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Older workers pursue job-search skills

Laid off after long careers, they must adjust to today's job-seeking scene.

By Marilyn GardnerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 23, 2009

Job fair: With nearly 5 million laid-off Americans now receiving unemployment benefits – an all-time high – many older job seekers are looking for work for the first time in years.

M. Spencer Green/AP

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After a 25-year career in property management, Betty Clark received a pink slip last July. For the first time in a quarter century she had to start job-hunting, this time in a vastly changed employment universe.

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"The difference is like night and day," says Ms. Clark of Boston. "When I went into property management, you would type up your résumé, go to a prospective employer, fill out an application, and leave your résumé. You met people. Today you're doing everything electronically. You're losing the personal connection."

It is a feeling shared by many longtime workers who have been laid off recently. Although they have accumulated decades of skills and knowledge, they must take a totally new approach to finding a job.

"Some need serious assistance in getting back in the workforce," says Joan Cirillo, executive director of Operation ABLE of Greater Boston, a nonprofit that helps those 45 and over get back to work. "There's such a need for resources that will help older workers."

Clark's desire to enhance her skills has propelled her into a 10-week class at Operation ABLE called Operation Service. She and a dozen other students are learning proficiency with computers. They also meet with employers, attend job fairs, and receive tutoring in résumé writing and interviewing.

"Some companies want you to attach the résumé, and other companies want you to put it in the body of the text," Ms. Cirillo says. "When you're sending an electronic résumé, you want to use as little underlining, bold, and italics as possible. In a hard copy, people can make use of underlining, bold, and italics to highlight things and to separate information."

Mary White-Cornell, a marketing consultant in Colorado Springs, Colo., who has been job-hunting for six months, recently started working with a career coach. "The first thing he suggested was to change my résumé and delete education dates, so an employer couldn't easily figure out my age," she says.

Workplace specialists emphasize the importance of using online resources in a job search. Applicants who once turned to help-wanted ads in newspapers now scan Internet job boards. Some specifically serve older workers. RetirementJobs.com, which provides job postings, career advice, and résumé services, offers online career workshops on topics such as "Planning your job search" and "Age-friendly employers." In a survey last week, Bob Skladany, the site's CEO, found that the expected retirement age has jumped from 62 in previous years to 68 today. A quarter of respondents don't expect to retire at all.

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