ACA Blog

Hope Yancey
Jan 31, 2011

Career Counseling With Older Adults

I completed all three semesters of practicum and internship experience in graduate school in the career services office of a large, urban community college with a diverse student population. I enjoyed interacting with the many types of clients who came through the doors of the office seeking resume help, interview preparation or a more formal and comprehensive program of career counseling utilizing personality tests, interest inventories and in-depth discussion.

I found my work with nontraditional age students, especially older adults, particularly satisfying. An older student seeking career assistance typically has a mature outlook, along with some concerns that may be a bit different from those of students who are of more traditional college age.

One area of concern for these clients may be dealing effectively with the perception from prospective employers that they are overqualified. It’s true that older adults often bring a wealth of work experiences (and life experience) to the table. Some employers may not want to pay what this experience is worth, preferring instead a less-qualified (and less expensive) option, or may be afraid the person they perceive as overqualified for the job will leave after a short tenure. Clients can address the latter issue by emphasizing their enthusiasm for the job and that they see a future for themselves with the organization.

A second concern may involve age discrimination. Older adult students may wish to address this possibility by composing a resume that de-emphasizes dates in favor of experience and achievement. A functional resume, although it carries certain disadvantages, can be helpful for career changers and those wanting to downplay dates. Better still, perhaps a hybrid resume that combines elements of the functional and chronological resume formats is called for. It’s important to be honest when building a resume, whichever way you go.

Interview preparation for these students might entail a mock interview between counselor and client in which the counselor plays the role of potential employer/interviewer, and the student is the job candidate/interviewee. Students can be coached on how best to handle inappropriate, or illegal, interview questions that may unfortunately sometimes still arise in the hands of an unskillful interviewer. In my work with students, I wanted them to be aware that they had choices: answer the question, don’t answer the question, try to deflect it tactfully or gently probe to learn why the interviewer is asking such a question/what is really behind it. In a situation like this, the reality is that each person will choose for himself how he or she responds; sometimes it can only be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

My own feeling is that any place that would ask an inappropriate or illegal question is probably not a good place in which to work, and that such a question should be treated as a sign of possible things to come. I would continue the search.



Hope Yancey is a counselor and freelance writer living in Charlotte, North Carolina

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