Many baby boomers need to brush up on modern ways to find work, interview and even update their image .

Share story

DALLAS — Looking for a job was an exercise in frustration for Mike O’Bryan, and nothing was more aggravating than the interview.

His 25 years in information technology turned out to be more a liability than an asset. Employers looked at the 60-year-old applicant and asked him whether he might be “overqualified.”

“I guess my age scared them,” he said. “They must have thought that if they hired me, I’d retire soon.”

After a dozen disappointing interviews, O’Bryan decided to become a self-employed financial planner, helping clients plan for their golden years.

“I’m now my own boss. It’s OK,” said the Grapevine, Texas, man.

The weak economy is putting a squeeze on workers in their 50s and 60s. Having spent careers with only one or two employers, many are looking for work for the first time in years. Some have been laid off. Others have taken buyouts but can’t afford to retire. Still others are leaving retirement because their nest eggs have shrunk.

Workers 55 and older take an average of 21 weeks to find a job, five weeks longer than younger job seekers, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute.

Older workers who suddenly have to apply for another job may be “out of practice” and not know how to make their pitch to employers, said Renee Ward, founder of Seniors4Hire.org, an online community for mature workers.

“The world has changed since they last went job hunting, and some don’t have a clue what to do,” she said.

The interview can be especially intimidating to workers over 50. So career counselors try to prepare them for it, going over how to dress and act and even how to answer the tougher questions they’re likely to be asked.

“Your résumé may get you in the door, but how you handle the interview determines whether you get the job offer,” said career consultant Jill Pfaff Waterbury of Coppell, Texas.

Waterbury, who’s co-author of the “Boomers’ Job Search Guide,” said no one can survive an interview without conveying a professional image and confident attitude.

Here are some tips that she and other job-search experts give for accomplishing that and for landing an offer.

First and foremost, brush off that chip on your shoulder. “If you don’t believe that your age and experience would be assets to potential employers, why should they believe it?” said Renae Perry, director of the Senior Source’s employment program.

“The best way to dispel those stereotypes about older workers is to make sure you’re not that kind of person,” she said. “Be flexible. Be willing to keep up with new trends in your field. Be computer-savvy.”

Work on your image. Even applicants with a can-do attitude can defeat themselves with a slothful appearance, Waterbury said. “No one expects you to look like you’re 20, but you should look neat, trim and up-to-date,” she said.

High on Waterbury’s to-do list: Lose those extra pounds you’ve been toting around. Leave that ill-fitting suit or outfit in your closet and buy something new. If you don’t trust your fashion sense, ask your friends for advice.

Beards are a big no-no with Waterbury, who believes they make men look older. Too much jewelry should be avoided, she said, because it can be a distraction.

Don’t be rattled if your interviewers are under 30. “Show them respect,” Perry said. “Keep your conversation on a professional level. You’re there to convince them you can help them. But don’t overdo it and make them think you’re after their job.”

Younger workers value working in teams, so play up any experience you have with working on projects alongside colleagues of all ages, she said.

Don’t be shy, but don’t talk too much, either. “Though older workers dislike bragging on themselves, a job interview is no time for modesty,” Perry said. “No one else will walk through the door to tout your qualities, so it’s up to you.”

Waterbury said interviews often begin with the general question: “Tell me about yourself.” Stick with your professional life — your accomplishments, your skills and how you would be a good fit for the job, she said.

Anticipate the age-related questions. Asking applicants whether they’re overqualified may be another way of suggesting they’re too old or too expensive, so how well the prospect responds can make or break the interview, Waterbury said.

“A good response is to say outright that your top priorities aren’t title or money,” she said. “Emphasize that you’re a hands-on person who, because of your experience, can hit the ground running and can be trusted to get the job done.”

Sarah Drake, who’s 60 and lives in Coppell, spent most of her life in banking but now wants to work at a nonprofit agency on housing or women’s issues.

She’s thought hard about the skepticism she may encounter from interviewers.

“I’ve accepted the fact that I’m a ‘mature worker.’ To me, that means I have a lot of patience, I’m a loyal employee, I have a strong work ethic, I don’t require supervision and I have a lifetime of experience. There’s no way I’m retiring.”

Practice, practice, practice. Older workers who haven’t looked for a job in years will find that interviewing styles have changed. Many companies now screen candidates through phone interviews, Perry said.

“Don’t be blindsided by the call,” she said. “Prepare for it as you would an in-person interview.

“Behavioral interviewing” has also become popular, Waterbury said. That involves asking applicants how they would respond to specific problems or situations, such as a conflict with a co-worker.

Camille Kramer, coordinator of career and employment services at the Jewish Family Service in Dallas, conducts mock interviews, videotapes the sessions then does critiques so her clients can work on their rough edges.

“Most people have to be talked into it, but they’re often glad they did it,” she said. “They see some silly facial expression or hear some awkward response, and they suddenly have the motivation to do better.”

Don’t leave without asking point-blank for the job. “Tell the interviewer you’re more convinced than ever that you’re the right person for the job,” Perry said.

“And then ask when the company will reach its decision.”

Finally, she advises job applicants to send a note of thanks the same day. “Make it a handwritten note. In this day and age of e-mail, that personal touch will be remembered.”