How Older Job Seekers Can Increase Their Tech Savvy was originally published on Idealist Careers.
As organizations switch to work-from-home models in the wake of COVID-19 and interviews, on-boarding, and professional development all continue to go virtual, technology has become an even more important piece of the job search puzzle.
While job seekers of all ages may struggle to keep up with the tech-centric “new normal” those in the 50+ demographic also deal with the ageist stereotype that older job searchers don’t have strong technological skill sets. To combat that cliche, you may consider brushing up or expanding upon your computer skills.
Getting more comfortable with essential technology can always help a job search, no matter what career stage you’re in. Here are some suggestions for easy ways to jump in.
Registering in a few courses
It is worth the time and money to take a few courses such as Social Media Essentials and Microsoft Office applications. Visit Continuing Education and use the search function to find the course that’s right for you. Courses are instructor led, which means there is a human you can ask your questions to as you acquire or update these new skills.
Getting started on social media
For many organizations, social media is the new open-air marketplace where they showcase their work, announce changes, engage with a broader community, and share news relevant to the industry.
Whether or not you have a social media profile, it’s important to know how to navigate the most popular platforms. Most nonprofits have a Facebook page, and many have Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts as well. You can usually find links to their social media profiles on their website.
Pro Tip: It is possible to browse content without creating an account yourself, but if you want to express active interest by following an organization’s page or commenting on a post, you’ll need an account of your own.
By following an organization on social media, you’ll get a feel for their culture and priorities and whether you’d find a mutual fit. Make a note of any posts that grab your interest, like an intriguing article about their work or photos from a new initiative. This might be something to mention in the interview stage to reinforce your shared values and show you’ve done your homework.
How actively should you engage with social media yourself? That depends on how relevant it is to your field—marketing and communications professionals, for instance, are expected to be pretty conversant in social media platforms. And if you post about your interests, passions, and goals, a potential employer has an opportunity to learn more about you as a candidate (bonus!).
While you don’t need to post a ton of personal updates (especially if that’s not your style), there is one exception. Your LinkedIn profile should be updated semi-regularly since it’s a virtual resume. One benefit of LinkedIn for older job seekers is that it highlights the time you spent at an organization, rather than the dates of your employment, putting the focus on your experience and expertise.
Finally, be sure that you understand how to manage account privacy settings, especially if you use social media frequently for personal communications. Most platforms let you choose the privacy level of information you share, so you don’t have to publicly post anything you’d rather not share with an employer.
Pro tip: If you “like” or follow an organization on social media, the platform will suggest other, similar pages for you to check out. It’s an easy way to discover more organizations and job opportunities in your wheelhouse.
Understanding how to use video conferencing tools
You’ve probably heard of (or used) the major conferencing software tools like Zoom or Google Meet, but don’t panic if your interview invitation includes a link to a platform you’ve never heard of before.
The key is preparation: download (or update) and test the platform at least a couple of days before the scheduled interview on the device you plan to use. Desktop or laptop computers and tablets are preferable for interviews, but a phone with video capabilities will work in a pinch.
You could enlist a friend or family member to have a video call trial run. Give yourself time to install any necessary software updates pre-interview.
Make sure your video screen is clear, not grainy or choppy, and that you can hear and be heard as clearly as possible. Audio is even more important than video on virtual conference calls. It might be worthwhile to invest in a small microphone if you’re concerned about audio quality.
Pro tip: If you don’t have a lot of internet bandwidth (for instance, if you share an internet connection with others), it’s harder to upload clear images. You can change your image settings to be a little lower-resolution—around 720p or pixels is fine—which may make the video run more smoothly.
Then present yourself confidently during the interview like you’ve been remote conferencing for years.
- Get set up early so you can log in ASAP, right at the meeting start time (most conferences won’t let you log in any earlier).
- Pick a sparce background, like a white wall, to minimize any visual distraction.
- Make eye contact with your interviewer(s) and pay attention to their visual cues, just as you would in an in-person meeting.
- When you’re not speaking, mute your microphone to cut down on background noise.
- When you are speaking, look into the camera and keep your voice at a normal volume. Take a breath after you finish a statement and give your interviewer(s) time to respond.
Updating your office software know-how
Microsoft Office Suite—including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Access—is still the gold standard in most offices for day-to-day work. The software has been around in some form since 1989, but it has gone through a few changes.
You don’t always need the latest version of Microsoft Office (unless an organization specifically recommends it) but you should know the capabilities of the version you do have, especially for remote work. Your device will usually notify you when it’s time to install an update.
If you use another word processing program, find out if it’s compatible with Microsoft Office and if there will be any issues sending or receiving documents.
And if you’re thinking about upgrading your email from AOL, Yahoo, or another server, Microsoft Outlook is a solid professional choice, as is Gmail. It’s also smart to install an up-to-date web browser like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox if you can—they have better functionality than older browsers like Internet Explorer.
Pro tip: A Gmail account connects you to Google Drive, a platform many organizations use for file sharing. Fortunately, Google Drive is pretty easy to navigate.
Job seekers in fields with industry-specific software—like accounting, data analysis, and fundraising and development—should be aware of the latest versions that industry insiders are using. If the organization requires or prefers a candidate to be proficient in a software you’re not familiar with, don’t automatically rule yourself out. Instead, look up the software platform online and see if there are step-by-step tutorials for new users.
To learn more complex programs (or programs that come up in job descriptions often enough that you’ll almost certainly need to use them) it might be worth paying for an online course, or a Continuing Education course. You can mention courses on your resume as an example of ongoing professional development.
Job searching as an older candidate can be tough, but stay confident. While new technology can be learned at any age, it’s no substitute for experience, commitment, and genuine passion for the job—let these features show as well.