Out of work? Ten ways to find a job when you’re over 50, by three people who did it
March 20, 2015 | By:

From advertising your skills on a sandwich board to embracing social media or an over-50s apprenticeship, there are many ways to get noticed by employers, says Judy Heminsley 


Hopefully these are words you won’t hear in your career. Photo from Stocksy

Life no longer follows the predictable pattern it once did, of education, marriage, family, career and, finally, retirement.

People over 50 can be looking for work for a variety of reasons that can include redundancy, divorce, the children leaving home; returning after a career break due to health problems or looking after elderly relatives; or a career change for something less stressful or to switch to doing something you love.

What’s it like to look for work when you thought job applications were a thing of the past? Three recent jobseekers – Helen Walmsley-Johnson, 59, Gerri Spiers, 51, and Mike Lewis, 58 – share the key things they’ve learnt.

Helen took voluntary redundancy in 2012 from her job as PA to the editor of The Guardian to spend time with her father, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

She continued to write her fashion column for the paper and, after her father’s death, looked for a part-time job to fund her writing until it could support her.

Gerri was a PA who was made redundant in February last year when her boss resigned. Mike previously was a teacher in higher education of film and video studies.

1. Keep your knowledge up-to-date

“The online tests sent out by recruitment agencies when you register are a good way to find out if there’s anything you need to work on,” says Helen. “There are plenty of free ways to brush up if necessary.”

Enquire at your Jobcentre or contact the National Careers Service on 0800 100 900.

2. Be open to advice

“You may have lots of experience, and have been in your last job for a long time, but you don’t know it all. Get someone in the know to look at your CV, as it’s probably a long time since you even updated, let alone used it. Things have moved on,” says Helen.

3. Keep your appearance stylish and current

“A stylish and professional appearance underlines that you are on top of your game,” says Helen. “It’s easy to fall into a fashion rut without realising it when life is ticking over smoothly, so this is a good time to freshen up your wardrobe, hair and make-up.”  

4. Revel in middle-aged self-confidence

Helen says her confidence has only grown with age. “By middle age you have lost so much fear. As a dancer and model I used to suffer crippling stage fright and would throw up before going on stage.

“But I was asked to take part in BBC Radio 4‘s Woman’s Hour about ageism in the workplace, and then a television documentary about The Bee Gees, and thought: why not? And I was fine.”

5. Stand out from other job hunters

Gerri says: “The job market is saturated with applications, and in order to stand out from the hundreds of other CVs you have to be different.”

She certainly walks her talk. After three months experiencing little success with London recruitment agencies, she did something she’d previously joked about: she visited major Tube and railway stations during the morning rush hour wearing a sandwich board advertising her availability for work.

Gerri contacted the London Evening Standard, and the resulting interview and photo taken at London Bridge station generated a lot of PR and much discussion on social media.

6. Embrace social media

Gerri was also active on Twitter, regularly posted on her LinkedIn profile and commented on other people’s posts. Through building her network she was offered a couple of interviews.

Her advice is to stay positive and enthusiastic on social media. “Obviously you can’t be positive all the time, but be careful not to moan on your social media accounts.

“There were some days I felt deflated and wouldn’t go out. But when I felt up to it I’d get to a station with my board on for 5.45 in the morning. Nobody was ever rude and lots of people came up and said well done.”

7. Never give up on looking for work

The newspaper feature brought enquiries from about 70 employers requesting Gerri’s CV and she had a number of interviews. But it took five months to find the level of job she wanted, as PA to the director of a City firm.

“I was ecstatic when I got the job after a long telephone interview, followed by three face-to-face interviews. I didn’t really believe it until I got there on my first day.”

8. Consider an apprenticeship

Barclays recently announced that it is opening up apprenticeships to over-50s wanting to change career. It described the move as a “commercial decision”, to utilise the life experience and empathy that older people bring to the job.

Mike has applied for a teaching assistant apprenticeship, inspired by working voluntarily on a video project at his son’s Somerset school. He hopes the move by Barclays, being such a major employer, will encourage other companies to follow suit. 

9. Accept that life changes

After a career as a teacher, Mike, with three children aged between two and nine, was looking for work he could fit around childcare and school holidays. He says: “You may have been used to things being a certain way, but you need to embrace a new reality.”

10. Use every route available to find a job

“Look in the local press, try recruitment agencies, go to the Jobcentre,” says Mike. “I found the staff there pleasant and helpful. But the system isn’t geared up to experienced, highly qualified people, so you need to keep at it.” 

Support from family and friends is vital, Mike says, to keep your spirits up in the face of rejection and uncertainty, and during this process of fundamental change.

Where are our jobseekers now?

Helen decided to move from London back to Rutland, where she is now working on her first book: The Invisible Woman: How to Navigate the Vintage Years, which will be published in June.

Gerri has recently passed her probation period in her new job. She hopes that through public speaking her experience will inspire other jobseekers over 50 and educate employers on how much our age groups has to offer.

Mike was not eligible for full funding for a teaching assistant apprenticeship. He is part-funding the course himself while volunteering as a teaching assistant and working part-time at a local supermarket, and will qualify in the summer.

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