July 30, 2020


By Alex Harrington, Executive Director

“As an older worker, what is the best way (other than to showcase my experience) to show that I am the best candidate for the job?”

For nearly ten years, I have been asked this question many times over. Quite frankly, when I was first asked about how to market yourself as someone past their mid-40s, at best, I clumsily struggled in my response to the individual’s age-related question.

Today, as a 53-year-old professional, this is my first time responding to an age-related question in the public domain. But this time, instead of stumbling over my words, I have well-grounded advice for older job seekers, who want to know how to better market themselves as the best candidate in today’s competitive workforce.

I want to be specific on the age demographic and intent on working for the Federal government

I’m writing to those job candidates who are past mid-40s and older. Because they’re the ones who must continue to update their skills and competencies, to stay competitive with younger people in the workforce. And should also endeavor to find and take on new challenges; creating new innovative ways to improve services or products for their customers or stakeholders, either in the private sector or government. However, this blog also contains some good nuggets of information and resources for all age groups.

And for those who are ‘45 to 65 years old or more’, who are considering a career in the Federal government, this would not be an ideal time for a career change. Those who want to change career focus in middle age without gaining new academic or work credentials shouldn't look to the Federal government to reskill them. However, the Federal government does value the knowledge and expertise that older professionals bring to the workforce.

Federal Employment Trends of 45 to 65 years old or more

At the end of September 2018, there were just over 2.1 million employees – excluding the military and U.S. Postal – working for the Federal government, and of those who were 45 to 65 years old or more made up over 1.2 million (57.6% of the total Federal workforce), working in professional, administrative, technical, and blue-collar positions. The bulk of this age group were 50- to 59-year-olds, totaling about 628,000, or approximately 30% of the total Federal workforce by the end of September 2018.

(Source: Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Workforce Data: Diversity Trend)

(Source: Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Workforce Data: Employment Trend)

While those new hires aged 45 to 65 or more were only about a quarter of the total new hires during September 2018, it’s evident that the Federal government still recruits and hires job candidates who are past their mid-40s. Moreover, the Federal government recognizes the vital role and experience that older workers bring to the workforce. Take for instance the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) Program.” The SEE Program provides an opportunity for retired and unemployed Americans age 55 and over to share their expertise with EPA.

Another similar initiative – Agriculture Conservation Experienced Services (ACES) Program – is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resource Conservation Service, which recruits experienced workers, age 55 and over, to help NRCS employees provide technical services in support of conservation.

Job Search Tips for Older Job Candidates

Now that I’ve provided enough evidence that the Federal government does recruit and hire older workers, let’s look at ways that job seekers past their mid-40s can better market themselves as the best candidate in today’s competitive workforce.

Job Candidates Should Highlight Their Gained Knowledge and Expertise and How Both Would Benefit the Organization’s Diverse Teams and Goals

Older job candidates possess two formidable advantages over younger candidates: First, they have proven their value through documented performance and successes that benefited the organizations they worked for. Second, older workers have also gained experience and learned insights from hard knocks and personal mistakes. Together, both successes and hard knocks create a well-rounded job candidate who not only has gained knowledge and expertise from those experiences but can leverage both to benefit diverse teams and the organization’s goals.

Job Candidates Must Not Be a Certified Luddite When it Comes to Progressive and Emerging Technologies

When an older job seeker tells me, “I am just out of date when it comes to technology,” I remind them that technology – i.e., software, web-based tools, operating systems, etc. – is in a constant perpetual beta-stage. It doesn’t matter if someone hasn’t used Microsoft Word in ten years...what matters is that an older job seeker quickly gets up to date with the latest Microsoft 365. But keep in mind, using basic Microsoft Office software or any other desktop publishing programs or common business software programs is expected in an office-type of environment.

In the past, when I’ve reviewed a job candidate’s resume and noticed that they indicated “Proficient with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel” ... I tell them, you might as well put down that you know how to use #2 pencils. Because Microsoft Windows has been around for over 35 years, we’re past the point when an older job candidate says `that “I just don’t know how to use X, Y, or Z software program.”

What’s more, we’ve had enough time to get on the ball and learn how to use the Microsoft office tools and other related software. And if someone doesn’t know how to use a particular software program, they can take a class or just Google how to use PowerPoint as a presentation expert.

What would impress a hiring manager or recruiter is that the older job candidate states that they are proficient using SharePoint and able to collaborate with other colleagues on web-based platforms like Office 365 or Smartsheet (great for project management!). These would grab their attention.

Steps to Embracing New Progressive and Emerging Technologies

To get up-to-speed on the latest progressive and emerging technologies by, I would recommend:

  • Learning the latest demands of technical skills required in the workplace, such as software proficiency, operating systems, etc.

A good place to start is to read “Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples”.

However, during this time with COVID-19, job seekers can sign up for some IT classes at Lynda.com, Udemy, Simon Sez IT, or even at Merlot.

Older job seekers can even try out YouTube, where it offers a superabundance of great instructional videos to help learn specific technical skills and social media programs.

Job Candidates Need an Online Presence

According to Glassdoor, “Roughly 80 percent of recruiters and hiring managers use social media to look for and vet job candidates, making it extremely important to have a professional presence on the Internet.”

And as a former hiring manager, I’ve done it myself... and even during an interview!

So, for those older job seekers who have not established a presence online, I would strongly recommend doing it now, then later.

Steps to Establish an Online Presence

That's it!

My top three recommendations of how an older job seeker can raise their marketability, by highlighting their knowledge and expertise, embracing progressive and emerging technologies, and establishing a presence online.

Also, check out the following articles from job-hunt.org:

Please follow us on Twitter @FedCareer and join our Federal Career Connection LinkedIn Group or find us on Meetup at meetup.com/mbc-cnm. To get updates on upcoming workshops and career coaching sessions, visit https://federalcareerconnection.com.

Alex Harrington
Chair & Executive Director
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