What Real Estate Can Teach Older Workers about Finding Great Jobs

Are you over fifty and worried about your chances of finding a good job is a bad economy?  While it’s challenging for anyone to job search these days, my observation is that your chances are as good as your younger competition if you position yourself strategically.

I like to compare the process to selling your older house in a down market.  While there is always a market for new construction, there are also buyers looking for – and willing to pay more for — well-preserved houses with character and curb appeal in established neighborhoods. 

Let’s look at the home-to-person comparison for each of these characteristics:


Older houses that command top dollar have been consistently maintained; key systems have been updated or restored.  Everything works. Prospective buyers don’t have to wonder if they will need to replace the roof or plumbing systems after they stretch to afford the home price.  They can picture themselves opening the door and being comfortable living there right away.

As a prospective employee, you bring a package of skills to the table.  Are they current?  Have you kept up as your field evolves?  Can you apply your skills with all the new technological skills available?  Can you use LinkedIn and other professional bulletin boards to network and apply for jobs?  Have you kept up with the kinds of communications software used in your field?  All of these add up to make a prospective employer feel you’d be a great fit for their organization.


Buyers remember and return to re-view(and bid on!) the hand-turned banisters, built-in book cases, cozy window seats, well-tended perennial garden; the things that set one house apart from the dozens of others they’ve seen.  If those things that the owner has customized speak to the prospective buyer, the property sells itself.

For a job candidate, it’s the “Wow” factor.  What sets you apart from the dozens of other candidates she’ll review this week is: how much care have you taken in applying for THIS position?  Do you know what your prospective employer does?  Are you up-to-date on the issues facing the field you are entering?  Can you describe succinctly how your skills and experience can help this employer solve his biggest problems or achieve her mission-driven goals.  If you’re changing fields, does your cover letter connect the dots between what the position requires and your unique skills and experience?  This is where your experience gives you the edge over less seasoned candidates IF you can prove how you can use it to help your new employer succeed.

Curb Appeal

Home sellers have learned from the design folks on HG TV the importance of the first impression.  Home stylists now advise desperate sellers on everything from their house’s color and front door style to the eliminating the clutter in their kitchen cabinets and softening the color of their drapes.  Staging has become big business because marketing gurus have demonstrated that prospective buyers have little imagination to see through to a home’s “great bones” if they’re obscured by personal clutter.  The singular message of these designers is you want no obstacles that prevent a would-be buyer from seeing that their stuff fits in your house.

Many older workers fixate on the image issue.  I’ve heard many folks obsessing on whether they look young and “with it” enough; whether their wardrobe is job hunt-worthy—even whether they need to invest in cosmetic surgery to look like they’ll fit in.  While it does matter that you make a great first impression if you interview, it’s important to remember you make several first impressions before you walk in the door, and you may not get to walk in the door if you blow them.  Here are a few tips with remedies you may not have considered:

  • Your resume needs to be impeccable—formatted perfectly: lots of white space, well-organized, no typos, no grammar glitches.  If you can’t do it yourself, find someone to help you.  Remember that there is so much competition right now that this is an easy disqualifier.
  • Do take the time to write a cover letter that specifically makes the connections between your experience and the skills that the employer is seeking.  Because not everyone does this, it helps your application stand out in the crowd.
  • Remember that there’s the impression you’re trying to make and the electronic image that’s in cyberspace already.  Employers can research you as well as you can research them. More and more companies are checking out job applicants on the internet before meeting them face to face.   Google yourself.  What comes up?  Is your professional profile current?  Not having one is not an advantage either, since it DOES date you!  At least, establish a LinkedIn page and get a few endorsements.   Is your Facebook presence something you’d be comfortable having the HR department review?    Younger candidates may worry more about indiscretions surfacing, but mature applicants need to pay attention as well.  Is there a vital, interesting adult there, or is your site a repository for grandchildren pictures and kitty videos? If it all seems pretty trite, change the privacy settings to restrict access.
  • Many employers use phone interviews prior to bringing in candidates for face-to-face interviews.  If you’re invited for a phone interview, make sure the time you set allows you quiet and privacy.  Your first impression phone-wise needs to be calm, focused and articulate.  Review the ad you responded to and any research you may have done on the company before you get on the phone. Have a copy of the resume and cover letter you sent in case there are specific questions about something you wrote.  Be sure to have one or two questions ready to ask your interviewer.

If you successfully jump these first impression hurdles, you’ve already provided two-thirds of your “curb appeal” test, without investing in Botox or a new wardrobe!

In deciding how to dress for an interview, the key criteria should be well-groomed, fitting and professional.  These never go out of style.  If an outfit fits well and feels comfortable you’re going to come across as relaxed and confident; timeless characteristics!  “Professional” means something different in different fields, but in general, you should dress slightly more formally for an interview than you would expect to dress on the job.  Unless you’re interviewing in the fashion industry, it shouldn’t be your outfit that sets you apart from other candidates.  Your clothes should be the neutral backdrop that allows your poise, personality and skills to shine through!

Established Neighborhood

We frequently hear “location, location, location” is key to real estate sales.  When folks buy a home, they want to know how it will help them fit into the community fabric.  A savvy real estate agent drives the prospective buyer through the neighborhood to highlight certain elements.  The families the kids will go to school with, the playgrounds and coffee shops and walking paths all add to the value of the property.  Community history, values and amenities can change the story buyers tell themselves about their potential to live “happily ever after” in a particular home.

As a mature worker, you too exist within a context that tells a story about how “happily ever after” you will make your employer.  The story you tell is through your work experience.  Unlike your less experienced competition, you have different ways you can tell your story beyond a straight chronological sequence.  You can tell the last 15 years of your history, if that’s where your most significant professional experience lies.  You can highlight those positions that relate directly to the job for which you are applying.

Knowing your resume only has a reviewer’s attention for 30-60 seconds, you want to focus on those elements that best qualify you for the job and paint that picture of your experience, so it can be quickly and easily grasped.  What you say about what you did and the roles you played will enhance your desirability or detract from it.  It isn’t enough to say, for instance, that you worked as a project manager at NASA—how did you contribute to the Mars landing?  Like Zelig, you want to show that you were “located” in the middle of the action and played a key role in achieving the success of the institution you served.  You want the skills you highlight to show the timeliness of your accomplishments and the perspective provided by your experience.

In summary:

Well-preserved = up-to-date skills maintained

Character = demonstrating how skills are custom-fit for this position

Curb appeal = crisp resume/cover letter appearance + professional web presence + calm, professional phone presence + well-groomed, fitting, professional appearance

Well-established neighborhood = making your experience tell your story in a way that makes the reviewer feel you’re accomplished and seasoned.

If you present yourself as the valuable property that you are—you might not just get a great job—you might set off a bidding war!