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How I Got a Job: Over 50s Edition with Vera Williams

Vera Williams, successful over 50 job candidate
New photo for successful job hunter Vera Williams. She added this to her new resume and cover letter.

Vera Williams served in the military, then worked in the hospitality industry for over 28 years, in a variety of roles, most recently as area GM for two limited-service hotels in Charlotte, NC. She hadn't needed a resume in over 18 years, but her properties were being sold and she was suddenly in the job market, in the middle of a pandemic. She also decided this was her chance to move to South Florida to be closer to family and establish her life there in advance of retirement. Eight months ago, Vera paid a company that came highly recommended, $800 to write her resume and sent out over 100, copies, with very few replies.

Vera, who is in her 60s, had a sneaking suspicion ageism might be at play because she was well qualified for the roles she pursued. Discouraged but not defeated, Vera decided she needed a more modern feel to her resume and found Carrissa Henry through the Hospitality Family Facebook group. With Carrissa’s guidance, they redesigned her resume--streamlined the look and feel, highlighted her skills and experience, added a photo, and added a quirky cover letter that addressed her age head-on. Vera sent the new version to 40 of the 100 listings she had already applied. Result: many interviews and three job offers!

Vera tells us herstory, what happened, what didn’t work, and what finally did it.

“Get me in the door and I'll get the position,” says a confident Vera whose energy, sense of humor, and drive are palpable over the phone. Her situation was somewhat complicated by the fact that once learning the two hotels she was managing were being sold, she decided to take the opportunity to move from Charlotte, North Carolina to South Florida.

Vera Williams from her service in the Air Force in the 1980s
Vera Williams from her service in the Air Force in the 1980s

“It just didn’t make sense, I found out around June of 2020 about the planned sale, by August I decided to move to Florida and look for work. I paid a consultant to write my resume and put the information on my LinkedIn page. I probably sent out about 100 resumes from October to January, with no replies. Or if I got a reply, it was from someone who already knew me, my skills, and thought that they could hire me on the cheap.”

Fast forward to this year. Although the hotels hadn’t sold yet and despite not having secured a job in Florida, she gave her employer four weeks notice, sold her house in North Carolina, and decided to move anyway. She arrived in Florida by March 1st, “I’m still sending out resumes and not getting anything! I realize hiring managers must be doing the math and thinking I am a stooped-over, old woman with grey hair. I’m not! I still feel like I’m 30!”

Vera decided she needed to combat the ageism head-on and figure out a way to show her vibrant personality. She remembered seeing Carrissa’s post about resume writing in the Facebook Hospitality Family group and contacted her about a resume re-format. She also wanted her to write a punchy introductory letter with her photo on both the resume and cover letter.

Carrissa, who has worked in hospitality for the last 9 years, most recently as a catering director and was the hiring manager for her team, has always helped friends and colleagues with resumes. Unexpectedly, during the pandemic, her side hustle has turned into a thriving business. “I’ve seen so many resumes and know how to make them stand out, but more importantly, I’ve also studied how Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) work and how to get past them.”

Working together, Vera and Carrissa crafted a letter that included two short paragraphs introducing Vera as a businesswoman, highlighting her skills and experience, but the third paragraph addressed the elephant in the room with humor “My resume may show 25 years in the industry, but I implore you do not allow the dates and numbers you count, to become the reason you count me out. I am a dynamic leader who runs 5 miles a day, takes tai chi, and instills a sense of urgency in my teams.”

Successful cover letter for 50 plus woman
Vera Williams winning cover letter

In addition, Carrissa adapted the copy-heavy resume and reformatted it into two columns, with a professional summary, pulling out her core qualifications and skills into bullet points, adding her photo, and making sure her contact info was on the first page. “With all my clients, I always advise them to keep it direct, summarize skills and experiences, focus on the key accomplishments in each position.” She trimmed Vera’s resume into a page and a half, including highlighting her military service and community involvement. She also changed her title from General Manager to Executive Manager, which Carrissa said is better for search.

Vera sent the new introductory letter and resume to 40 of the same job postings and within a week, she had an offer based solely on the new materials and a phone interview. Within two weeks she had two more interviews, in one day alone she had four calls! Vera ended up taking “her dream job” as Director of Sales & Marketing for a full-service golf resort within a month.

Vera’s top 3 tips for the Over 50s Job Hunt

  1. Be creative, the standard resume from fifteen or twenty years ago looks dated and won’t get you noticed. A cover letter and resume need to show your skills and your personality.

  2. Use your photo. Many people advised against this, but I say do it because they will see you on LinkedIn or other social media anyway. Image is important in hospitality and it will show your vibrancy.

  3. Be fearless but remain professional. You have valuable experience to offer so put your whole self out there and be authentic to who you are.

Carrissa’s top 7 tips for Resumes and Cover Letters the Over 50s Job Hunt

  1. No matter how much experience you have, fit it on two pages or less!

  2. Choose a format that separates the information into categories that are easy to distinguish, ie: contact info, core skills, work experience, community involvement. Columns can help with this cleaner, more legible approach as well as bullets instead of run-on sentences.

  3. Have a professional summary, keep it short with 3 - 5 descriptive sentences using keywords from the job postings of the role you want.

  4. Get to the point, don’t be vague about your experience, be specific.

  5. Don’t use acronyms, hospitality has a lot of these, but meanings are not all the same. If you feel you must, define the acronym first.

  6. Consider broadening your search beyond hospitality to other industries that value a hospitality mindset.

  7. On LinkedIn, personalize your LinkedIn URL. This can be done by clicking on your profile, on the top right there is a prompt that says “edit public profile and URL,” click that and edit down to your name, this makes you easier to find online.

As most job search is done online and 40 percent of companies are using some form of ATS (Applicant Tracking System) software to select candidates, it is important your documents pass these.

Here are Carrissa’s tips for beating the ATS:

  1. Don’t have headers and footers, put all info in the body of the document.

  2. Put your contact info (phone, email) on the first page.

  3. Put a professional title, i.e. executive manager rather than a general manager, to open your file up to more potential searches.

  4. Use a plain text font (not a serif) Calibri or Arial are good choices.

  5. Convert a PDF file to Word, if a document can be sent in Word, that is the best format.

  6. Further, tailor your work experience and skills to the keywords listed in the job description, this is how the ATS will search.

Sometimes you can find out if there is an ATS being used on the job site by finding a sponsor logo or holding your mouse over the “submit button” and checking the URL that pops up. It is said that some 60 percent of ATS can cause errors and discount qualified applicants, don’t be one of those!

Click to contact Carrissa Henry or by phone 317-260-1442.


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