Ask HR: How Can Older Workers Better Compete for Jobs?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP October 8, 2021
Ask HR: How Can Older Workers Better Compete for Jobs?

​Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

As an older worker, I tend to see greater focus in my industry on hiring younger, less experienced, less expensive talent. How can I market myself to better compete with younger workers? —Jean

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: For a seasoned worker, the job search may seem frustrating and overwhelming given the competition in the labor market. But if you really look at it, ageism runs counter to employers' efforts to retain good workers and build institutional knowledge.

To break through the sea of preconceived notions surrounding older workers, you must first understand your full value. There are several approaches you can utilize to market your value and contrast your skill set against younger, less experienced workers:

  1. Educate yourself. Many younger candidates have shiny new degrees that can look enticing to prospective employers. However, this doesn't mean you need to go back to school full time. Consider pursuing a certification relevant in your field. For many, a robust offering of courses is conveniently accessible online. Demonstrating a commitment to continuous learning tells prospective employers you are open to growth and pairs well with your extensive experience to broaden your appeal.
  2. Showcase your proficiency with relevant technology. Employers are searching for candidates who can leverage cutting-edge technology to enhance performance. Highlight how you've embraced innovation in your career to achieve success.
  3. Be flexible. The workplace is constantly evolving. Consequently, employers are seeking employees who collaborate with others, take on tasks outside of their job descriptions and are flexible with work location. Articulate your flexibility on your resume—including work outside your normal scope and team projects—and provide examples during the interview as well.
  4. Network with other professionals in your field. By sheer volume of experience, older workers have generated far more business contacts in their careers. Connect with those individuals who know you best to discover what available opportunities might be a good fit. Often, those are the people who are the most willing to give you a professional endorsement and advocate for you. Networking can be a great opportunity to further expand your professional network.
  5. Highlight your soft skills. Your experience has given you the opportunity to develop a range of coveted soft skills that workers early in their careers simply do not have. Critical thinking, organization, innovation, teamwork, leadership and interpersonal communication skills are vital to business operations and transcend technical skills. These intangibles give you a distinct advantage over less experienced candidates.

Ultimately, employers want a diverse workforce that includes workers from multiple generations. You can show a company how your knowledge, skills and experience are an advantage by adapting your approach using these strategies.

I am considering recommending my boyfriend for a position at my workplace. Should I be concerned about creating an inappropriate work relationship? What if he is in a different department? —Carol

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Close personal relationships can complicate workplace dynamics, so it's sensible to be cautious in this circumstance. Depending on your employer's policies and the type of position you hold, having your boyfriend work at your company could complicate things. If you are to move forward, it is essential to avoid even the appearance of impropriety and be transparent about the relationship.

Before recommending him, thoroughly review your employer's policy on personal relationships, which may also be called a nepotism policy or an employment of relatives policy. These policies typically outline restrictions about hiring family members; however, some employers may include employment of significant others.

Often, restrictions are based on a perceived or actual conflict of interest between family members and significant others working at the same company. Employers generally avoid combining close personal relationships with supervisory relationships or having workers involved in decisions that could benefit other individuals with personal ties.

I'll add this: People spend most of their waking hours at or involved in work, so it is understandable that romantic relationships and friendships may occur. Whether these relationships start at work or, in your case, cross over after the fact, it is important to keep things aboveboard and put up guardrails to protect the relationship and the workplace. Workplace relationships tend to become problematic when people either try to conceal or overtly flaunt them. So, be honest about the relationship and mindful of workplace dynamics to find a safe middle ground.

Regardless of the company policy, it is in your best interest to be upfront about your relationship should you recommend your boyfriend for the position. If your boyfriend is hired, it is important that you both maintain a professional relationship at work and don't allow your personal relationship to become a distraction to either of you or others in the workplace. Best wishes to you both!



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