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When all else fails, offer to work for free Free sample approach can work if employer is carefully chosen.


Have you been beating your brains out to get a job with zero success? Job-placement guru James E. Challenger says the free sample offer is an idea whose time has come.

Job hunters over 60 -- and others who repeatedly have failed to get a second interview -- probably don't have much to lose, except a month's pay. It could be a good idea if you choose the employer carefully and if you can deliver the goods you claim.

Challenger, who heads the international outplacement consulting firm of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., admits the free trial offer concept is not for everyone.

It makes you look either very sure of your ability or desperate. And not everyone can forgo a month's pay. But I see

Challenger's point in cases where job seekers have "tried everything" and nothing works.

As Challenger outlines it, you tell the employer, "You do not have to pay me anything for the 30-day period and there are no obligations on your part if things do not work out at the end of the time. On the other hand, I believe I can show that my services will be valuable to the company and that you will want to put me on the payroll."

The try-me offer may work particularly well in cases where good applicants know how to present themselves and make a favorable impression but do not know how to "ask for the order."

As Challenger notes, many people are afraid to look too eager -- much less offer to work for free -- because they're afraid it will compromise their bargaining position. On the other side of the coin, "as a result of not knowing how to close, they have no bargaining position," the employment expert notes.

If you decide to try the sample approach, obviously you're going to make sure you get on well with co-workers. In addition, Challenger says, you should identify short-term problem areas quickly and personally tackle them, showing immediate results.

Until a few years ago, I would have thought the free sample gambit was best reserved for young people without a track record. But in view of the recent and continuing carnage in corporate America, older Americans may need to rethink job hunting techniques.

Some ideas along this line are revealed in a book which will be out in early summer: "Job Hunting After 50" by Samuel N. Ray (Wiley, $10.95, trade paper). Ray, president of Detroit outplacement firm The Transition Team, offers several sugges

tions on how to take 10 years off your image without lying:

* Sort your job interview topics -- don't talk about your grandchildren, but about active hobbies (marathon running, for instance) and civic and volunteer activities. Skip dates you graduated from a school, Korean war service or the model year of the first car you owned. Omit anything that could potentially label you as being "over the hill."

* Skip tired phrases. "At my age . . ." "Back when . . ." "Listen, son . . ." "The girls in the office . . ." "Honey . . ."

Tune into computers. Even if your work does not involve daily commputer use, computers affect most jobs. If you can't buy a computer, rent or lease one. Learn how to use it at a community college class.

There's more along thes lines. But the message is clear: Don't be a prisoner of your age. Nobody seems to be hiring time-prisoners--"nowadays."

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