Portrait of an elderly business people ready for competitionHaving recently gone through an employment change at 55, not by choice, I thought about the possibility that somebody would actually hire me, versus going with someone younger and cheaper. Preparing myself to compete in a tight job market required me to take stock of the factors that were motivating me to action. The first was reflecting on the question, “Why am I still looking to be gainfully employed at my age?”  My dad retired at 59, and he’s enjoyed his retirement to this very day (he turns 84 this year). In the generation of my parents, with life expectancy a decade less than it is today, retiring between 60 and 65 years of age was the norm.

Looking at my generation, many of us lead healthier lives than our parents did. We eat better, exercise more and take better care of ourselves. Why not extend our professional careers?

Another factor influencing people to remain employed is finance. Our spending and saving habits were not as rigorous as our parents, and many of us extended ourselves, having taken on bigger mortgages and paid to put our children through private high schools and college. Additionally, we may have gone overboard with the wedding plans for our children. The list of financial commitments made over the years is staggering.

Many of us who may have wanted to retire at the age our parents did could be facing another 10 years of employment with retirement more likely closer to age 70 versus 60, particularly if we want to live comfortably as we grow older.

Here are four areas to focus on when you are looking for employment in your 50′s:

1. Research the market rates for the positions that you plan to apply for

Know that your recent total compensation package may not represent what the market is willing to pay. This is especially true if you were released from a company where you worked for many years, providing you with annual increases that brought your total income to a level that is no longer “marked to market.”  Make an effort to understand what the market is willing to pay for a person with your experience.

2. Maintain your professional networks

While who you know is more important than what you know, don’t confuse this point, because what you know is in fact important—it’s just that who you know is more important first. Today, the internet is an easy and effective way to identify employment opportunities—Monster, Dice, CareerBuilder, Indeed, etc. Research the companies offering the jobs. Find out who is employed at those companies by scouring a source, like LinkedIn, and study what is being said about those firms as an employer. Once you’ve done your research, submit your resume and cover letter.

However, if everybody is looking for a job in this manner, you need to differentiate yourself from the crowd. How can you do so? Use your social networks! Do you know anyone who is employed at the company where you are a candidate? Would they recommend you? Have you worked with them in the past? If you’re not great about keeping up with current and former work colleagues, professional acquaintances, etc., then make a renewed effort at this, as it will most likely pay off for you when you most need it.

3. Don’t become obsolete

As you age, you need to embrace technology and its daily advances. I know you have no idea what makes a “smart phone” smart, and you don’t understand why your daughter keeps insisting on installing something called a “router” in your house. But, here’s the best advice that I can give you: Don’t become your father. Remember how after they stopped making vinyl records, he stopped having an interest in music? Think about how every time he comes to your house, he pushes every button on your remote control to the point it takes you an hour to get everything back to normal. It’s safe to say that at some point he made a decision to stop embracing technological change. It is imperative you keep up with technological change and embrace it.

4. Preparation, preparation, preparation

The great basketball coach John Wooden said, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” I couldn’t agree more, nor could I give better advice. Here are the four key components to being prepared:

Have your resume professionally done for you. Most employment companies have a “resume production” team, and will work with you to craft a resume germane to your experience and employment history.

Check your wardrobe. Have you been working in a “business casual” environment for years? Spend a little money to make certain the first impression you make is a quality one.

Have you researched the company you will be interviewing with? Do you know what their annual revenue is? Do you know what their primary product and service offerings are? Are they a public company? If so, what is their stock trading at? Do you know who their main competitors are? Learn this information, as it may distinguish you from your competitors during your interview.

Interview your interviewer. When the interviewer finally asks you if you have any questions, be prepared to ask two or three. Asking questions expresses genuine interest on your part, and here are five good ones to tryout during your next interview: What are the strategic plans for growth over the next three years? Who are your main competitors and how do you go about beating them? What is the company’s commitment to community service? Does your company have a mission statement? How would you describe the culture of your organization?

Hopefully I have given you enough information to encourage you to tackle the employment marketplace with confidence. Happy hunting!

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