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The Benefits of Networking for the Over-50s

The majority of job vacancies are filled through networking – over-50s should use this knowledge to get ahead in the job market.

James Marsh
James Marsh
A published author, as well as a corporate and lifestyle media professional, James works across content, marketing and consultancy.

Why Do I Need to Network if I Am Over 50?

The old adage, “it’s not what you know; it’s who you know,” is particularly prevalent when it comes to looking for work. It’s estimated that between 70-80% of job vacancies are never advertised. Instead, a colleague in the know recommends someone in their professional network and that person fills the role.

That’s the power of networks – it’s a spider's web of contacts between professionals. As we progress through our careers, our networks get larger and wider reaching. That means there are many job opportunities out there that we may not know about, but our networks do.

In parallel, as we get older, we tend to have a smaller and tighter group of trusted colleagues and friends – it’s easy to become isolated and to find our networks have shrunk. But your network is probably much bigger than you realise.

It’s time to get smart about how you use your network for your next job search.

Who is My Professional Network?

Start by making a list of your professional contacts – present and past colleagues, clients you have worked with, people you awarded contracts to, friends and so on. It’s easiest to do this in a spreadsheet or, even better, build a network on LinkedIn (we’ll come to that in a bit). Put their name in the first column and, in the next, put their role, then their company and so on. This is your network… and someone in there might possibly be able to help you.

How to Use Your Network to Discover Job Opportunities

Start organising your contacts into groups of strong leads, warm leads and long shots. Then it’s time to approach people. Start with your strongest leads. These are the people actively working or engaged with the industry or sector you're interested in working in. Depending on your relationship, you can reach out with a short email, a phone call or even a letter. (It may sound counter-intuitive to use snail mail in the modern world, but because so few letters are sent, any received are sure to stand out.)

The theme of your communication shouldn’t be, “I need a job!”– it sounds too needy. Instead, ask if they have time for a quick chat and catch up – it could be over a coffee, on the phone or via video chat.

When you connect, if you’re on friendly terms, keep it that way. Tell them about what you’ve been doing since you last spoke and see what they have been doing too. Let them know that you’re looking for a new challenge and are open to opportunities. Ask if they have any ideas for where or who you might be able to connect with.

The aim is to spark interest in you. Convey the sector or roles you’ve been working in, what you are passionate about and why you might be of interest to the person you are talking to. And then listen.

The conversation should progress in a useful direction. Perhaps they’ll know of a colleague you can contact (and so your network grows), have suggestions of companies who need people like you, or maybe they’ll just say, “Let me think.” Don’t forget, this is a very early conversation – you have to plant the seeds and wait to see which ones start to grow and become fruitful.

That’s not the end of the conversation, though. Networking is a reciprocal relationship. So, it’s time to say, “Well, that’s enough about me. Is there anything I can help you with?” The great thing about being over 50 is that we have huge experience of many areas of life and can offer all kinds of help: people we know, companies we’ve worked at, skills we can pass on, great tradespeople, contractors who have always been reliable, suppliers who are great value. We all have contacts who can help in some way.

Create an Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a very short sales speech – in this case, what’s being sold is you. It’s called an elevator pitch as it should take the same amount of time as you’d have if you were to share an elevator ride with someone.

If you’re creating your own elevator pitch, think of yourself as a brand.

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do well?
  • What are your key skills and competencies?
  • What do you want in your next role?

Focus on the outcomes you’ve achieved and the results you have attained. It needs to be no longer than 90 seconds. It’s almost counterintuitive to our British reserve to sell our skills this way, but if you get it right, it’s not pushy, it’s positive. It doesn’t have to be a script, but being able to recount the key things that you’d want a potential employer to know about what you can do for them is a great skill to have up your sleeve.

How Over-50s Can Make the Most of LinkedIn

If you’re not quite ready to be pounding the phone and sharing your elevator pitch in person, consider using LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the social network for professionals and the working world. Only 17% of over 50s are active on LinkedIn, yet it’s the go-to website for anything to do with work – and it’s where recruiters go to find candidates. It’s a great place to discover new work opportunities. Begin by creating a compelling LinkedIn profile, then make sure that your CV is polished and ready to send. (For a limited time, you can take advantage of a free CV review from our partner, TopCV.)

You can also use LinkedIn to rekindle friendships with old colleagues, join groups that focus on your sector and interests, and to search for jobs. Doing this will widen your network and help you in your search. You can use LinkedIn in a similar way to Facebook, to send congratulations when a contact gets a promotion, moves jobs or achieves something they are proud of.

Commenting on news and articles you find interesting can help raise your profile within your network. Start by using the thumbs-up or applause emojis, or jump right in and leave comments. Once you start feeling comfortable using LinkedIn, you can consider writing and sharing an article of your own to increase your engagement and widen your network further.

Networking Events for the Over-50s

Networking at real-life events is a great way to meet people and explore work opportunities. These events can be a lot of fun, too. The really great thing about events is that everybody is there for the same reason – to build business connections and create opportunities for themselves. It’s a sensible idea to have a business card with your name and contact details – you can order 100 cards online for less than £15.

Once you have your elevator pitch and you know to offer to help other people too, it’s time to talk.

It can be nerve-wracking, to begin with, but you’ll soon get used to it.

  • Look for an individual or group that seems open to you joining
  • Ask if you can join, introduce yourself and ask them about themselves. For example, why they are there or how they are finding the event. Try to make eye contact and just listen
  • When asked, talk about yourself and why you are there. Try to relate it to the event you are attending – if you are vague, it is hard for someone to help you
  • The more passion you show for the sector or industry, the more likely someone will be to engage with you
  • Offer to exchange contact details or business cards

Sometimes, you can find yourself stuck in a conversation or you just want to meet other people. Wait for a break in the conversation and say something like, “It was great to meet you. I’m going to mingle some more. I hope you enjoy the rest of the event.” Then move on and find someone else to talk to. No offence will be taken.

How Do I Find Networking Events?

  • LinkedIn is a great place to find out about virtual and face-to-face events
  • Read the trade media and websites for your sector
  • Consider joining business groups such as BNI, 4Networking, Rotary, Federation of Small Businesses, or local business groups (often run by your local council). Normally, the first one or two sessions are free
  • If applicable, research niche groups you can join: female entrepreneur groups, BAME networks, ex-service personnel and so on.

What If I Really Don't Have a Network to Leverage?

We all have networks. Sometimes it just takes a little creative thinking to figure out yours. It could be friends of friends and people you know socially, if your work history is a little scarce. If you're still drawing blanks, then forgo the network and take a look at our Age Inclusive Accredited Employers, who work with 55/Redefined to help fill a wide variety of roles in a number of different sectors. There is no shortage of employers who are actively building multi-generational teams and are welcoming applications from people like you.

Search Jobs/Redefined to find your next step on the career ladder.