If you’re in your above 50 and looking for a job, you’ve probably experienced the frustration that comes along with being a job-searching older professional. Employers’ perceptions of older workers can be skewed, and it’s a challenge to overcome the job search ageism found in most industries. The good news is it’s possible to thrive in your job search and find employment success at every age.
The best cover letter tips for mature job seekers are similar to tips given to professionals at any age. There are, however, unique challenges that many mature job seekers have to consider and deal with. The trick is finding ways to let your experience and abilities catch the attention of a recruiter, without emphasizing your age.
Customize Your Cover Letter
Regardless of your age or level of experience, this is such an important detail. No one is impressed with a cover letter that clearly could be used for any job with any company. Be sure to customize your cover letter for each and every application you submit.
Read through the job post and keep track of what keywords repeatedly appear in the job posting. Does the job posting say “client” or “customer”? Will you be responsible for “managing” or “leading”? Use the same keywords from the job posting in your cover letter to show that you and the company speak the same language.
Choose Your Words Carefully
Obviously, your cover letter won’t be a bunch of keywords in sentence form. A big part of your cover letter is selling yourself as the right candidate, and that means talking about yourself outside of the job description keywords.
Don’t make common cover letter mistakes. It’s a dead giveaway that you’re a mature job seeker and makes you seem out of touch with current developments in your industry. For example, saying that you’re “experienced with word processing programs,” could indicate that you haven’t kept up to date with all the changes in “word processing programs.”
And stay away from the old cover letter “standards.” For example, avoid saying “references available on request” anymore. A recruiter expects that you have them and can produce them when asked.
When you describe yourself, don’t emphasize your extensive experience in the field. While this is important and possibly relevant, there is often a fear among employers that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Describe your skills and experiences with words that reflect a positive and progressive attitude. Words like flexible, adaptable, willingness to learn, and energy leave the impression that a job seeker is open to new experiences and not set in their ways.
Update Your Style
While you’re updating your language, don’t forget to update your style, too. Make sure you aren’t using “old”resume and cover letter fonts, like Times New Roman or Garamond, which are serif fonts. Choose a modern, sans-serif font like Arial or Cambria. Using a modern font, though, isn’t just about being one of the cool kids.
Using a sans-serif font means the letters don’t have little tails on them (like a serif font does). Serif fonts are easier for human recruiters to read on-screen. And, if it’s not a human reading your resume, that means an applicant tracking system (ATS) is. These systems screen every applicant’s resume and cover letter for specific keywords. But, they have a harder time reading serif fonts. So, even if you use all the right keywords, if the ATS can’t read your font, you’ll end up in the “no” pile.
There’s one more style update you need to make on your cover letter. Don’t double space after a period! That’s no longer the standard, and using it will call attention not only to your age but the fact that you’re not keeping up with what’s changed in the world.
Check Your Email Address
Certain email addresses will give your age away in no time.
Avoid AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, or your service provider’s default address. It might be your go-to email account, but it could serve as a red flag when it lands in the recruiter’s inbox.
Sign up for a Gmail account. They’re free and almost expected (maybe even preferred) by recruiters. Use it just for job searching if you don’t want to make it your regular email outlet. Since firstname.lastname@example.org is probably taken, you’ll have to opt for something else. FirstNameLastName is always acceptable, but not always available, either. Consider some of these alternatives instead:
- Last Name First Name (DoeJane@gmail.com)
- First Name Middle Initial Last Name (JaneGDoe@gmail.com)
- First NameLast Name what you do: (JaneDoeCPA@gmail.com)
Don’t Summarize Your Entire Work History
It’s tempting to talk about your entire work history in your cover letter. After all, you’ve earned it! Plus, given the depth and breadth of your career, you’ve got a lot to offer an employer.
And while you may have a lot to offer, it’s not necessary to talk about everything in your cover letter (or on your resume, for that matter). Mentioning your entire background may only draw attention to the fact that you’re an older job seeker.
Instead, spotlight the relevant skills the employer is looking for based on the job description. In your cover letter, emphasize how you’ve got those skills and how you can use them to benefit the company.
