Cover Letters Tips for Older Job Seekers
Tips and Advice for Age Proofing Your Cover Letters
Applying to jobs when you're in your fifties, sixties, or beyond brings with it some unique challenges. Sure, you have plenty of experience. But hiring managers don't necessarily see all those years on the job as an asset. They may believe seasoned, mature candidates will expect more money or responsibility, struggle to work with a younger manager, or lack up-to-date skills.
And while the Age Discrimination Act in Employment Act means that discriminating against older employee and job candidates is illegal, I hear from many unemployed job seekers who feel that their age is an issue.
They say things like:
- I have learned that age does matter in employment.
- My age seems to be my biggest enemy.
- I think my age is my downfall right now.
It's true — despite legal protections, being considered an older job seeker can hinder your chances of finding employment. However, there are ways you can age-proof your resume and address age issues when writing cover letters. Review these cover letter writing tips for older job seekers to help market your candidacy effectively to employers.
Cover Letter Tips for Older Job Seekers
Target your cover letter. The most important way you can convince a hiring manager that you're worth interviewing is to customize your cover letter. Take the job posting and list the criteria the employer is seeking. Then list the skills and experience you have, either in paragraph form or in a bulleted list. This way, the hiring manager can see why you're qualified for the job.
Don't summarize your entire resume. This advice applies to candidates of all ages. A good cover letter doesn't read like an autobiography or a distillation of your resume. For older candidates, it is important to veer away from a sequential recounting of your employment, and instead focus on experience relevant to the job at hand.
Don't include years of experience. Don't list the length of experience you have in your cover letter. For example, it's not advantageous to say you have 20 or 30 years of experience. It will flag you as an older candidate.
Don't promote your age. Avoid terms like seasoned professional, wealth of experience, worked for many years, or anything similar. There's no need to highlight, in general, your years of experience. Instead, stick to the facts (e.g., "I led a team of 10 marketing professionals over at XYZ company.").
Do emphasize your related experience and strengths. Your cover letter is an opportunity to mention your proven experience, which a less experienced candidate may not have. Again, specify how that experienced is related to the job you're applying for - the more specific you are, the more relevant a candidate you'll be.
Do mention connections. As always in a cover letter, it's powerful to mention a connection. Here's more information on how to mention a referral in a cover letter and here are examples of cover letters with referrals to review.
Focus on flexibility. Mention your flexibility, adaptability, and willingness to learn in your cover letter. It will peg you as young and eager, even if you aren't so young in years.
Similarly, highlight any knowledge of current technology that you have since this is often a big concern for hiring managers.
Be careful about salary requirements. If the job posting requests your salary requirements, note that you're flexible. That way employers won't think of you as being overqualified and/or overpriced.
Polish up your cover letter. Presentation matters. Make sure your cover letter is correctly formatted. That means opting for the right font (and font size). Use a plain font, never a scripted one. Include a space between every paragraph, and choose an appropriate salutation and closing sign-off, too.
It's essential that your cover letter does not look old fashioned. Watch for dated language, too. Your word choices can potentially make you seem older or younger than your actual age.
Favor short, snappy sentences over longer, more complex syntax. Consider having a younger professional - preferably in your industry - read through your cover letter to make sure your phrasing doesn't date you.
Be prepared to email your cover letter. Be sure that you are following email etiquette guidelines when you email your cover letters.
Cover Letter Tips for Workers Over 50
"The cover letter is dead." You may have heard this pronouncement from friends or colleagues, who cite the trend toward electronic submission of resumes and the ever-shrinking attention span of application readers as reasons.
But according to those who think deeply about the particular challenges facing job seekers age 50 and older, the statement can be reversed: "Long live the cover letter!"
There are plenty of jobs for people over 50. To help you land one, get ready to write a solid cover letter. It's an age-neutral communication that can build a bridge from your impressive career accomplishments to the prospective employer's specific needs and help punch your ticket to a job interview.
That's why experts recommend using cover letters (or cover messages, for electronic submissions) to introduce professional connections, project youthful energy, demonstrate writing prowess, and -- to set the stage for an upbeat interview -- adroitly dispense with challenges such as resume gaps and requests for salary history.
Customization Is King
Because older workers have so much to gain through the cover letter, customizing the letter to the opportunity is particularly important. "People send me the same cover letter that they sent to the last 10 positions they applied for," says Sarah Hightower Hill, CEO of Chandler Hill Partners, a career search strategies firm. "That's just crazy."
If possible, start the letter with a reference to a professional colleague who connects you to the prospective employer. "Lead with the person who refers you," says Carleen MacKay, a practice leader at staffing firm Spherion Corp. If you've chosen the connection wisely, you'll vastly increase the chances of getting your resume read.
Now use the cover letter -- a faceless, ageless message -- to communicate your core qualifications for the job opening. Resist the temptation to cite years of experience or encyclopedic knowledge of your industry's history. Instead, concentrate on recent, specific accomplishments that make you a match for the job.
Also use the cover message to showcase your business writing skills and familiarity with the language of your industry or occupation. You're likely to have emerged from the US education system before it descended into its present state of mediocrity, and this should show in your writing.
Confront Difficult Issues and Put Them Behind You
If elements of your resume might raise substantial questions for its reviewers, it's best to address these in the cover letter, where you can carefully calibrate your response -- without revealing your age.
"It's important to get stuff like resume gaps out of the way immediately," says Brian Drum, CEO of Drum Associates, a search firm. The second half of the cover message is a good place to do so.
"If salary history is a requirement of the job posting, one must address it, and not superficially or deceptively," says Hill. For older workers, especially those who want to deemphasize the high salary band they've reached in recent years, "it is appropriate to say, ‘Through my career, I've earned salaries in a range from..."
Finally, have a trusted colleague perform a cover letter critique to check the tone of your letter and make sure you've avoid embarrassing spelling, grammar and other errors. After all, crafting an important document with care is one of the skills that can help make the case for your candidacy ahead of younger competitors.
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