8 Ways Not to Look Old on the Job Hunt

superhero veteran cartoon contemplates job market

Is it hard for a veteran to get hired after 40? Fifty? Sixty? Seventy-plus? As Military.com's transition master coach, I often do job-hunt coaching with senior enlisted, senior officers and recently transitioned veterans, as well as veterans who have long retired from the military. I most recently got an email from a 74-year-old veteran who was looking for part-time work, using his nursing credentials. I love that.

Even though these job hunters know many employers are interested in hiring veterans, transitioning service members are often concerned about age discrimination keeping them from the jobs they want.

Age Discrimination on the Job Hunt

They may be right to worry. Age discrimination is a thing in this country -- an illegal thing. By federal law, you are protected against age discrimination in hiring, starting at age 40.

That does not mean age discrimination is not common in the work world. According to a recent AARP study, more than half of older workers who have seen or experienced age discrimination indicate they believe it starts when workers are in their 50s.

Among military members, I have heard the advice that every year after 40 you wait to retire affects your job-hunting prospects. Employers want workers with job-specific skills who have plenty of energy and years of usefulness ahead -- like you.

At the Veteran Employment Project, we have so many tools and strategies designed to help veterans and spouses of all ages find their next high-impact job. Here are some suggestions about how you can negate the age factor on your next job hunt.

1. Grow Your Young Network.

Statistically, your network is the most likely place you will find your next job. If you are in your 40s, your mentors and previous bosses in your network should still be on the job in the civilian world. Many of them are in senior positions where they can offer you a lot of current advice on getting a job, which is so welcome.

If you are older, the power of your network comes from the people who used to work for you. I know that sounds a little weird coming from a military culture where the power is focused up the chain of command. Yet, you may be surprised to find that the people who worked for you and then left the military are now the bosses. 

If you were a good boss who listened, coached, led and mentored, then the soldiers and sailors who worked for you before would probably like to work with you again. If you were a jerk to your direct reports and micromanaging people was your specialty, it goes without saying your network will not be as welcoming. Consulting might be a better avenue for your high standards. 

2. Focus on Your Most Recent Experience. 

You have so much experience to bring on the job. Featuring all of it on your resume at once tends to dilute your relevance. Your future employer is really only interested in the last five years on the job. 

It is the norm for your resume to include only jobs you held in the past 10 years. If you have additional skills or expertise that you have not used in the past 10 years but applies to your target job, then you can include those in your checklist. 

3. Use the Checklist Format on Your Resume.

We now live in the Age of the Recruiter. Instead of writing your resume as if it was a biography or a complete record of your work life, think of your resume as a checklist the recruiter will use to find out whether you are qualified for an interview. Your resume should feature a checklist section at the top of the first page that lists hard skills that are specifically featured on the job listing. 

Find out more about how to use the checklist format in our FREE master class video Reverse Resume 2.0.

4. Use Your Delete Button.

Since you wrote your last resume, some things that used to be required on a resume have gone out of style. Delete your street address and replace it with just the geographic area where you intend to live, as well as a live link to your LinkedIn profile. Delete the objective statement and replace it with the name of the job to which you are applying in bold. Delete your executive statement and replace it with the checklist format.

5. Beef Up Your LinkedIn Connections.

LinkedIn is your best shot to connect with the people you already know in the civilian work world. This includes past military and government workers, but also the other parents you met at your kid's soccer practice, swim team or band camp. Also include members of your church, gym or pickleball league. Try to connect with 500+ people so that you appear higher on a recruiter's search engine.

6. Let's Talk About Your Photo.

Yes, you need a new photo on Linkedin. Don't use a picture of yourself that is more than five years old. You don't need a professional shot. Ask someone in your family who has a "portrait mode" on their phone to take a simple headshot. Dress like you would for an interview. Take the picture in the morning when the light outside is warm and kind. Smile like you would be a really nice person to work with in the morning.

7. Follow Your Envy.

I was working with a veteran last week who has been out of the military for five years or so. He likes his current job, but he has mastered the work and wants to move on. I asked him the question we all ask job seekers: What kind of job are you looking for? He groaned. "If I knew that, I wouldn't have had to call you."

We both laughed, but finding the next role that is right for you doesn't get easier as we get older. One thing I heard from author and psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb really applies to veterans: Follow your envy. It tells you what you want.

Make a list. If you don't know what you want at work now, think of the people in your life that you envy. What do you want that they have? Do you want their work hours? Do you yearn for the kind of projects they get? Do you envy their freedom or their ability to work from home? Is your brain hungry to learn something new? Do you want a job that offers more meaning than money? Or are you just going through the veteran's three-year itch?

8. Sign Up for Career Coaching.

When you are going through a major career change, getting someone on your side who does not have any skin in the game can help you see things more clearly. Talk to a coach like me (most of us give you the first call for free). Or sign up with one of our military service organizations like The COMMIT Foundation or American Corporate Partners.

Age will always be a factor in the hiring decision, but it is only one factor. Take the steps you need to show future employers what you can do for them.

Jacey Eckhart is Military.com's transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.

Learn More About the Veteran Employment Project

To get more tips on how to make a successful military transition, sign up for one of our FREE Military Transition Master Classes today. You can view previous classes in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.

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