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How Older Workers Can Sell Themselves in Retail Careers

How Older Workers Can Sell Themselves in Retail Careers

By 2014, the median age of American workers will be 41.6, and more than 43 percent of the workforce will be at least 45 years old, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In addition, workers 55 and older are projected to account for 21.2 percent of the labor force by 2014, up from just 15.6 percent in 2004, according to the BLS.

If you're one of the 76 million Baby Boomers behind this surge in the ranks of older workers, this means you're not alone. Comforting? Perhaps. But not if you're looking for retail jobs.

It's not exactly news that retail trends often target young consumers. This leaves older workers in the industry stereotyped as inflexible, low on energy and enthusiasm, hard to train and out of touch with technology. But if you market your experience correctly, you'll get the chance to teach some young pups a few new tricks.

Your Confidence First

You can't change your age or lie about it, so accept it. If you think age is a weakness, so will prospective employers. Remember: You must be good, or you couldn't have achieved what you have. Now all you have to do is sell yourself and your positive attitude to get the job that's right for you.

Make Age a Nonissue

James Challenger, an outplacement guru and president of Challenger, Gray and Christmas, urges older job seekers to confront age stereotypes head-on. Volunteer information concerning age-related issues to your interviewer. American employers cannot legally ask about your age, but it is surely on their minds.

What to say? Here are some examples where your years become a selling point:

  • "I'm (insert age) years old and have spent more than half my life in retail."
  • "My kids are grown and out of the house."
  • "I enjoy being and working with people of all ages."
  • "I thrive in a fast-paced environment, where people keep growing and developing their skills. My goal is to do that for a long time to come."

Don't Dig Up Ancient History

Many experts, including career columnist and author Joyce Lain Kennedy, recommend focusing on recent career achievements. Leave accomplishments more than 10 years old off your resume and avoid mentioning them in interviews unless they are extraordinary or are your only examples of experience meeting the employer's needs. If you must mention an old accomplishment, talk about it as if it happened today.

Sell the Wine, Not the Bottle

Convince people you have something younger people don't: experience. This includes:

  • Knowledge, insight and understanding of the real world, competition and people.
  • Perspective: You've addressed challenges often and know how to solve problems calmly and systematically.
  • Relationships: You have developed professional contacts over the years, and these relationships can really grease wheels in the industry.

Stay Competitive

Quick tech check for the mature retailer: Do you remember the days before bar-coding merchandise? Do you still call POS (point-of-sale) terminals cash registers? Is Excel still just a verb to you?

You need to keep your skills and knowledge current with retail technology trends. Develop a plan for ongoing training and education, learn the popular software applications used in your industry or get certified by a professional association in your field.

Learn to Work with Younger Managers

Can you see yourself reporting to someone who grew up with Big Bird and MTV? In many retail organizations, you may need to fit within a Generation X or Y management structure. During an interview, give examples of working with or for younger people. Include hobbies or interests that show you are on equal footing or competitive in environments with younger people.

To cultivate successful relationships with younger colleagues:

  • Check your ego at the door. Don't talk down to or patronize younger managers or colleagues.
  • Maintain open and honest communication. Ask for feedback and follow advice on your job performance.
  • Overcome the "been there, done that" attitude. Stay sincerely open to others' ideas, even if they come from those who are still wet behind the ears.
  • If possible, get to know younger managers as individuals. You may have more in common than you think, especially if you're both passionate about retailing.
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