How the job hunt has evolved for seniors

Rachel Smith interviews job expert Michael Berger for Australian Seniors Life Insurance.                          

If there’s one industry that’s moved at warp speed since the 1970s, it’s recruitment.     

Chances are, you remember the ridiculously inappropriate questions interviewers were allowed to ask back in the day. And who could forget bashing out a job application on a typewriter – and having to find a stamp so you could mail it in?                                                          

Fast forward to now: the age of email, keywords, online jobs boards, video interviews – and a sense that there are more robots than humans involved in the job-seeking process.                                             

“Once upon a time the biggest thing we’d agonise over with a CV and cover letter was picking the perfect stationery to use!” says Michael Berger, founder and director at Talent Blueprint in Brisbane. “Job-seekers have had to move with the times – but the good news is, if you present yourself well, and have specialised skills, it’s a great time to be job hunting.”

Back in time 

The 1970s were a time of cultural change, but companies still expected your resumé to list your race, height, weight, marital status, health conditions and even whether you owned your own home. “Details we wouldn’t get away with asking for these days, basically,” says Michael. 

The 1980s saw technology take a leap forward: we swapped typewriters for word processors, and the facsimile was born. “It saved you time but was a weird thing to get your head around,” he remembers. “You just had to feed your resumé through in the right way and hope it would turn up at the other end.

In the 1990s, online job boards emerged, and that was a big transition for many job-seekers who weren’t quite ready to give up the classifieds. “All that changed in the early 2000s when people realised how easy it was to apply for jobs online, and the recruitment landscape became a bit of a flood.”                                                         

Applying for jobs

It’s been a long time since any of us checked the newspaper for job opportunities – that seems as strange to us now as online job boards once did. And we’ve had to become detectives of sorts, decoding job ads and inserting the right keywords into our CVs and cover letters, because so many companies now use applicant tracking software (ATS) to screen candidates.                                                           

“A primitive form of ATS was available in the early 2000s,” says Michael. “But these days, it’s much more sophisticated – it can rank a pool of candidates and their applications in seconds. Keywords are everything; for example, if the ad mentions advanced Excel skills and you don’t include the words ‘advanced Excel skills’ in your cover letter or CV, your CV will go straight into the bin.”                                                       

Interview evolution                                                        

Just as lighting up a cigarette in the workplace is now illegal, the interviewing part of the process has evolved hugely over the years. Take interview wear, for example: in the 1970s, women were warned against looking too “visually provocative”. In the 1980s, it became all about power suits, shoulder pads and big hair (à la the movie Working Girl).                                                          

These days? It’s far less formal, says Michael. “It’s more accepted today to go to an interview wearing what you’d wear in that particular workplace – and if you’re not sure of the dress code, ask!"

How candidates are assessed has changed, too: in the past, interviews were nearly all face-to- face. Today, the virtual interview is a thing. “The other things we do so differently include using tools like AI, psychometric testing and pre-recorded video where candidates answer five questions,” explains Michael. “Companies are increasingly relying on video, especially for customer service roles, to determine if you're a good fit."

What hasn’t changed?                                                           

Although we’ve come a long way in the past 50 years, the job-seeking fundamentals have still stayed the same, says Michael. “We talk about all these whiz-bang AI tools we have, but networking is as important as it ever was – there’s nothing more powerful than getting the inside word from someone in the know. Tapping into industry groups and communities and building relationships – whether on Facebook, LinkedIn or via another channel – is also a big part of it.”                                                        

Keeping your resumé up-to-date is also still essential – and these days, your LinkedIn profile is an extension of that. “Market yourself and be consistent across your CV and LinkedIn, and you may never need a CV again,” he adds. “You’re going to be found with the technology that’s available, and which will become even more intuitive in years to come.”

Image of copywriter/strategist Karen Doane

Karen Doane

“I don’t miss the inappropriate questions or the power suits!” says Karen Doane, 62, copywriter/strategist

I first applied for jobs back in the 1980s and it was all about what you wore, who you knew, and if you went to a ‘good school’. I spent weeks searching for the perfect blue power suit – and I don’t miss that or having to retype my CV over and over for different jobs.

As for the interview questions, I was asked if I had a boyfriend, wanted children, went to church, whether my parents were married or divorced, what car I drove and even if I was okay to babysit when necessary for the boss!

These days, it’s very different of course – and job-seeking is much easier with the advantages of technology. I also love that there’s more flexibility and work-from-home options. If you’re back job-seeking after many years, my advice would be to upskill in Microsoft Office. There are free courses online or at your local library, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from younger colleagues or friends, because technology skills are essential. Here are some employment options for people over 60.

For more good reads, visit our blog, Discovery Hub