A nonprofit organization based in Annandale (4201 John Marr Drive) offers a much-needed hand to help people over 50 navigate the job search process. The Senior Employment Resources (SER) website lists dozens of job openings, including some only available to SER clients. Employers with current listings on the website are seeking an accountant, caretaker, office manager, billing specialist, construction manager, electronics technician, bus driver, and many more.
SER serves about 550 job seekers a year, Prothero estimates. Since SER was founded in 1983, about 10,500 people have been placed.
Senior job seekers face special challenges, says SER Director of Operations Woody Prothero. They might have spent their whole career with the same employer and suddenly find they have to update their skills or shift career paths, he says, and some female clients haven’t been in the labor force for 20 years. Older people also face a “subtle discrimination,” he adds.
SER also works with employers to convince them that hiring seniors is good business. Seniors are reliable and experienced. They show up on time, and they really want the job,” Woody says. In fact’s SER’s motto is “Putting experience to work.”
SER’s volunteer counselors review job seekers’ background and assess what services they need, such as advice on improving a resume, practicing for a job interview, learning about online job resources, or managing stress.
Many seniors who come to SER don’t realize how much the job search process has changed. “Ten or 15 years ago, you could walk around an office building, knock on doors, and drop off a resume,” Prothero says. “Now, if you try to do that, you’d be escorted out by a security guard.” And some clients still think all you need to do is look at the classified job ads in the Washington Post.
Clients who have had long careers in an industry with few current job openings might need advice on how their skills could apply to another type of position, Prothero says. SER offers a peer support group, classes in basic computer skills, and seminars on such topics as how to assess your job skills and how to manage stress. There is a nominal cost for classes in Word and Excel. SER also has partnership with a consulting company that offers free personal financial management assistance.
There is no charge for job seekers to be listed with SER for 90 days. After that, there is a $20 fee for each 90-day renewal. Companies who hire people referred by SER pay 10 percent of the employee’s salary for the first two weeks. The fee is waived if the employer isn’t satisfied with the candidate.
In the last few years as the unemployment rate has risen, the number of job seekers has grown by about 10 percent a year, while the number of available jobs has declined. “Our fee placement income has fallen dramatically,” Prothero says, so the organization has had to rely much more on funding from Fairfax County and other sources.
SER is always on the lookout for more volunteers. Prothero would ideally like volunteers to have human resources or computer experience, but anyone who has worked in counseling, marketing, or hired people before would be helpful. If you're interested in volunteering, or you're over 50 and need a job, contact SER, 703/750-1936.