Getting the Job You Want After 50: Recognizing the Soft Skills Employers Value

By Kerry Hannon

Copyright © 2015 AARP. All rights reserved.

Recognizing your soft skills can be useful in a job search after 50. In many ways, these softer skills, which include your outlook and attitude, are gauges of how well you’ll fit in. Employers want to be sure that you’ll work easily and efficiently with your coworkers, your supervisor, and perhaps the organization’s customers or clients.

Rate yourself and mark areas where you may need improvement. Then make a plan to bump it up in those areas, if possible.

  • Analytical thinking: Employers want people who think logically, can size up situations, seek additional information when necessary, and make fact-based decisions.

  • Communication (oral and written): Employers value workers who communicate well both orally and via the written word. When you’re a good communicator, you generally interact better with coworkers, supervisors, clients, customers, vendors, and others.

  • Confidence: Being confident means you can take initiative without the constant need for permission or approval.

  • Cooperation (team player): Success on the job almost always requires an ability and willingness to cooperate and collaborate with others, including coworkers, supervisors, vendors, clients, and customers.

  • Creativity: Even in non-creative jobs, you’re expected to be able to think creatively to adapt to changing conditions and solve problems.

  • Decisiveness: If you’re a confident decision maker, you’re less apt to waste time mulling over options. This doesn’t mean, however, that you make rash decisions. You want to establish a healthy balance between analyzing options and being able to make decisions.

  • Flexibility: Everyone is multitasking these days, so you need to be able to seamlessly shift from one project to another without missing a beat. You must be willing to put in the extra hours when necessary and to balance assignments depending on how quickly a project must be completed and the best method to accomplish it.

  • Honesty and integrity: Honesty and integrity are essential in building trust. As an employee, you’re a reflection of the organization and its values. The growing popularity of social media has made employers much more sensitive to the image an organization projects all the way down to its employees.

  • Leadership qualities: Leadership doesn’t necessarily mean you’re prepared to fill in for the CEO. Employers are just trying to get a bead on whether you believe in your own abilities and have an inner confidence that centers you and enables you to focus on the company’s needs and not solely your own.

  • Learner: This soft skill is awkwardly phrased as “learner.” Employers know that to beat the competition, they need a team of people eager to keep pushing the envelope, to learn new ways of doing things, and to be fearless about pushing themselves to constantly acquire knowledge and skills.

  • Listening: Listening is a big part of effective communication, and it may take the form of active or passive listening. Passive listening is an ability to hear, understand, and follow instruction. Active listening involves asking questions that elicit the information and insight needed to perform a task, solve a problem, or clear up a misunderstanding. Both are valuable.

  • Literacy (reading and math): Nearly all jobs require literacy in reading and math. If you have a high-school diploma or a GED, you’re covered. If not, work on developing the requisite knowledge and skills. You can find plenty of books and online videos to help you get started.

  • Organization: Well-organized people tend to be more efficient and make fewer mistakes. Keeping some sort of day planner on a portable device or in print shows that you can organize your time.

  • Patience: Many jobs are stressful, and employers want to see that you can keep your cool when things heat up.

  • People skills: Your ability to connect with others and form solid working relationships is exceedingly important for most jobs. Being charismatic is a big plus for sales, management, customer service, public relations, and other jobs that require close contact with others, particularly customers, clients, and the public.

  • Planning prowess: Success in the workplace often comes down to how well you can prioritize your work demands. You’ve got this one. Just remind yourself of all the times you have had to sift through the piles of to-do lists and urgent delivery dates and made it all work with a professional attitude and didn’t skimp on quality.

  • Positive attitude: This is not a time to be cool and ultra-laid back. Upbeat and energetic people are a plus for most employers, and the truth is, it makes you more engaged in your work, too. It’s a win-win.

  • Problem solving: If you’re a confident decision maker and adept at problem solving, you save your company time and money and regularly keep customers happy, too. Being a good problem solver generally comes down to breaking a problem down into smaller pieces and addressing each piece in turn.

  • Punctuality: In some jobs, nothing gets done until everyone shows up. But even if you have a flexible schedule, certain occasions require punctuality. Showing up a little early for an interview helps to demonstrate that you’re punctual.

  • Reliability: Reliability simply means keeping your promise, and when you agree to work for someone, that’s a promise to do your job 100 percent of the time.

  • Resilience: The ability to recover from setbacks or failure is essential for success. Employers don’t expect you to succeed all the time, but they do expect you to keep doing your job when adversity strikes.

  • Resourcefulness: Resourcefulness is measured by how much you do with what you’re given. Creative problem solvers figure out ways to succeed with the resources available.

  • Self-management: Companies are eager to find employees who are able to keep themselves on track with little or no supervision. Employers value someone who shows up on time, gets the job done.