I would really appreciate some advice. I am 56 years old and am finding my age and inconsistent job history to be a definite factor when interviewing. The County Job Services people were kind enough to help me put my resume together but I am inept at cover letters. I have no idea how to start a cover letter and yet people tell me I write very well.
I can sell snowballs to Eskimos but cannot sell myself which is obvious by my unsuccessful job search for basically the last year. I don’t know what to do. Do you have any suggestions? God Bless You for Your Kindness
by Honey Smith, Professional Life Coach
The job search in mid-life has unique joys and challenges. On one hand, you find yourself in the position of justifying the rich life you’ve led and the choices you’ve made; especially if they don’t fit into conventional patterns. On the other hand, this richness makes for a powerful cocktail of skills and perspectives that you bring to the table. The trick is to choose (or create) the table where your unique qualities are valued and not dismissed. Once you’ve figured this out, then it’s a matter of creating a resume that makes it obvious to all why you and the job are a perfect fit.
At 56, your work goals may be very different from what they were ten or twenty years ago – and understandably so! Forget for a moment about who will or won’t hire you. Focus on what is most important to you right now. Is it all about income and/or financial security? Do you want to learn a new skill, have an impact on others or contribute to a cause that matters to you? Are you seeking stability, appreciation, status, power, connection with other people?
Once you’re clear on what you want out of work, consider these questions:
What was consistent (and a noteworthy skill) throughout my “inconsistent” job history?
For example, you may be a project-oriented person who loves variety and the challenge of the new. You may excel at short-term, highly focused jobs that tend to have deadlines and a sense of completion. You might also be a person who has consistently chosen to value commitments outside of work – such as raising a family, or dealing with health matters over staying with one job or career. What does this tell you about your ability to commit and to follow through in your life? How would you communicate these strengths in a resume?
Ask yourself: What do I speak about with natural confidence? In what situations (work and non-work) have I been at my best?
You wrote that you can “sell snowballs to Eskimos”. So, what makes it hard to “sell” yourself? This is not to say that it’s all in your head. It is time consuming to create a resume and cover letter, especially given today’s increased expectations. You don’t have to do it alone. There are resources - such as Susan Ireland’s book The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Perfect Resume – which can help you choose the resume and cover format that’s right for you. You may also want to refer to increasing numbers of studies that show that older workers are great investments for companies and check out where older workers are getting those jobs.
Perhaps the most useful question you can ask yourself is: What kind of work environment do I want to be in? Organizations have different “cultures”. Some, especially start-ups, newly expanding or slightly out-of-the-way companies often prefer people who’ve lived life a little out of the box. They often have less need of stable managerial types who’ve stuck with one thing and instead value people who are creative, energetic, have broad experience and the flexibility to “go with the flow”. Moreover, these kinds of companies don’t always have the luxury to offer high salaries and fancy packages – so they’re more willing to gamble on less conventional employees.
One last thought, many people like you decide to start their own businesses. Entrepreneurship is not for everybody and has its own tradeoffs. But self-employment allows for a lot of creativity and freedom to be your own boss. If you haven’t found the “perfect job” so far, here’s your shot at seeing how close you can get.
Again, it goes back to what is most important to you right now.
Good Luck and remember to go where you are valued!
Honey Smith, Ed.M., is a Professional Life Coach who helps job seekers fast forward their careers, master life transitions and fulfill their potential.
Susan Ireland’s Two Cents
On his Dumb Little Man Tips on Life blog, Jay put together a list of his recommended resources on 100+ Ways to Write a Resume Cover Letter.
And take a look at the Cover Letter Guide and samples on my site: susanireland.com.