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Laid Off After 20 Years? Time To Reinvent Yourself

July 25, 2012

How often do we hear this: It’s a tough economy. We all feel this reality and it seems that employees who are 50-plus have been hit particularly hard. Of course, this doesn’t ignore the thousands of others who are having a tough time but the 50-plus group have some unique problems.

While many statistics will tell us that employment is improving, the on-the-ground stories tell us something different. The statistics don’t report on those who have given up looking for work, those who have chosen self-employment or those who have had to accept part-time or low wage employment. Georgetown Law Professor Peter Edelman, author of <em>So Rich So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America</em>, says that many factors contribute to the rising levels of poverty and the millions who can fall through the cracks. In addition to the recent recession, globalization, automation, and outsourcing are some of the issues that have led to a decrease in wages and a loss of jobs. There are many people, like the women in the discussion group, who are feeling confused and uncertain about what to do next and what is expected of them.

I don’t recall my parents’ generation ever having to talk about reinventing themselves. While many embrace this idea, there are so many others who are confused and unprepared with the idea of reinventing themselves in their 50’s. I’ve been involved in a fascinating LinkedIn Discussion Group in which a woman asked for advice on how to reinvent herself.   That simple question has generated almost 1000 comments. What I find so interesting about the discussion is the common thread among the stories that women have posted about what life is like for them in this economy. For most of them, life as an unemployed 50-plus employee hasn’t been easy. As Susan writes:

“Laid off after 25 years. Reentry is difficult. Market seems *not* to want an expert — but rather the most malleable employee who will take the smallest salary.”

And as Donna writes:

“My freelance business has been successful and rewarding and allowed me the flexibility to have a balance life. In 2006 along with everyone else my business suffered with the economic downturn. Many of my clients drastically slashed their advertising budgets to survive.  Digital and social media have changed my profession so much that I feel at 52 I have aged out of my industry. Companies want young people that have grown up in this digital age. I have keep up with my digital skills(which is incredibly tiring).  For the past five years I have worked all three jobs and still make less than I once did during the non-recession years.”

An Ipsos-Reid poll found that 74 percent of Canadians agree that workplaces discriminate against older employees. The positive news is that people also agree that older employees have much to offer. What’s the answer in these seemingly contradictory findings? I have three tips for those who are 50-plus and looking for work.

1.  You have to adapt to survive.  One of the criticisms of older workers is their inability to learn new technologies and processes.

Whether it’s reinvention or re-assessing your skills, adaptation is a fact of life. If the changes in your field call for new skills, then go out there and learn them.  All that is holding your back is your belief that it is too hard or you’re too old. Your competence is dependent on your belief system. Commit yourself to doing it.

2.  Update your look.  When was the last time you changed your hairstyle, your clothing or your attitude?  Your image counts and is a reflection of your attitude.  If you don’t want to be viewed as old, then don’t act or look old. I’m not advocating plastic surgery, but I am advocating that you look and dress in a contemporary way.  First impressions matter and it’s up to you to make a good one.  After all, you’re selling yourself in a buyer’s market.

3.   Remain flexible.  If the market changes, you’d better change too. Don’t remain rigidly fixed to your vision of your job or career. For example, one woman went from business to business sales into running a knitting business. She found that so many people loved her unique business that she decided to knit for others. Now, she can’t keep up with the demand and has hired other knitters.  From hobby to business. Pursue opportunities that you may not have considered previously; it could open up a new chapter in your life.

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