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BusinessColumnistsCarrie Mason-Draffen

Advice to older workers: Network to move the focus off age

People wait for a job interview in this

People wait for a job interview in this undated photo. Photo Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto / oneinchpunch

DEAR CARRIE: I have a question about a group of workers who I feel are often left out of discussions about job seekers: Older workers. People over 50 have a hard time finding a job. I know because I am one of them. Employers assume that we’re going to retire at any time and leave them in the lurch or that we don’t know how to use a computer. In one interview, an employer said to me, “You know you have to know how to use a computer,” even though my resumé states that I have computer skills.

Older workers not only bring job experience to the workplace but also life experience. But too many employers won’t give us a chance, even at lower-paying jobs. They tell us we are “overqualified” or fear we’ll leave as soon as we find a job in our field. How do we overcome all these assumptions? How do we use our life experiences as a plus in the interview?

— The Age Factor

DEAR AGE: You’ve probably heard the real estate adage about the top three key selling points of a property: Location, location, location. Your best avenue to success could well be “networking, networking, networking,” according to one career strategist.

“Networking like you’ve never networked before is more likely to bring you success than applying to jobs online,” said Glory Borgeson, president of Borgeson Consulting Inc., a Chicago area career-coaching firm. “Be clear with everyone you know about what type of job you’re looking for.”

Then, leverage those acquaintances by asking them to recommend people in their networks you should talk to, said Borgeson.

If they blank out on that question, ask if you can connect with them on LinkedIn.

When you find a company you’re interested in, look it up on LinkedIn to see if any of your LinkedIn connections are also connected to any of the business’ employees. The latter would be known as your “secondary connections.”

When you find an employee at the company whom you and your LinkedIn connection know, it’s best to ask that person for an introduction to the executive at the company you want to speak with, she said.

“Don’t mention the words ‘job’ or ‘job hunting,’ ” at this stage, she said. “If you do, the person you want to meet might say, ‘I don’t know of any job openings here,’ and the potential conversation stops there.”

When you speak with the executive, try to find out something about him or her. Use the person’s LinkedIn profile for ideas. And ask about the company culture. When prompted, tell the person a bit about your background and what you’re looking for in a new position, she said.

And before the conversation ends, ask if you can connect with him or her on LinkedIn, and if you should speak to anyone else at the company.

“The idea is to have as many conversations as possible with people at a company you’re interested in,” she said. “This way you increase the likelihood that hiring managers will hear your name,” she said.

Every two or three months you should send the people you met at the company a message on LinkedIn, she said. Post interesting articles in the “share an article, photo or ‘update’ ” section on LinkedIn’s home page.

“The idea is to stay visible to all of these people,” she said. “You want them to think of you first when they have a job need you can fill.”

And in the process, age becomes less of a focus, Borgeson said.

“If people at companies you’re interested in already know you, they won’t have a hang-up about you being an older worker,” she said. “You won’t have to explain it or endure insults during the interview. They will already welcome your experience and expertise.”

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