Janet King worked for the United States Information Agency for 25 years before leaving the workforce to raise her children. By the time her last child began college, King was 57 and ready for a new job. But she was wary, thinking her age might be a hindrance.
"I didn't want to apply for a job from an ad in the paper and then in walks Grandma," said King, who is now 64 and lives in Falls Church.
Instead, she turned to Senior Employment Resources, one of several employment services in the Washington area for older workers. The organization helps match job seekers over age 50 with companies in Northern Virginia. Access to a job bank and employment counseling are free.
Jobs range from general administrative positions to management consulting.
About 60 percent of the applicants who register with Senior Employment Resources find jobs within three months, said Sue Allan, the nonprofit organization's executive director.
"The job market is pretty good for seniors right now. When the unemployment rate is low, it means employers will take a second look at an older worker who might have been passed up in harder times," she said.
The first job King found through Senior Employment Resources was at a dentist's office just two miles from her home. After the dentist retired last summer, King began a temporary job at a high-tech company.
"If anyone would have told me I'd be a dental assistant or be learning a new computer system, I'd tell them they were crazy," King said about her recent work. "But I think the key is to remain flexible and be open to new ideas."
Allan said one of the advantages of using an employment agency for seniors is that applicants can be assured that potential employers are expecting a mature worker rather than someone fresh out of college.
Pat Jayne, executive director of 40Plus of Greater Washington, agreed. "The first thing you hear all the time is, 'You're overqualified.' The challenge that people face is that some employers are looking for someone who's 30 years old with 20 years of experience."
Jayne's organization works with mature workers to polish their resumes and image to help them compete for jobs. 40Plus offers a class in which members are videotaped at mock interviews to prepare for the real thing.
"You can't control what people think about older workers. You can control how you look for a job interview. You can control your resume and how you interview," Jayne said.
40Plus offers job listings, access to professional publications, frequent classes and networking events. While Senior Employment Resources lists more administrative jobs, 40Plus is intended for those seeking professional and managerial positions.
Despite its name, the Over 60 Counseling & Employment Service will help workers 55 and older. The agency, which has been supported for 40 years by the Federation of Women's Clubs in Montgomery County, places about 1,000 seniors a year in a wide variety of fields.
The D.C. Office on Aging offers one of the most comprehensive employment operations run by a local government rather than a nonprofit. The Older Workers Employment and Training Program is open to those 55 and older and is funded through the U.S. Department of Labor.
Four counselors help place about 600 seniors a year, primarily in fairly low-paying jobs, many part-time, such as ticket-takers at Mystics games at the MCI Center or behind the counter at McDonald's.
"I really think these agencies that work with older people are so necessary," King said. "We're in an environment where people are laid off when they're 55. Or maybe they need insurance or are getting divorced -- a hundred things. Going to an employment agency for seniors makes it easier for us and for the employers because they know what they're going to get."