Career Path

The Boomers' Guide to Booming

Ways workers of a certain age can capitalize on their experience. 

Last year, a man we’ll call Daniel was laid off from his job at a manufacturing firm after 20 years with the company. At age 68, he figured his expiration date had passed. When he started his job hunt, for the first time in two decades, he was bombarded by a whole new way of doing things: online professional profiles and submitting applications through web portals. Simply put, it felt like he was in a totally different world.

And in many ways, he is. Daniel’s generation has been surpassed by millennials as the largest generation in the workforce now. But his era continues to play a large, even commanding role; baby boomers still compromise about 25% of the labor force. What’s more, about half of the 2.9 million positions gained last year were taken by people age 55 and older—meaning Daniel and his contemporaries are on the prowl for jobs just as much as their children may be.

Your real superpower as a baby boomer is how many contacts you have.

But what makes the job search more daunting for people who have been in jobs for a decade or more is just that: they haven’t been job-hopping the way others have. The average worker today only stays in each job for about four years, giving younger workers more experience, theoretically, in job hunting. But experts say it’s important for baby boomers to remember their years of work often give them the resilience that a 25-year-old hasn’t been able to hone. The trick, career coaches say, comes down to attitude and agility. “If you go into your interview thinking you’re too old, that’s what people are going to get from you,” says David Ginchansky, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.

If you’ve been in the same role for a long time, or out of the workforce and you’re diving back in, here’s a refresher to get you up to speed on the new ways of networking, resume writing, and interviewing.

Don’t let your resume make you seem archaic.

One of Daniel’s first missteps when he started his job search was to include everything he’d done over the past 30 years. He even added the dates, starting with his high school graduation. “On paper he aged himself,” says Valerie Hayes, a lead career coach at Korn Ferry Advance who worked with him. With her help, Daniel revamped the whole thing, focusing on what he’d done most recently and what was relevant to the job he wanted—a better-paying gig as a corporate controller for an industrial products company.

If you’re unsure what to include on your resume, a good rule of thumb is to detail your last 15 years of experience by highlight themes, instead of specific roles, says Jason Levin, who heads the Washington, DC-based coaching and outplacement services firm Ready Set Launch.

Lean into LinkedIn.

Being on LinkedIn is pretty much a prerequisite for job hunting these days. If you’re new to the social-media platform, here are a few things to be mindful of:

-        Your profile picture. Use a current picture to avoid walking into your interview looking like you did a decade ago (which will be the only thing the interviewer is thinking of). Try to choose a shot that makes you look professional and contemporary. 

-        Your summary. Many people are confused by this section on LinkedIn, and rightly so—it’s the intro to the rest of your profile. Try to synthesize two or three standout skills of yours in a concise paragraph. You want to show your range of talent while also being specific.

-        Your job history. The goal here is to highlight details of your experiences and include key terms recruiters may be looking for. For baby boomers, this is one of your competitive advantages: the breadth of your work compared to that of someone who is half your age. “That’s the advantage of being older,” says Kathleen, a 67-year-old editor who landed an editing job because a recruiter was impressed with her extensive background. “You’ve done a lot more and you can stand out.”

-        Your network. Your real superpower as a baby boomer is how many contacts you have. “Baby boomers underestimate the power of all the relationships they formed well before LinkedIn ever started,” Levin says. While many of your friends and former colleagues will be on LinkedIn, others may not. It’s best to make a list of who you know and then track how you may be able to reconnect with them.

-        Your recruiting options. You can switch your profile settings to indicate to recruiters you’re open to opportunities. Just know that if you do this, depending on your privacy settings, others in your network (i.e., your work buddy) may see the change, too. You can also be proactive seeking out recruiters. LinkedIn’s search tools allow users to pinpoint a recruiter’s area of expertise—CFOs or government contracting, for example.

Combat ageism through your interview.

At any age, one of the goals of an interview is to show our vibrancy and leave a lasting impression. Set that tone with your first phone contact. “You need to have energy in your voice,” Hayes says. Keep that vivaciousness going when you meet in person by slipping in something unique about yourself, such as the summer cycling trip across Vermont that you’re planning.

You also want to show your youthful spirit by demonstrating your ability and desire to work with different age groups. If, for example, you have a successful track record of sponsoring younger direct reports, highlight that. It shows your ability to “create a culture of trust with people 30 years younger,” Levin says. After all, age is just a number.

take our career resiliency quiz
take our career resiliency quiz