Retirees who no longer feel that pension and Social Security are enough, homemakers returning to the job market after years as stay-at-home moms, and workers who have suddenly been downsized after decades on the job are just some of the people served by Project Re-employment.
The four-part workshop is designed to improve job search skills, build confidence, manage stress, and help participants enter or re-enter the work force as efficiently and as quickly as possible. Four sessions are scheduled, beginning on Thursday, October 14, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Princeton Senior Resource Center, 45 Stockton Street, and continue on October 19, 26, and 28. Cost: $20 for the series and financial assistance is available. Call 609-924-7108.
The program is a joint offering by the Engaged Retirement and Encore Careers Center at the senior center and the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Mercer County. For more information about the program, call Debra Levenstein at 609-987-8100. Levenstein will present the program along with Linda Meisel, executive director at JFCS for the past 12 years.
“The current economic down turn has hit older individuals especially hard,” says Levenstein. Pensions have vanished or been cut. Retirement investments have lost significant value, and dividend income is reduced or lost whenever companies shut their doors. “Many retirees are looking to go back to work to replace lost income and rebuild their savings. Other older workers who have lost jobs are starting to take social security early, reducing the amount of monthly income they will get in future years.”
While Levenstein, who is director of prevention and support services at JFCS, didn’t really know that she would end up working in social services when she started college, she says that looking back she can see how her path has led here. “When I was in high school I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” she says. “My mom sent me to B’Nai B’rith to take an assessment test to see what I was good at.” The test showed strong skills in communications and a desire to help others.
She decided on a major in Jewish studies at George Washington University. “I thought maybe I’d be a doctor, but I really knew I didn’t have the capacity for it,” she says. “Then I thought about nursing, but I knew I really wasn’t interested in that, either.”
After college she worked as a teacher, then assistant director of an afternoon school, followed by education director and program and camp director at Jewish Community Centers in Florida and Minnesota. She received a master’s in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and has lived in Israel. She has been with JFCS for 14 years.
Levenstein declined to say exactly when she received her degrees. “Let’s just say I’m old enough to really understand what many of the people I work with are going through,” she says. “I’d really hate to need to look for a job right now at my age.”
Where to start. Organization, self-assessment, interview skills, freshening the resume, and finding new places to network and new people to network with are among the most important skills needed to “navigate the changing tide of employment in the job search,” Levenstein says. One of the first things an older person entering the job market must do is make sure she is current, not only in skills, but also in the way she presents herself on paper in a resume and cover letter, and in person.
“You need to look at your resume and translate the jobs and skills, the things that you used to do, into the terms that are used today,” she says. “Many of the same old skills have new names today.”
For example, were you a secretary? You may want to describe yourself now as an administrative assistant.
While it can be difficult for the homemaker who has never worked to describe the volunteer positions and work she has done at home in ways that appeal to employers, the person who has been in the workforce may also have a resume problem. “How far back should you go? What old positions are still relevant?” Levenstein asks. The answer depends on the individual, her skills, and the type of job that is being sought.
The next step. Updating your resume is only the first step. You may need to update your wardrobe, your hair color, and your sense of energy and freshness. “Don’t go to an interview looking like you dressed in clothes from 1980,” she says. And if you are silver-haired or have an outdated hairstyle a trip to the beauty shop or barber is in order.
Men often have trouble with the idea of dying their hair or getting rid of a trademark mustache or beard whose style says 1975, but it is a must, says Levenstein. “This isn’t rocket science. It’s common sense. There are a lot of products out there that make it simple for men to color their hair these days.”
Another thing to remember: while stubble may be fashionable for a 20-something, it just looks sloppy on someone over 50, particularly if the stubble is gray and the hair is dark. “You need to be clean and sharp, not smelling like mothballs — and I mean that both figuratively and literally,” she says.
Also, you need to walk into an interview with a little bit of get-up-and-go in your step. “You want people to know that you have the energy to do the job,” Levenstein says. “And don’t talk about the grandkids!”
Develop a plan. One of the most important steps in getting a job is to develop a strategy. “Get out your calendar and develop a plan,” says Levenstein. While revising a resume is important, “you can’t just dawdle in the comfort zone, you have to take the next step,” says Levenstein. This means creating a plan that includes sending out resumes, making follow-up phone calls, and networking.
Networking can mean getting in touch with former colleagues or going out and meeting a new group of people, depending on how long you have been out of the workforce and whether you plan to continue in the same basic career area.
Social networking on websites such as LinkedIn may or may not be important for the older worker, she comments. It depends on several factors, including your age. “If you are past 70 you probably don’t have many friends or colleagues online,” she mentions. But people in their 50s should definitely consider it as a way to get back in touch with people they may not have seen or heard from in a few years.
Levenstein never downplays the difficulty of getting a job at any age. It can be particularly difficult for older people who thought they had the means for a comfortable retirement but have lost pension or investments in the last few years. “It can be very scary out there right now,” she says. “These people have very real worries and concerns. Whenever I meet with them they humble me.”