By Rebecca Hawk
The job search process is rarely seamless, and for older workers, it’s often compounded by negative stereotypes about their abilities and motivation.
Ken Schoppmann, CAE, is a longtime ASAE member with experience working at both trade and professional associations—and, in recent years, as an older worker in a career transition.
Schoppmann recognizes that more-experienced workers often have to fight employers’ “unspoken expectations,” especially about their ability to learn new skills and technologies. As the director of partnerships and programming (as well as a board member) at 40Plus of Greater Washington, he works to encourage and empower mature workers in their job search. He starts by challenging them to reframe the stories they tell about themselves.
Schoppmann offers the following four tips for older workers looking for their next opportunity.
Approach your experience as an asset. Many job seekers attempt to obscure clues about their age on job search materials, but Schoppmann cautions against this tactic. “I wouldn’t suggest being deceptive or elusive,” he says. “You can do some small, practical things, like not including your graduations dates [on your resume], but those are minor. Ultimately, you’re going to end up in front of someone at the organization, whether in a face-to-face meeting or in a video interview. You don’t want a disconnect” between your appearance and your application materials.
Embrace the depth of your experience as an asset that you can bring to any organization and any opportunity.
– Ken Schoppmann, CAE
To this end, Schoppmann urges older job seekers to flaunt their experience rather than hide it: “Embrace the depth of your experience as an asset that you can bring to any organization and any opportunity.”
Emphasize the unique value you bring to the table. Your experience is powerful, and you should be touting it. “Many of the qualities and characteristics of older workers are true strengths,” Schoppmann says. Your search should be “all about matching your strengths to the needs of the organizations you meet.”
And older workers are uniquely equipped for the modern workplace in many regards, including a tendency toward reliability and highly developed emotional intelligence. “Older workers understand how they fit into teams, small or large,” says Schoppmann. “They understand the importance of collaboration, but they’re also capable of performing individually.”
Preempt salary and position level questions. One major concern of mature workers in the search process is challenging employers’ expectations about their desired salary and position level. Schoppmann recommends taking control of your narrative early in the conversation with a potential employer by addressing these concerns head-on.
Many of the qualities and characteristics of older workers are true strengths.
– Ken Schoppmann, CAE
“Be very clear about why this particular role [interests you],” he suggests. “Maybe you’re passionate about the mission or the industry or community the organization serves.”
If you’re interviewing for a position that might be perceived as a step down from your last job, you can anticipate that question. “Maybe this role or industry has always been an interest of yours, but you’d previously taken a different professional path—and now you have the chance to learn about the field,” he says.
For employers, asking about salary history is not best practice and is unlawful in many jurisdictions, but some hiring managers will assume you have higher salary requirements than the position you’re interested in allows for. Schoppmann has a tactful way to address this, too: “Without divulging your personal economic situation, you can emphasize that you’re focused on striking a balance between your work and personal life and want to work on projects that ignite your passion and also allow you flexibility.”
Identify organizations that practice inclusivity. Depending on the sector or type of work you’re interested in, you might find that the organizations you engage with vary in the level of diversity within their staff and membership. When you interview, you can get a sense for an organization’s inclusivity by asking about what types of professional development are available for employees at different stages of their careers.
If you notice an organization’s staff seems fairly homogenous, Schoppmann suggests digging deeper. “The range of members an organization is engaging might be a broader mix of people than their staff would indicate,” he says. An organization’s role is to benefit its members, and its programming should reflect that. “You want to understand an organization’s approach internally —to its employees—and externally to its members,” he says. “Does the organization have resources for its members at all stages of their careers?”
Great employers understand the benefits of ensuring that their talent pool includes workers of all ages, and they recognize the value that older employees can bring to the organization. So, don’t be afraid to play to your unique strengths as a mature job seeker. In doing so, you’ll boost the likelihood of finding opportunities that align with your interests and passion, and you’ll increase your chance of signing on with an employer who truly values what you have to offer.
Rebecca Hawk is the marketing specialist for Association CareerHQ at ASAE Business Services, Inc. Email: [email protected]