Supporting older jobseekers

Supporting Older Job Seekers

Many workers find it difficult to get work when they pass the age of 50. There is no hard and fast “rule” about the age at which this apparent age related barrier to getting a job kicks in. Much depends on the state of the current economic climate. If all workers face a difficult labour market, it is likely to be worse for older workers. Whatever the economic situation, older workers are likely to face barriers that must be overcome. Many different agencies may offer support to people seeking work, including older workers.

Three conditions need to be satisfied for anyone to get a job and these apply particularly to older jobseekers. First, they have to want a job. Second they have to believe they can get a job and third they have to know how to get a job and be willing to sell themselves into a job.

What are the particular barriers that make it difficult for older clients to get a new job?

In the ASPIRE project we considered many barriers to workers remaining in work or getting back to work when unemployed. When it comes to an unemployed person getting work, there are a number of common barriers which must be addressed if the individual is to have a realistic chance of success. (These are summarised in the remainder of this guidance note.)

Assuming that the individuals being advised are capable of working, structuring advice and support properly will give them the best chances of success. Our lessons in this note are drawn from workshops organised by TAEN – The Age and Employment Network, supporting older job seekers and advisers. They are aimed at people who are both long term unemployed and more recently unemployed.  Much our experience was gathered supporting European Social Fund projects in the UK.

Should unemployed older people be seeking work?

In the ASPIRE project workshops, older union reps sometimes expressed the view that older people should not be working longer because this might displace or exclude younger workers. In fact we found little evidence that this was a widely held view, but it is nonetheless a potential barrier to older people returning to work if they feel “guilt tripped” in some way, that they may be doing a younger person out of a job. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (the OECD) has argued strongly that this idea is not based on reality. People of any age should feel free to seek or remain in work if they wish. Working later is a matter of preference, personal circumstances finances and choice rather than being restricted by any duty to work or not to work at a particular atge.

The role of the adviser

Advisers of older job seekers have a crucial role to play in supporting people back to work, and attention should therefore be paid to the kinds of people who undertake these roles. While a young person may well be able to offer helpful support and advice to an older person about getting work, many older people say that they have found such experiences difficult and that generational gaps of this kind are embarrassing. At the very least, it is a good idea to ensure that there are some older members in a team of advisers, so that conspicuous age inequalities between clients and advisers do not become yet another “barrier” to the older job seeker.

Most importantly, the adviser needs to be able to relate to the person who is seeking help. The ability to share experience and support are important elements in the adviser’s bag of tools. Knowledge of the local economy and a wide range of forms of practical support may be needed. Many people have to overcome multiple barriers if they are to get back into a job in later life, so contact with a wide range of agencies and organisations may be important. The older job seeker may have housing problems, health issues (including mental health problems), family breakdown or other such problems. He or she may be experiencing practical problems to do with state benefits. They may be struggling against poverty and debt and many other issues. Unless the adviser is able to help the individual resolve these issues, they are not very likely to get them to focus on the demanding task of seeking another job.

In the ASPIRE project, some trade union representatives said they believed that their unions could play an important part in supporting people back to work, and commented that union education programmes were a possible way of doing this. Examples were given of work unions had undertaken to enhance the employability and marketability of existing members. Programmes to train members facing redundancies or career changes, was mentioned. Relatively few examples of unions actually engaging in employability support were quoted, but there was feeling in some workshops that giving union representatives training to undertake such work, could be useful for employers, unions and older people themselves.

Advisers should always seek to understand the barriers which each individual has to overcome. Assuming these have been tackled and the job seeker and adviser are ready to embark on the process of getting another job, what issues must be confronted and what approaches might be most usefully followed? The following advice is based on the assumption that most of the barriers faced by the older jobs seeker are being dealt with by appropriate means.

Points for Older Job Seekers and Advisers


A very common problem which older job seekers encounter is that they come up short in their skills. This is especially noticeable in information technology skills but often in other skills too. (There are many reasons for this, which we do not need to consider now). Older job seekers may fall into one of the following categories. They may be either:

  • Computer Naïve – i.e. they came to computers late and are mostly self-taught
  • Qualification Lean – they are statistically less likely to have higher/any qualifications in the area of technology and
  • ‘Niche’-Specialised – their skills may be outdated or have become generalised.

Having access to the right kinds of training to overcome these problems is important. Exploring the kinds of training support that may be available for the older job seeker is an important role of the adviser. Older job seekers may be very skilled in certain respects but missing skills and know-how in an important area. A comprehensive training programme may not be needed where this is the case whilst a short course dealing with the missing skills may be transformative.


Probably biggest “other age barrier” is that the employer probably has a pre-conception – an image – of the successful candidate. He or she is likely to:

  • Have done a similar job for two years;
  • Be well qualified;
  • Be younger than they are.

Some employers will be resistant to employing their mother or father! Employers and unions need to work together to make sure that those given the task of hiring people for jobs are not negatively influenced by age bias. Getting people to recognise that we all tend to have unconscious biases is a good thing. Policies and training should try to ensure that hirers understand the wasteful and negative implications of age bias as well as that it is unlawful.

  1. Barriers of the 50+ themselves

Older people may be “their own worst enemies” when it comes to finding a job. They need to be encouraged to avoid the following mistakes, which are calculated to provoke adverse reactions in employers.

  • The Avuncular Approach – ‘patting the heads’ of younger (particularly female) interviewers.
  • Big Company Syndrome – “smaller companies like yours ….”
  • Lacking Enthusiasm /Positiveness/Motivation – just appearing world-weary and tired and giving the impression they have “given up”.
  • Unrealistic Expectations – Local job, shorter hours, less travel and the same salary.

