yourself up to new ways of thinking and interacting. You might start to notice and consider opportunities that you once ignored.
  3. Recruit Your Board of Directors. Every company has a Board, and so should you. This is the close group of trusted advisors who know you well, and who are solidly in your corner. You’ll try out new ideas, get feedback, and tap into their experience and wisdom to support your process.
  4. Create a Compelling Career Narrative. As I said above, you are a unique individual and a unique resource. It’s time to put pen to paper (figuratively speaking) and draft your “why” story. People want to know who you are as much or more than what you’ve done. This is where your LinkedIn profile becomes an essential tool as the ultimate expression of your unique story.
  5. Define Your Mission: What do you stand for? What are your values? What are your deal-breakers and must-haves? Having (and updating) a mission statement helps you better understand what you want to do so you can prioritize your job search efforts. It also acts as a filter for you to use in evaluating the people you meet, and the companies you’re targeting.
  6. Create an Affirmation. Affirmation statements are statements of “becoming.” If you feel like you’re not where you want to be, an affirmation statement can build your confidence and move you in the direction you want to go. It’s the ultimate expression of the idea that form follows thought and an expression of the power of positive thinking.
  7. Build a Career Relationship Funnel. Having a lot of contacts is a great start to a networking strategy, but you’ve got to be methodical about how you approach them. Prioritize your contacts in terms of how they can help you. But more importantly, use this process to figure out how you can help them. Reciprocity and an attitude of service are the keys to successful networking.
  8. Connect & Engage with Your Community. You are a valuable asset because of your unique background, skills, experience, and insight. Share and comment on social media (at the very least on LinkedIn) and consider cultivating and sharing your views on current issues facing your business. Having a blog or a persistent social feed invites people inside your thought process, and lets them get to know you before they’ve even met you.

Finding Your Tribe

It may seem like a daunting process, and it’s certainly not a quick fix. But it is a solid way to turn the situation around and to circumvent the ageism and other biases that are putting you on the back burner when you should be the first call. Rather than be hat-in-hand, this process will put you back in charge of your career.

You’re not looking to convince everyone to hire you or invest in you or help you. You’re trying to find the people who get you. You’re looking for people who will resonate with your outlook, who will value your experience, and who will, yes, laugh at your jokes.

Your Next Step

The Journal is where it all starts. If you’ve never kept a journal, or you’re skeptical, I encourage you to give it a try. You have nothing to lose, and no one else has to read it! You don’t even have to re-read what you’ve written. Give it a couple of weeks, and I will bet you that you start to come up with ideas, memories, connections, tactics, and strategies that you’ll be able to start using in your life and career.

  1. Buy a simple 8.5×5″ notebook (like this one),
  2. Write one page/day (early morning or late evening when you won’t be distracted),
  3. Write all in one sitting (10-20 minutes max).
  4. Don’t censor yourself. Write whatever comes up – stream-of-consciousness style. If you have nothing to say, write that you have nothing to say. Put random words on the page until your subconscious mind kicks in and you find your flow.
  5. Stick with it! See how long you can keep it going. Don’t break the chain!

Like anything worth doing that is unfamiliar, it takes practice and repetition. Keep going! I know that you will find value, inspiration, solace, and perspective from this journaling process.☺

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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.


  • John Tarnoff: Thank you absolutely gets to the heart of the issue and has given me a lot of new impulses.

    Yes, finding a job for 50-plus is a challenge – today more than ever! And this is despite the fact that the experience of older professionals and their contribution to the success of a company cannot be valued highly enough. The problem is that, in addition to social reservations, younger recruiters or other decision-makers in this case often do not know what they do not know – and therefore usually do not have the ability to correctly assess the contribution of experts 50 plus: The excellent experiential knowledge acquired and constantly developed over many years is complex.

    This special knowledge can only be understood and appreciated if someone also has a corresponding horizon, or is open to recognising the full impact of the assessments, analyses and decisions made on the basis of this experiential knowledge. I have myself experienced a team with an age range of 24 – 62: I was able to observe how appreciative cooperation, respect and the synthesis of different competences and experiences led to extraordinary results – made possible in particular by the brilliance and extraordinary experience of the oldest team member. Diversity and its positive impact on performance also has to do with multigenerationality.

    But: despite their special expertise, the reality of people 50 plus who want to advance their careers clearly demands special strategies!
    And I can only agree with John Tarnoff on all these points: For example, it is elementary to create a kind of sales prospectus for one’s own special, excellent portfolio. For me this is an expertise-profile and is the essence & story of the professional career to date with the core competences, contributions to the company’s success, etc..

    This profile is also the basis for an authentic, appropriate self-marketing strategy, which includes building your own community as part of intelligent, fair relationship management: People who have similar values, who support each other in life and career. And in addition, I can only recommend establishing the small circle that John Tarnoff calls “Board of Directors”: for example, in the form of a mastermind group with collegial mutual advice.

  • Thank you for the encouragement. This is timely as many of us over 55 are being “retired” by our organizations as part of cost cutting for various reasons. For me it is an opportunity to make a great change but I have to sell what I bring. Discouraging because some early career managers will not be open.

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