Older workers have to learn some new tricks to get a job

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Even as employment numbers improve in Arizona, older workers struggle to find jobs. After the Great Recession, they took part-time work, less money or dropped out of the workforce.

The ones finding success have found ways to take age out of the equation. Maybe that means learning new skills such as working with computers, or just condensing their experience on their resume, so they don't seem so old.

Cheryl Gresham shuffled some papers in her cubicle recently and reviewed some emails. She is on the job again after two and a half years out of work.

“The seven levels of hell,” is how Gresham described it with a laugh. “Seriously, you get really, really down. I felt like I wasn't pertinent anymore.”

Gresham isn't alone. Forty-five percent of workers over the age of 55 faced long-term unemployment in 2014, according to a new AARP survey. Many who found work took a lower salary.

Gresham left a job with Maricopa County. She had 27 years of professional experience. You would think that would be an asset. But Maricopa Workforce Connections helped her trim her resume.

“Older workers are very frustrated because they think, ‘Well, I've got all this experience; why can't I find a job?' ” explained training specialist Jerry Claudio.

Claudio said you just need to show a 10-year snapshot for job experience, and your resume should only show skills relevant to the job for which you are applying. More than anything, he said older workers need to network through friends, family and former co-workers.

“Family and friends are the best sources of networking,” Claudio said. “Networking is very important because you don't want to just rely on applying online. Everybody does that. Everybody applies online.”

Gresham retrained. She received a grant through Workforce Connections to become a project management professional.

“It's kind of a big deal,” she said after describing the challenging test.

Then her networking really paid off.

“What happened is,” she explained, “it was two different people from my past that I worked with, and they both recommended me to Vanir Construction for this particular job.”

She is now helping coordinate Banner Health's transition of its corporate headquarters, working in a room with people of all ages and educations.

“Here I am,” she said. “I am having the time of my life. These are the best people.”

More information from the AARP study: 31 percent of people surveyed said reaching out to a network of contacts was “very effective” for landing their next job. Only 9 percent said the same thing about job fairs.

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