The week of March 14-20 is "Hire the Older Worker Week" in Maryland, and about 20 Carroll seniors got an early start by attending a job-search seminar Thursday in Westminster.
"Older workers tend to be loyal, punctual, deadline-conscious, experienced, rarely absent and sensitive to their co-workers' needs," said Sue Yingling, coordinator of the county's Older Workers Program, who organized the seminar.
Flor Pena, 58, of Taneytown attended the seminar and said it was helpful. She said it boosted her confidence because it made her think about her strengths. She also said she learned where to find job leads.
Sykesville resident Nathan Tillmann, 55, said he left the seminar somewhat disappointed. He said he had hoped some prospective employers would be there.
He said he was laid off two years ago from a well-paid job as a design draftsman.
"I've turned in over 1,000 applications in two years," he said. "I still say it's because of my age."
Age discrimination is one barrier to entering the workplace, Ms. Yingling said. Other barriers include the recession and the limits placed on earnings by the Social Security Administration. Also, she said, some seniors do not drive. Others are responsible for the care of family members.
However, she said, seniors can overcome many of the obstacles barring their way to employment.
Much of the seminar was devoted to helping seniors learn how to use job interviews to dispel employers' doubts about hiring older people.
For example, Ms. Yingling said, if an interviewer says you're overqualified for a position, you can turn the table on him or her by saying something like, "Gee, I'm really glad you noticed how qualified I am for this job."
Pam Lindsay, job development coordinator with the Job Training Partnership in Carroll County, told the seniors, "Eight out of 10 people are not hired because of their appearance, period."
Like anyone else, she said, an older person needs to be appropriately dressed for a job interview, and paperwork should also be neat.
Ms. Lindsay said it's important to project a positive attitude.
"Don't complain about former jobs. That's a biggie."
She said body language also says a lot, so don't slouch.
Ms. Lindsay said some seniors, like some younger people, don't know how to answer tough questions asked by interviewers. She said that if a prospective employer asks, "Why should I hire you?" the answer should not be, "Because I'm a nice person."
Ms. Lindsay said even seniors who have been out of the job market for years have as many as 500 skills they could emphasize in answer to such a question.
For example, she said, they might be very good at managing time, solving problems, handling pressure.
Ms. Lindsay said employers are not supposed to ask applicants their age, or inquire about family situations or irrelevant health problems. However, she said, if the interviewee brings up one of these subjects, it becomes "fair game" for employers to ask about it.
Ms. Lindsay said seniors can improve their chances of landing a job by updating outmoded skills and by learning to tap the "hidden job market," opportunities that aren't advertised formally but can be spread by word of mouth.
The seminar was open to county residents over age 55. Ms. Yingling said she organized the seminar because most local employment programs for older people, including the Older Workers' Program, which is part of the Job Training Partnership program, have strict income-eligibility requirements.
She said there are many seniors in Carroll who don't meet the income-eligibility requirements, but still need help getting into the job market -- especially in today's rocky economy.
The good news, Ms. Yingling said, is that "employers are now beginning to recognize the value of older workers."
L. J. Thomas, manager of the Wal-Mart store in Westminster, said Monday thatthe store employs "quite a few" older workers. He said he would recommend older workers to any employer.
"They're more responsible," said Mr. Thomas.
Although many of the store's older workers had no retail experience before working for Wal-Mart, "they're more willing to learn," he said.
He said they are also more stable and more willing to take on whatever tasks need to be done.
Ms. Yingling said, "Older workers stay on the job about three times longer than other workers."
Older workers take less sick leave than younger workers, she said. Their on-the-job accident rates are lower.
And the cost of employing older employees is often lower, she said, because many work part time and don't receive health insurance and other benefits.
In addition, she said, older workers can advise younger workers and serve as role models.
She said seniors can use these attributes to sell themselves to employers.
Ms. Yingling said the Job Training Partnership's Career Center offers help with composing resumes and cover letters.
Seniors can also come in to look at newspapers, talk with counselors about the local job market, or use the resource library.
Seniors who meet eligibility guidelines can qualify for additional training.
For more information, call Sue Yingling, 848-4049 or 876-3363.
The U.S. Department of Labor also runs some employment programs for seniors, such as Green Thumb Inc., which trains low-income seniors and places them in subsidized community-service jobs.
For more information on Green Thumb, call Natalie Kauffman, (410) 828-9431.