Unemployment After Fifty: Give Yourself a Time Out

Guest Author: Susanne Skinner

When my kids were little and my last maternal nerve had been stepped on I would declare a Time Out.

cup of tea, book, tea, relaxNot for them – for me. I would make myself a cup of tea and sit on the sofa with a dog, an afghan and a book. The rules of Isolation and Silence were imposed and the perpetrator(s) retreated. After 15 minutes had passed I was restored, resumed my role as The Goddess of All that is Right and Good and no young people were harmed.

When I lost my job last year I made a conscious decision to give myself a Time Out. Not time off – although I did some of that too, but a real break from all things employment related. I needed to sit on my virtual sofa and clear my head. I wanted to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do before I presented myself as a candidate for employment. This is the first Best Practice in beginning a job search when you are over 50. I also replaced the tea with a fine single malt scotch.

There are some good reasons to give yourself a time out. My friend Mark calls it “getting your head right.” Know yourself – know who you are and what you want to do. Be realistic. What you did before may not be what you will do (or can do) going forward. Know what your financial needs and obligations are. I am the CFO in our family. We used this as an opportunity to green up. I slashed expenses, repealed the child labor laws and imposed a ‘re-use, recycle and re-purpose’ mandate for all beings under my roof. The single malt was exempt.

When you have been in the workforce as long as I have, a time out restores you emotionally, physically and spiritually. It allows you to let go of the way things used to be and focus on what lies ahead. Don’t think of it as optional, it’s necessary. How long your time out lasts is up to you and your personal circumstances. Once you are restored, you have the energy and focus for the task at hand – your job search. This segues to the second Best Practice – creating a marketing plan for yourself.

When you are out of work, your new job is to find a job. I get that. But what if your work experience was marred by the politics of a company that had identity issues and a rotating bench of executives with blurred vision? What if you are so emotionally weary from waiting for the other shoe to drop (and now it has) that you just want to put some distance between yourself and the 9 to 5? It’s a good thing.

Think about it – the only time we are exempt from the need to stay connected to our office is when we no longer have one. People are afraid to take time off. Our need to check emails, track projects and return calls when we are not at work is ingrained in us and in our work culture. Time Out!

The idea of taking a complete break from work is, at the very least, risky. Employers want applicants who haven’t been out of work for a lengthy period of time, with current industry experience, and who reflect job stability. They look for people willing to work for less money than, say . . . you. Statistics say you are less likely to be considered if you have been out of work longer than three months, and with the high rate of unemployment, that is a harsh reality. If you are over 50 your reality is even harsher.

Where do you begin? I like to go back to the Marketing 101 class most of us took and revisit the 4 P’s – Product, Place, Price and Promotion – with a slight riff. You are the product and you are developing a profile of the person you want to sell. There are web sites, books and tutorials that offer advice on how to create a resume, write a cover letter and ace an interview. Make the most of them. Learn, understand and use social media if you are not already a practitioner. But first, develop your profile and know exactly who and what you are selling.

Four Ps of marketing, 4 Ps, marketing strategyProduct: You – who are you and what do you do? Be specific, use examples, show results.

Place: Where do you want to work? What companies and industries are you targeting?  Location: What cities are you targeting? How far do you want to commute? What kind of manager do you want? Large company, small company, or start-up?

Price: Salary and benefits – Pick a hill and be prepared to die on it. Know what you are worth and what your bottom number is.

Promotion: Your resume and cover letter. This is your profile summary and professional game plan.

Be honest. Would you hire you? Put yourself in a hiring manager’s position and ask these questions:

  1. Who are you and what can you do (for me)?  Align your skills with how business is conducted today. A hiring manager only cares about your skills if they can solve his/her problems

  2. Competition: Are you the only one with these skills?  The interviewer’s job is to hire the best person for the position. Candidates that make it past the phone interviews are likely qualified for the job. The winning candidate needs to be qualified and a good fit — especially in a very competitive job market.  Make yourself stand out.

  3. What makes you different/better/unique? Why should I hire you?  Who is your competition? Do you have something they don’t? What value will you add? These are differentiators and they are the ticket to gaining an interview.

  4. How much will it cost? Salaries, bonuses, commission – do the math and speak the number with confidence. It might cost a lot to hire you. Convince them it will cost them more if they don’t.

If you address these questions with honesty during your time out, you will come away with an unvarnished profile of who you are, what you can do and where you want to go. You might surprise yourself. You will find you think differently. You will package yourself differently at 50 than you did at 40 or 30. Your head will be right. You might even like scotch.