Tips for Submitting Applications to Get the Job You Want after 50

By Kerry Hannon

Copyright © 2015 AARP. All rights reserved.

Applications can be tricky and picky, particularly if you’re someone who is over 50 and you’re big selling points are your integrity and charisma and you’re required to submit the application online. Applications provide little, if any, opportunity to showcase such strengths. But as impersonal and restrictive as they may be, formal applications are required for most jobs, and nearly all company websites now require you to apply online through their job portals.

Reading and following directions

Although this bit of advice may seem too obvious to mention, when completing applications, you must read and follow the directions precisely, paying particular attention to any “required” fields. A required field is a good indication that the information is important.

Pay special attention to the following areas:

  • Past employment: Give a comprehensive employment history in months and years, including any jobs you may have omitted from your résumé due to lack of space. Be precise when entering dates of employment and salaries. Enter as much detail about former employers and supervisors as possible and requested on the form.

  • Disabilities: List any disabilities at your own disclosure. Employers can’t specifically ask on an application or in an interview if you have a disability that would interfere with your ability to perform the job.

  • Criminal history: If you have a criminal record, consider whether it can be expunged. In some instances, however, even if your criminal conviction was sealed, dismissed, or expunged, you may still have a duty to disclose your record. Consult a lawyer to advise you so that you can make truthful and appropriate disclosures.

  • Unemployment benefits: Be straightforward about having collected unemployment benefits.

  • Veteran status: Some employers give special consideration to applicants who served their country in the military.

  • Race, gender, and other such details: Most employers ask you to reply to questions about race, gender, and so forth as a way of gathering data for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You aren’t obligated to include this information to be considered for employment.

Be honest. Most applications include a box at the end that you must mark or click to verify that all the information you provided is accurate and complete to the best of your knowledge.

Handling salary boxes

Many applications request or require a salary history and perhaps even a minimum salary requirement. On a paper application, you may be able to wiggle out of this by leaving the fields blank or writing “Negotiable” as your minimum salary requirement. If you’re applying online, however, you may need to enter numbers in these fields to have your application accepted.

If the application asks for salary history, it usually requires a starting and ending salary for each position. Enter your starting and ending salaries as requested to the best of your knowledge.

If your total income might price you out of the competition, give your base salary (or add commissions and bonuses, if applicable), omitting benefits. If you get in the door for an interview and the salary discussion is raised, you can explain that you specified your base salary, not including additional benefits and perks.

If you must enter a minimum salary requirement, you have a few options:

  • Enter your must-have minimum salary or whatever salary you’d be comfortable accepting.

    If the application has a box for entering additional details, consider qualifying your minimum salary amount by adding something like, “The minimum salary requirement specified is based on anticipated job responsibilities and workload and does not account for other forms of compensation.”

  • If the job description specifies a salary range, make sure the salary you enter is within that range.

  • Specify a figure that’s generally accepted for that position, based on job location and your experience. Use tools such as Glassdoor.com, PayScale.com, or Salary.com to see what others earn in similar positions.

  • Enter a wide salary range, if possible, such as $55,000 to $85,000. Be honest with yourself, though, that the low salary amount is something you can live with and would consider accepting.

Sneaking your application past screening technologies

When applying online, consider the fact that recruiters and employers often use automated systems to pre-screen applicants. Every application submitted for a position is screened and scored for relevance based on key words and numerical values the applicant entered. For example, if a job requires experience in marketing and sales, and the applicant didn’t happen to mention “marketing” or “sales” experience, the application is likely to be ignored.

To give your résumé a better chance of clearing this first hurdle, do the following:

  • Scatter throughout your application and résumé key words and phrases that appear in the descriptions of the jobs for which you’re applying.

  • Unless otherwise instructed, list the names of employers first, followed by the dates you worked there.

  • When attaching or uploading documents, such as a résumé or cover letter, use an acceptable file format.

  • Avoid uploading charts, images, or PDFs, unless otherwise instructed.

Mastering alternative ways to apply

Although applying online is commonplace these days, it’s not the only game in town. You have at least three other options:

  • Email: If you know who will make the hiring decision and have the person’s email address, consider emailing your résumé. Write your email message in a similar style to your cover letter.

  • Snail mail: Mail a cover letter and a copy of your résumé to the person who will make the hiring decision or to the organization’s human resources department.

  • In person: You can deliver your cover letter and résumé in person or even fill out an application on-site. Just be sure you have everything you need and be prepared for an on-the-spot interview.

Always follow the suggested method for submitting applications and résumés as stated in the job posting.