For older IT job seekers, ageism occurs in subtle ways during the application and interview process. Use this advice from recruiters to tackle the challenges.
5. If you've been out of the game, brush up on the rules. Be prepared. That's good advice for any age, but Hart notes veteran IT pros that haven't been on the job market for a while sometimes lose touch with what constitutes a strong resume, cover letter, interview strategies, and other parts of the process. Consider enlisting professional help, especially if you've been off the job market for several years or more.
Resumes, for instance, should showcase the things you do well, not everything you've ever done in your career. "In today's market, here are the things that I think are valuable to an employer," said Hart. Cover letters should be very specific and focus on the particular job; generic letters won't cut it. Use LinkedIn to broker warm introductions and research the firm. Know the company -- organizations have egos, too, and they won't often take kindly to candidates that apparently haven't done their homework.
Hart also said that way too often an IT pro will spend a full day getting grilled by a prospective employer, but when the interviewer inevitably asks "any questions for us?" the IT pro just stares blankly and says: "Uh, not at this time." (That's the most common response, according to Hart.)
"Have six [questions] in your back pocket that are ready that you can just fire off at any time," Hart said. This is where research comes in: Growth plans, corporate strategy, upcoming projects, recent news, and so forth make good fodder for good questions.
6. Maintain your resume and network even when you're happily employed. Hart described a "worst-case scenario" for veteran IT pros thrust back onto the job market unexpectedly after continuous long-term employment: You haven't updated your resume in forever and, worse, you haven't kept up with your professional network outside of your most recent employer. Keep your resume current and keep in regular contact with your network as if you're looking for a job -- even when you're not looking.
"It's very awkward to have to reach out to somebody you worked with 20, 15, or 10 years ago to say: 'Hey, I'm back in the workforce, can you give me a hand?'" Hart said, adding that referrals and "warm leads" are definitively more effective in a job search than anonymous, over-the-transom applications online. "Touching base with your network, professionally and personally, from time to time is a great thing to do."
7. Be honest with yourself. It's true that words like "culture," "fit," and "energy" may be polite substitutes for "young" in the IT hiring context. Then again, Hart notes that if a particular workplace culture sounds like a bad fit for you, it probably is. "Sometimes you have to look yourself in the mirror and say 'Am I really up for this?'" Hart said. "The culture's probably not going to change. The last thing you want to do is go in and be a square peg in a round hole, even if you're a talented, capable person."
8. If no doors open, be willing to retool. If you feel your search is going nowhere, consider revising your skillset to match current market demands. Hart pointed out that it's much easier for IT pros to do so now due to a rapidly growing menu of online courses and certifications.
"You can go to school in the quiet of your own home, get a certification, retool yourself, and re-emerge with a different qualification than what you've grown up with in IT and your entire career," Hart said.
Adding skills and technologies that currently have "negative unemployment" -- as in, there are more jobs than qualified people to fill them -- can be an effective strategy for re-energizing a fruitless job hunt, Hunt said. Current examples include mobile development, network and cloud engineering, and web development. Hart said online job sites like Indeed and Dice are a good place to start when looking for supply-and-demand data.
Brosseau of Instant Technology noted another possibility if you're stuck: Consider utilizing other skills you've acquired to enable a career transition into another field.
"Gaining experience in design, business analysis, or even project management can grant a developer or technologist additional marketable skills to make finding another career easier," he said.
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