Anyone supporting an older job seeker can serve an important function. All of us can benefit from help at times like this. The adviser can:

  • Help them understand the skills that they do have.
  • Encourage them to update their skills – particularly their computer skills.
  • Continue to exert pressure on organisations to recognise experience, not just qualifications.
  • Encourage schemes that ‘retrain on the job’, because this is the kind of training older people are most likely to feel relaxed about, particularly if they have “a thing” about training courses and classroom surroundings.
  • Get older jobseekers to start to understand how the job market works – and how they can market themselves.

FIRST, give the older jobseeker time. He or she may need time….

  • To change and unlearn what has worked for them in the past, but which won’t work now because times have moved on.
  • To become confident networkers. (In a world where networking can be all but not all of us have good networks if we are now outside the organisations we worked for over a number of years, we may need time and help to rebuild the networks. Networks are a crucial route through which many people find work. Anyone without networks is at a serious disadvantage in the job market.)
  • To regain/retain their motivation – self-belief can drain away and may need to be replenished.
  • To get more realistic about their situation. (Someone who has held a role at a high level may feel reluctant to accept a more junior position. None of us can afford to rest on our laurels however and sometimes an element of pragmatism is needed.)
  • Check their realism: “What are you looking for? What are you selling? What is going to make it a difficult sale?”
  • Get them to assess not only their Transferable Skills but which of those they can ‘sell’ – their Saleable Skills
  • Get them to start to build a Contact List.

You will need to encourage the older job seeker to realise that they are selling something – themselves!  Use the A – D of self-marketing.

A = Adverts

B = Bureaus (for example Jobcentre Plus or employment agencies)

C = Contacts (networking)

D = Direct Approaches (self-employment)

Whether you are running a job club or supporting individuals on a one to one basis, encourage them to think in terms of a self-marketing exercise.

Get them to consider:

  • Direct approaches to employers they would like to work for.
  • Take initiatives by finding out who they need to make contact with (look for the person not the job)
  • Be proactive not just reactive (i.e. don’t just wait for adverts to appear)
  • Taylor your CV to the specific job – but make your CV person based (your CV should make it clear, you fit the person description of the individual the employer is looking for).


  • Talk to them about the A – D of self-marketing.
  • Get them to start to understand how the job market works – and how they can market themselves.

Only respond to advertisements where they are an excellent fit.

  • Work with BUREAUS (for example Jobcentre Plus and AGENCIES) who show an interest in them.
  • Develop their CONTACTS network. Use this chance to find old colleagues / work mates.
  • Use targeted DIRECT APPROACHES after researching companies, particularly SMEs.

Get them starting to think what job/work they are seeking:

  • Do I want the job?
  • Can I do the job? (if I started on Monday)
  • Can I GET the job? – meet any entry criteria. – market themselves into it. Research the job market/vacancies/companies
  1. THE CV
  • Develop with the older job seeker a CV that ‘shouts’ the job they are after.
  • If necessary produce more than one CV.
  • ‘Detune’ the CV if they are going for a lower level job.
  • Keep it short and miss out irrelevancies. Concentrate on the last 10 years

See examples of CVs in Appendix 1


For the jobseeker – Your aim is to get meetings. These can take the form of an interview, but also a chat over a cup of coffee or in the pub. In the first place, you may wish to draw on existing contacts or direct approaches. You can make a point of attending meetings and events where there are contacts to be made. As an older job-seeker, you can be noticed by asking a good question in a meeting.

For the adviser – You can help by giving older job seekers interview practice, ideally with CCTV, show them where they are going wrong and where they are doing well. Show them how they come across.


They may benefit from:

  • A chance to develop their IT skills if they are limited.
  • Getting training in networking skills and making direct approaches.
  • Doing some voluntary work.
  • Developing their Transferable and Saleable Skills is a priority.

If someone is considering embarking on an expensive training course, help them by making sure there really is likely to be a job available at the end of it.


How can we help those who are not only old, but have other issues as well? As mentioned earlier, it is most important to understand the whole person. If the older jobseeker has multiple barriers, it is a fair bet that you are not going to make progress in getting him or her back into work until they have addressed their other issues. If someone has any of the following, they may be harder to help.

  • Taken time off with stress or has had depression or some other mental illness
  • A physical disability that stops them doing what they did before.
  • No focus to their career, so that they have had a long time off work (no real qualifications or experience)

You will need to be sure they have been able to tackle their issues and that starting in a job is not going to make matters worse.

  • To re-motivate themselves, and build their confidence to sell themselves in the job market.
  • To assess their skills and experience in depth and to help them determine a realistic way forward
  • To gain experience and credibility that employers will buy – through voluntary work or job placements
  • To refocus their approach so that they know where they are going – and want to go there.
  • To develop a CV and application forms that really sell them.
  • To help them get accreditation for experience they have got, but never had the ‘ticket’

Job clubs can provide a good way of supporting people back to work. Job clubs for older people or for particular occupational groups have been useful and effective. Experience has shown that for job clubs to be well run they should provide a range of activity and opportunities, including meetings with employers and other agencies. If you are considering running a job club, think about the following points

  • Who is it for?
  • How will it be run?
  • How often will it meet?
  • How long will each session lasst?
  • Where will it meet?
  • Will there be Car parking?
  • What format will it follow?
  1. Job Club Example
  • Weekly, Wednesday 13:30 – 16:30
  • Three 15-session terms (Break at Easter, August and Christmas)
  • Coffee, Tea and Biscuits
  • Half-hour “Club Catch-up”
  • One hour: Presentation
  • Remainder: normally 1:1 time