Secrets of the Job Hunt


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Trip Down Baby Boomer Boulevard

For baby boomers, losing a job after having a successful career can be unsettling. Here's a article that gives a brief glimpse into that world as well as some tips to cope.

Unemployment at midlife
By Sandy Smith

Until recently, I had spent many a day hanging out at the corner of Baby Boomer Boule
vard and Global Economy Bypass waiting, along with a bunch of other people, for the bus to Permanent Employment Place.

This intersection is a dangerous one, littered with the wreckage of successful careers. The survivors would usually straggle over, dazed and confused, and ask whether we bystanders knew where they might get help salvaging the wrecks.

"I notice that more senior executives who are losing a job for the first time are quite devastated," said one of those bystanders, Philadelphia-based career coach Sam Gibson.
To make matters worse, they are increasingly likely to spend a long time jobless. According to seasonally unadjusted figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of 526,000 workers age 35 or older were unemployed for one year or longer each month in 2005, fewer than in 2004, but more than double the number for 2000, when the figure was at its lowest.
While recent trends suggest things have gotten better - the international outplacement firm of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. also reported that the amount of time executives and managers 50 and older spent looking for work dropped significantly over the last five years - they don't make things any easier for the individual who is suddenly out of work.

"One of the main problems with being unemployed at midlife is that everybody you know is employed," said David Baratka of Havertown, who left his job as the vice president of a small company in February 2005 to make room for a member of the owner's family who wanted to join the firm. "You're either treated differently or you perceive that you are treated differently."
Others told me how unemployment triggered deep depression within them since a good chunk of their identities were lost along with their jobs. Some, however, were able to do valuable soul-searching as a result, while others found that identifying with those in the same situation helped them rebound.

Gibson, for instance, joined Forty Plus of Philadelphia, a support group for unemployed mature professionals and executives, after leaving a longtime position with AT&T. He valued the support and office space it offered. "Where else can you get away from screaming kids, get into Center City, and have the benefit of being with a bunch of guys who are willing to commiserate and share contacts with you?"

Similar support and counseling is offered to older unemployed workers in the region by groups such as Jewish Employment and Vocational Services in Philadelphia, Joseph's People in the Pennsylvania suburbs, and Jewish Family and Children's Service of Southern New Jersey. But when all is said and done, a successful job search ultimately depends on the seeker.

It may be a cliché, but one of the most common pieces of advice is still the most useful: talk to people. Talk to lots of people. Talk to them even if they aren't looking to hire anyone.

"One of the biggest mistakes unemployed professionals make is that they don't have enough informational interviews, because it's uncomfortable and they don't know how to do it," said Gibson. "My standard advice to my clients is that they should have three to five informational interviews per week."

Baratka added that even those huge, cattle-call job fairs can be useful for a job-seeking professional. "As you talk to other people, you learn about other opportunities at the fairs," he said. "The truth is, it's a form of networking. Recruiters may have an in to jobs that are not being filled at the fair."

Another point to remember is that the world of work has changed significantly since the first baby boomers entered it. "Permanent" employment isn't permanent any more. Our parents may have had the same job for 40 or 45 years, but many of us boomers won't.

Today's mature professional job-seeker will need to adjust to a vastly different job market from the one he or she entered. The adjustment may be difficult. But with time, patience, determination and support, and maybe a bit of soul-searching, a seeker can still find a job that's right for him or her, even in this rapidly changing economy.

As Gibson put it, "It is something of a numbers game. You've got to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your prince."

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