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Competing for Jobs With Older, More Experienced Candidates

By Chandlee Bryan

A year ago, I was invited to do a live interview with CBS Radio on the job search outlook for college graduates.

At the appointed time, my phone rang, and, within 15 seconds, I was live on the air.

I'll never forget the question I was asked,

“If there aren't enough jobs to go around and someone has to make the decision on who to hire, how do college students ensure that they get picked over Baby Boomers?”

My jaw dropped, and I took the three second pause that everyone tells you it is okay to take during an interview. It was.

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I don't think looking at the job market and at your potential competition as a fight to be won is helpful.

This is how I answered the question a year ago, and this is how I would answer it today. Consider the following:

  • Do you need to showcase your skills and interests in the job search?
  • Do you need to demonstrate how your experience and strengths align with the position?
  • Do you need to anticipate the needs of your prospective employer, show that you understand them, and provide examples of how you can help?

The answer to all of these questions is a resounding “YES.”

At the same time using a talent war metaphor to approach the job search isn't helpful, either. As I see it, your job isn't to “beat” your competition but rather to help your prospective employer view you as the easiest candidate to fit right into the company culture and do the job that needs to be done.

It's all about attitude and aptitude, not age.

That being said, here are five strategies you can use to apply for jobs with candidates from any age group.

1.  Apply for jobs like a seasoned professional.

Research the company thoroughly. Visit your local or campus library and get tips from the research librarian on how to research employers and industry health.

Don't just look at the company website, find out what matters to the employer--what they are excited about, challenges and threats in the industry, etc. Incorporate this information throughout your job search.

2. Frame your experience so that it aligns with what the employer needs.

Avoid writing a cover letter that restates your entire history. Instead say,” I understand you are looking for X, my experience with X includes…”

Tip: If you have writer's block, try making a table with two columns. Place employer qualifications in the left column and a brief description of how each qualification relates to your skills in the right column. Keep it brief, and if the list is easy to read—replace a paragraph in your cover letter with your new table.

3. Don't get hung up on your own lack of experience.

You may have needed a laundry list of leadership experiences to get into college, but you don't need this for your job search.

Instead, present yourself as someone who is as good at following directions--and listening--as you are at taking initiative. Employers want to know that you can follow as well as you can lead.

4. Have an immaculate onine presence.

A majority of employers admit to conducting their own online research on candidates prior to hiring them. Know what they will find. At a minimum, you should have an innocuous Facebook presence (no incriminating pictures or comments) and a very professional LinkedIn profile that includes a well written online summary. It is just as important to have an online professional presence as it is to have a resume--and it will be seen more frequently.

5. Hang Out With An Older Crowd.

Join groups who share your professional interests on LinkedIn, and follow individuals in your field in Twitter.

Engage them in conversation--and bridge the generation gap with common interests. It will help you stand out--and get noticed.

After all, developing friendships across age groups demonstrates your ability to communicate as well as your skills in working with diverse communication styles. All of these traits are ones employers generally seek.

Bottom Line:

On the surface, these may seem like quick tips on how to fit in. But if you think about it, many job seekers don't pay attention to these details—and that's often all the difference in a hiring decision!


About the author...

E. Chandlee Bryan, M.Ed.(@chandlee and Google+) is a career advisor at Dartmouth College. She also runs Best Fit Forward, a small private practice providing career management services and training. A certified career coach and resume writer, Chandlee's experience includes working as a recruiter, facilitating one of Manhattan's largest job search meetups, and serving as the resume expert for a national Microsoft campaign. She is a co-author of The Twitter Job Search Guide (JIST 2010) and, more recently, helped research, The A+ Solution, a book on the role professional associations can play in workforce development.


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Starting Your Job Search:

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Networking for Your Job Search:

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