jobless at 50+

jobless at 50+A friend of mine was telling me recently about her brother who moved his family out West to follow a business opportunity. Within two years, the business fell apart and he had to sell everything to move back to Ontario. He is now working at the local Costco to make ends meet for his family.

I truly wish that this was the only story of this kind that I have but I have seen this happen to so many of my friends, friends of friends, colleagues and even family.

Downsized. Packaged out. Restructured.

Call it whatever you want, losing your job is frightening. And it’s even more stressful the older you get. Unfortunately, 50+ is now the age bracket that is most likely to get turfed first. Even at 60 years old, most aren’t prepared mentally or financially to be done working.

One reason for this is that we’ve gotten too expensive to keep. Why would a business continue to pay the salary that you’ve worked 20+ years to achieve when they can hire a 20 or 30-something who will do your job for half the price and for only 2 weeks annual vacation!

Or maybe a business has figured out how to split your full time job into 2 part time jobs and save a bundle in benefits.

I know someone who lost her job about 8 years ago and still can’t get back in. She has been actively looking and interviewing but, as each year passes, she is competing with younger and younger sales applicants.

They don’t have the sales experience she does but they are keen and eager . . . and cheaper.

She has been told countless times that she is “overqualified” (aka – your experience will warrant more money than we are willing to pay).

I came close last year. My company just merged with another company and many were offered a package because there was too much overlap in positions. I can tell you that it wasn’t the under 30 crowd that got the packages, no sirree.

I met the age and time-served criteria for a package but it happened that there was no overlap in my area so I didn’t receive an offer. I was lucky and dodged that bullet but it sure got me thinking.

Job hunting is not where I want to be at my age. I need to have a Plan B. And a plan C and D!

So I talked to people I knew that have faced this situation and considered what I would do if it happened to me. I’ve come up with some strategies to deal with a potential job loss that I would like to share with you.

  1. Can you downsize your lifestyle? More often than not, we live according to our means and, in fact, a big problem in North America right now is living beyond our means. If your lifestyle requires a certain amount of income, then a decrease in that amount can have a devastating effect. This happened to my friend Barry. He had to take a major cut in salary when he lost his job and now has to find ways to earn extra income to finance the lifestyle he built for himself and his family while earning a much higher salary. Is there a way to downsize your lifestyle before you have to? Are you leasing a Lexus? Could you get away with buying a used Hyundai and having no car payments? How about camping instead of Cancun? I have started going to a supercuts type place for every other haircut ($24!). It’s a small savings but the small savings add up.
  2. Park your pride. I have often said that I will never give up my house or my car. I will give up everything else and live on cheese sandwiches before I lose either of those two things. I will work at Walmart or McDonalds (or Walmart AND McDonalds) before I give them up – no matter who sees me. I can’t stand when someone implies that a certain job is beneath them. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t strive for your dream job but sometimes you have to take whatever you can to stay afloat until that opportunity comes. Now is not the time to worry what your neighbours or friends will think of you if they happen to climb into the Uber that you’re driving to earn extra money. Pride doesn’t pay the bills.
  3. Understand that you may have to climb the same ladder again. You may have had many years at your current job and worked your way up the ladder to a prime position with a prime salary. There is more than a good chance that you won’t be able to command that same position and salary at a new company right away but that doesn’t mean that you don’t take the job. It just means that you have to work back up the ladder. Unfortunately, the ladder doesn’t travel with you from job to job. This happened to my friend twice! Both times, she worked her way back up to and beyond the salary of her previous job.
  4. Assess your strengths and weaknesses realistically and improve where you need to. Be honest with yourself or, better yet, have someone else be honest with you. You may have strengths that you don’t realize are real assets worth honing. You also may have weaknesses that you aren’t even aware of that could sabotage you in an interview. Enlist some help from people who really know you to identify these. Capitalize on the assets and address the weaknesses. I have personal experience with this (of course I do, I always do!). I was recently made aware that my ability to build a great relationship with the client is a real skill. My boss went to great length to tell me that I have a way of making someone feel that I really do care and want to do the best job for them. She said that this is a rare quality and not everyone has it. Funny that I didn’t look at this as a skill, it’s just who I am. But you can bet that this skill is now going on my resume.
  5. Consider a change in direction. Is there something else you would like to try? Changing your career is risky and you will start at the bottom again but it’s also exciting and could make you happier in the long run. If you have something in mind, you could begin heading in that direction while you’re still working at your current job by taking a course or doing some volunteering. I know people that have done this – some successfully and some not so successfully. I admire them all for having the guts to do it.
  6. Do you have a passion that could become a business? Do you love to play the guitar? Maybe you could teach! Or maybe your passion is cooking; could a catering business be in your future? I worked with a young woman who loved to bake so she took a pastry course and now does wedding cakes in her spare time. I also know a former colleague who was downsized that wound up marketing his experience. He now has a successful consulting business. It’s nice to know that some people do see the value of experience.
  7. Consider going back to school. Sometimes a new direction will require some education and training so maybe you could take some time to go back to school. In Canada, the LLP (Lifelong learning plan) allows you to cash in some of your RRSP savings without penalty to help finance full time training or education. Make an investment in yourself.

Boomers face a new kind of job market.

Now, I have just listed seven very tangible strategies to help deal with a job loss (sometimes, even before the loss happens) but I would be remiss to not mention the less tangible ones. The emotional strategies like:

  1. Don’t be afraid of the fear – take control of the fear and make it move you; not paralyse you.
  2. Take it one step at a time – only fools rush in; take the time to make the right next move.
  3. Be open to new opportunities – let the universe help guide you; try to see what it is leading you to.
  4. Know that you’re not alone – reach out for emotional support when you need it; the people who love you will be there for you if you let them.

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