Just the Facts
While you may think it’s important to mention how long you’ve been doing something, that’s not necessarily the case. The length of time you’ve done something isn’t nearly as important as how well you can do something.
Don’t mention that you have 20 or 30 years of experience or that you’re a seasoned professional. Instead, emphasize the factual aspects of your employment with neutral language that demonstrates you have the skill set the employer is after.
For example, don’t say, “For the last 15 years, I’ve led a team of 12 people.” Rather, say, “I lead a team of 12 people.” The fact that you’ve been a leader for 15 years is unimportant. The fact that you are a leader is what you what to call attention to in your cover letter.
Address Concerns Head On
Unfortunately, older job seekers can and do run into discrimination. Fortunately, the cover letter is the perfect place to assure the employer that you are the right person for the job. Emphasize your relevant and current skills to demonstrate to the recruiter that you’re keeping up to date on technology and industry trends. Illustrate that you’re committed to learning new skills by discussing workshops and professional development classes you’ve taken.
Love it or hate it, LinkedIn plays a vital role in everybody’s job search—no matter their age. It’s estimated that nearly 87% of recruiters will look at your LinkedIn profile before they do anything else with your application. Even if you’re not active on social media, most recruiters expect to see a link to your LinkedIn profile on your cover letter. And, if you don’t include one, it could signal that you’re an out-of-date, out-of-touch job seeker.
However, while there are a plethora of things you can do to create the perfect LinkedIn profile, the one thing you can’t do is hide your age.
First of all, your profile picture will likely give you away. And if you think skipping the profile picture is the way to go, think again. Profiles without pictures are considered “incomplete” by LinkedIn. And incomplete LinkedIn profiles are less likely to show up in a recruiter’s search results.
Even if you look young for your age, LinkedIn requires and displays your employment dates, so there’s no way to hide how long you’ve been employed. To combat this, focus your efforts on your LinkedIn summary. That’s the first thing (after your picture) recruiters will see when they land on your profile.
Make that summary stand out and explain why a company should hire you instead of the competition. While you don’t have to be as brief as you would on a resume summary, you do need to be brief. Talk about your skills and experiences and not your vast work history. When in doubt, limit yourself to the last 10 to 15 years of your work history.
And remember to keep it professional. LinkedIn is the number one social network for professionals. But the important part is “professional.” LinkedIn isn’t the place for pictures of the kids (or grandkids), the fur babies, or even a summary of what you did last weekend. Everything you say and do on LinkedIn should help you further your job search and your career, not highlight your social life.
Sample Cover Letter for Older Job Seekers
Making sure you cover all these tips can be overwhelming. To help guide you, here’s a sample cover letter for older workers to help you understand what these tips look like in action.
Why It Works
This cover letter focuses on the job seeker’s skills and experiences without drawing attention to their age. It also addresses any concerns the company may have about an older job seeker. Specifically, the cover letter:
- Combines traditional skills with digital skills (I oversaw a team and reduced costs, but much of our work was distributed, so we did video conferencing and document sharing to collaborate)
- Doesn’t use outdated language (like “To Whom It May Concern”)
- Talks about their ability to work well and collaborate with teams of all sizes, experiences levels, and generations, demonstrating they don’t have concerns about working for younger coworkers and managers
Finding Success in Your Job Search Regardless of Age
Here’s one last bonus tip: consider using a hybrid resume to help draw attention to your skills and away from your age. It’s a great way to highlight everything you’ve got to offer a potential employer without going in chronological order on your resume.
Of course, we’ve got tips for formatting your resume, how to deal with ageism in your job search, and even how remote work is changing the game for older job seekers. But, if you want more advice on navigating the job market, consider speaking with one of our career coaches. Our team of in-house career coaches can help you craft a cover letter that helps your skills shine bright.
Brie Reynolds and Carol Cochran contributed to this article
Photo Credit: bigstockphotos.com
A version of this article was originally published on March 4, 2012.
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Brie Weiler Reynolds, Career Development Manager
Brie Weiler Reynolds is the Career Development Manager and a career coach and resume writer at FlexJobs, the award-winning site for remote, flexible schedule, and freelance job listings. She provides practical information and resources to help people overcome their roadblocks…Read More >
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