Programs help older job hunters clear the age hurdle

Dressed in a fashionable black and gray striped button-down and with a Bluetooth device on his right ear, H.B. Staton looks more like 50 than his 70 years of age. The Carrollton resident has managed purchasing card programs at CompUSA and Vought Aircraft, but right now, he's looking for a job.

After recently losing his position, he's trying to stay positive.

"It's not easy," he said. But instead of hiding indoors, he grabbed his résumé and headed to a networking workshop.

With the economy down and people working and living longer, more and more older adults are turning to employment programs for help.

The Senior Source, a Dallas nonprofit agency, has seen its program's enrollment surge in the past two years, setting a record of 2,026 participants in 2009. A recent networking session drew more than 70 people. Its program is on track to meet or beat last year's figure.

Program participants brush up on job search basics, like how to make a good first impression, how to answer questions about desired salary and what to write in a post-interview thank-you note.

But they must also tackle challenges that are unique to their age group, such as dispelling stereotypes that they are not technology-savvy, take more sick days or are simply overqualified – obstacles that can keep them in the job search longer than younger people.

More than half a million people age 50 and older are unemployed and looking for work, according to June data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to a February study by the U.S. Department of Labor, workers age 55 and up have an average duration of joblessness of 35.5 weeks, compared with 23.3 weeks for job seekers between 16 and 24 and 30.3 weeks for those between 25 and 54.

In the Senior Source's interviewing workshops, networking events and other sessions, program director Renae Perry serves as both a teacher and a motivational speaker.

"If you don't think your age is an asset, how can you make your employer believe it?" she asked at an interviewing workshop held at the Plano Senior Center. "Don't let your age hold you back."

Seeing bias

Betty Belanger, 62, has seen age discrimination firsthand. The Plano resident lost her job when her employer, an information technology company, closed. She applied for a similar job at another company and made it to the final rounds.

"He [the interviewer] said, 'We have a certain culture here, and we think you won't fit,' " she said. "I felt like I was crossing the finish line, but I was actually hitting the wall."

Some companies, though, seek out older employees for their wealth of experience.

Michelle Minnick, a human resources business partner at BNY Mellon in Richardson, has hired older adults out of the Senior Source's program.

She says older job applicants should adopt "the mindset of being open to the current lay of the land, not so much with one foot behind but choosing to move forward."

"The ones who haven't been as successful sort of stay back," she said. "They have a harder time transitioning to what our company's practices are."

Love of the job

Laura Jerabek, 72, said she enjoyed passing on her love of nursing and health care to students. She lit up when she talking about her 16 nursing students at Collin College, where she previously worked.

"My dad lived till 102," she said. "It's possible I could live another 15 years, and I want to contribute."

With the Senior Source's help, Jerabek may snag her dream teaching job.

The employment program's success rates reflect a tough economy. In 2009, the placement rate for individuals who attended one-on-one sessions, along with workshops, was 36 percent. In 2007 and 2008, the rate was 50 percent.

Joyce Moench is one of the program's success stories. The 69-year-old Garland resident got a receptionist job five years ago after Hancock Mazda of Mesquite called the Senior Center.

Now, though, the Mazda dealership has gone out of business and Moench is back in the workshops, hoping for another stroke of luck.


Buy a computer and cellphone, if you don’t have them already. Employers will expect you to be accessible and tech-savvy. You can buy a decent laptop or desktop computer for less than $600. You can also brush up on your computer skills.

Dismiss negative thoughts about your age. Stay positive by focusing on your strengths and skills. Emphasize your abilities. and don’t refer to dates that may age you.

Look good so you feel good. Staying fit and well-dressed will make you stand out at an interview — and later on the job. Get a good night’s rest and wear your favorite outfit, so you go into an interview looking professional and acting confident.

Seek out age-friendly employers. Use, AARP’s Best Employers for Workers 50+, and Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Employers as research tools.

Network — online and in person. From using to talking to people at your church, networking can be the best way to find a job.


By MELISSA REPKO / The Dallas Morning News

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