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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 April 2006, 22:55 GMT 23:55 UK
Advice for older jobseekers
Job Centre
JobCentres can offer vital advice to older job seekers
In Panorama: Must have own teeth, we presented clear evidence from the UK that age is one factor affecting the job opportunities available to people.

Age stereotyping by employers is hard to get away from, although legislation might make a difference in the long term.

However, in the short term, individual job seekers must try and get round or overcome the negative ideas which employers might have about older workers on their own.

Here is some of the best practical advice for older individuals looking for work which we have come across in our research.


Age stereotypes have both positive and negative aspects - no matter how old you are.

There are qualities which employers value which they associate with younger employees and other qualities, which they also value, that they assume belong to older workers.

Physically more able and healthy
Easier to supervise
Lower salary expectations
Willing to use new technology
Source: Bendick, Jackson and Romero: "Employment Discrimination" 1996

In addition employers assume that older people will want to retire soon, and therefore see investment in them as less worthwhile.

There are various ways of dealing with these stereotypes if you feel they are affecting your job chances.

One study of the labour market, conducted in the US by Marc Bendick and colleagues compared three such strategies.

Have good practical knowledge
Source: Bendick, Jackson and Romero: "Employment Discrimination" 1996

Surprisingly, they discovered that the worst thing a job seeker could do is try and emphasize the positive qualities which employers associate with their age.

So, if you are an older job-seeker, don't use phrases like 'I offer you maturity, stability and a proven track-record'.

What works best is to confront the stereotype by picking qualities from the young list, and emphasizing those.

For example, a covering letter might say: 'Despite working in this industry for many years, I remain enthusiastic, energetic and committed to developing my career.' If you are older but like new technology, then say so. If you are especially sporty, then mention that.

An alternative is to de-emphasize your age by trying to conceal it or at least by keeping it towards the end of an application.

In the study conducted, this tactic did not work as well as confronting the stereotype did - but again it worked much better than emphasizing positive qualities associated with older age.

You can help age-neutralise an application by writing skills and accomplishments at the top, and moving employment history down to the second page.

The employers forum for age have an 'age neutral' application form on their website, which is a work in progress and is aimed at helping employers eliminate age as a factor in recruitment. It also works as a model for an age neutral CV.


Hamish Davidson, the chairman of Rockpools Executive Recruitment makes the point that older applicants can be put off by adverts which they perceive as young.

Phrases like a 'robust workplace', 'looking for flexibility' or 'fast-paced' can lead to older applicants ruling themselves out.

"The majority of older applicants have brought up kids whilst working for thirty plus years," Mr Davidson said.

He added: "I would be astounded if they didn't have all the organisational skills they need to cope in a 'fast-paced' environment by now."

Re -skill and learn about the latest technology if necessary. Opportunities to brush up on basic literacy, numeracy and computer (IT) skills are usually available locally and are mainly free.

Job Centres should be able to advise you on learning opportunities. It is also worth asking at your Job Centre if you are entitled to join New Deal 50 Plus which is a voluntary programme for people, over fifty, who have been receiving benefits for over six months.

It provides a package of support and personal adviser to help you get back to work.

While you are in work, whatever your age, you should push to do new things and get the training you need to stay up to date


If you find yourself made redundant, when you were good at your job, then it may be that the industry is contracting, so don't look for the job which you just left.

Think about the skills which you have which are transferable and be open to new careers.

This doesn't mean apologising in applications for being in one industry or one company for a long period - but it does mean looking at that period of history and breaking it down into a list of skills and experiences which are wide-ranging and relevant to different employers.

Make it sound like working at several different organisations.

Be prepared to enter a new industry 'sideways' so that you are not necessarily moving up but moving across. Get a foot in the door and then prove yourself.

Self-employment is also an option which suits many older people. The Prime Initiative has been set up specifically to help the over-50s set up on their own and can offer advice and business development loans.


The Third Age Employment Network stress to jobseekers that their own well-being, motivation and confidence are important.

Make sure that you look after your general health by exercising and maintaining a balanced diet and don't lose touch with people.

Make time for friends and family and find things you can do together which are within your budget.

If losing work has significant financial consequences then you should get good advice about how best to deal with your new circumstances.

Your local Job Centre Plus, which brings together parts of the benefits agency with employment advice, should be able to help.

Accountant, John Messingham who we spoke to for the programme explained to us that he had learnt this lesson the hard way.

He said: "I got into a loop, that for every rejection I became, almost maniacal in looking for more jobs.

"And in the end, it just eats you up. Just that I would not be beaten, and you could become totally consumed by it, and it's wrong."

It was John's wife, who spotted what was happening and insisted that he take a break from job seeking.

Now, though he is still looking for work, he allows himself to enjoy his pastimes and hobbies as well - which helps build his own self-worth and self-confidence. He plans time for job-searching every day but doesn't let it take over.

It helps too to keep your spirits up by getting in touch with people in similar circumstances.

This could happen through local community centres, training courses or local job clubs.

In London, the Peabody Trust runs a number of initiatives which bring older people in the community together - to sing, dance, exercise and learn.

The internet has also made it easier to link up with people nationally. Organisations such as the Campaign Against Age Discrimination in Employment run an online newsletter and there are numerous sites designed by and for older people in the UK.

Volunteering is also an option as it helps you keep a work based routine and keeps you involved in the community. It is possible to encounter age barriers even in voluntary work but there are organisations which are specifically designed to make sure the skills of older people can be put to good use.


Some of the experts Panorama spoke to, including head hunters and researchers, made the point that, in society, however wrong it may seem, appearance really does matter especially at job interviews.

If you want to maximise your chances of getting work it helps to dress in a way which confronts the employers' stereotype of an older person.

It doesn't mean dressing to look young but it does mean dressing to look up-to-date and modern - from your haircut to your glasses or tie.

In terms of attitude, especially when being interviewed by a younger person, you may find you need to make a conscious effort not to come across as condescending. You want the interviewer to know that you are at ease working with lots of different people.


Endless application forms, and slow processes are annoying to all job applicants but unless you play them to the letter, you won't get anywhere.

Motivate yourself, by thinking how much you'll improve the process if you end up working for the company.

Ultimately finding a job is a numbers game. The more CVs you send out or applications you fill in, the better your chances of finding work are.


For advice on tackling age discrimination in employment

Third Age Employment Network Tel: 020 7843 1590 email: taen@helptheaged.org.uk

Campaign Against Age Discrimination in Employment (CAADE)

Age Concern England

Age Concern Scotland

Age Concern Northern Ireland

Age Concern Wales

Help the Aged

Employers Forum on Age Tel. 08454562495

Citizens Advice Bureau

For job seeking and benefits advice

Jobseeker Direct: 08456060234 Textphone: 08456055255

New Deal Information Line: 08456062626 textphone 08456060680

Recruitment agencies which specialise in placing older workers

Wrinklies Direct Tel: 01299 409030

Wiseowls: 02089839716

Senior Managers Network

Forties People (London based agency)

Learning and training


Learning and Skills Council: Tel 08709006800

Setting up a business

Business Link: 0845 6009006

PRIME initiative: Tel. 08007831904

Voluntary work

Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme (RSVP): Tel. 02076431385

Online volunteering


Rockpools Executive Recruitment

Peabody Trust

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