by Teri Fritsma  

Older, experienced workers are not immune to job loss during this recession — and if you are an older worker facing a layoff, you may have a unique set of concerns.  Here are a few tips for how to handle a career change.

1.  Prepare for the emotional aspects of a layoff or career change.  Change can be hard if you’re had the same job for years.  If you know a layoff is coming, prepare yourself by making small changes in your routine.  Take a different route to work or start a hobby that forces you to learn something new.


2.  Think about your skills in general terms.  If it’s been awhile since you’ve had to market yourself, you may be unaccustomed to thinking or talking about how your skills might transfer to a new field.  Write a few paragraphs about different work experiences that you enjoyed.  Or take ISEEK’s skills assessment to rate your skills and see which occupations might be a good match for you.

3.  Think about a new, meaningful career direction.  Some older workers are looking for a major change and want to move into a career with greater meaning.  The good news is that most health care, education, and human service jobs cannot be outsourced.  No job is completely recession-proof, but these are considered some of the safer fields because they are less subject to economic shock.  There may also be new opportunities in green careers in the coming months.

If you’re thinking about switching careers entirely, test the waters first.  If at all possible, you should volunteer, job shadow, or do an informational interview before jumping in to a new career.

4.  Consider using a functional, not a chronological resume.  Functional resumes highlight specialized skills and experiences, while chronological resumes organize your job history by date.  Your resume should highlight experiences that relate to your career objectives, but need not list every job you’ve ever had.

5.  Don’t dumb down your resume for fear you’ll look overqualified.  Don’t portray your skills and experience as less than they are.  Instead, show prospective employers how your extra experience translates into real value for them.  You may have unique insights that a less experienced candidate can’t offer.  Read job ads carefully, research employers thoroughly, tailor your resume appropriately, and be ready to explain how your background is an asset, rather than a liability.

6.  Use the internet for your job search.  Some (but by no means all) older workers are inexperienced or wary about using the web to job hunt.  But because online job banks are becoming so common, you’ll miss out on opportunities if you ignore online job banks or social networking sites (like LinkedIn).  If you’re not sure how to use this technology, you can find a WorkForce center near you to get some personalized assistance.

7.  Maintain your health coverage.  Health coverage is important for everyone, but especially for older workers who may have health concerns or need specialized care.  Medicare is available to people aged 65 or older and to some disabled people younger than 65.  Medicare’s eligibility tool can help you find out whether you qualify. Medicaid also provides health coverage for low-income families.  Finally, COBRA provides temporary health coverage to laid off workers and their families.   

8.  Understand your rights.  Even though age discrimination is prohibited by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), many older workers still perceived that they are passed up for jobs, promotions, or pay raises because of their age.  If you believe you are the victim of age discrimination, you can contact the Minnesota Department of Human Rights or take their online interactive guide to employment discrimination to determine whether or not you have a case.  

You should also anticipate the stereotypes about older workers and simply be prepared to respond to them.  For example, you may want to find a way to let prospective employers know that you plan to work for several more years, or that you’re comfortable with change and can follow protocol.