Unemployment Over Fifty: Thinking Outside the Boxes

Guest Blogger:  Susanne Skinner

Last year my employer of five years reorganized/downsized/transformed and I found myself out of a job. Not a bad thing, I decided – I’ve been keeping a bucket list and if not now, when? The job market was soft and I was weary of corporate politics and mean bosses so it was a good time to take some time off. I caught up on two seasons of Game of Thrones, took an intensive cake decorating class, and volunteered at the local senior center. Seniors (these folks are over 80) are fun and funny and since I was learning to decorate cakes they also ate my homework. I joined a book club, traveled to Napa Valley for a Girls Gone Wild Week, learned to bead and – judge me if you must- watched an episode of Honey Boo Boo just to see what all the hype was about.

When it was time to focus on my job search I came up against some hard truths and difficult decisions.

Thinking outside the box, thinking creativelyI am over fifty. Did I want to go back into my chosen field of corporate event management? In a world of increasingly younger colleagues and diminished salary options would anyone hire me? The answers that were shaping up seemed to be “Yes”and “Probably not.”

Determined to explore all my options I attended a resume writing class sponsored by the Massachusetts Division of Unemployment Assistance (DUA.) The subject of extensive experience on a resume outing your age to a potential employer came up. I asked the instructor to touch on this subject as it was relevant to several of us in the room. His response was, “Apart from the fact that you are too old, what else would you like me to tell you?”

It had been over five years since I actively searched for work. The dynamic of job hunting, selling myself and competing with the millennials for a finite number of opportunities was disheartening. The salaries had dropped significantly and the management was much younger than I remembered. Being over fifty and out of a job in this environment erodes your confidence and sense of possibility. I went from believing I would land a job in no time to the very real likelihood of long-term unemployment. I had to face the fact that I was no longer a viable candidate for jobs I knew I was qualified for. Economic downturns, financial instability, rising unemployment and government sequestering had become the new reality. I was not at the top of anyone’s list.

Thinking Outside the Boxes

Then I read Aline’s blogs. Aline and I were colleagues and are women of a certain age. She wrote about changing perspective and thinking outside the box. Not just the work box, but the creative box, the industry box, the networking box and the skills box. I began to redefine what I was searching for. I expanded my thinking to include contract agencies and temp jobs. I starting thinking with more flexibility and encouraged myself to let go of what used to be and begin creating what was to come.

thinking outside the box, thinking creativelyI looked beyond the industry I had worked in for ten years and found all kinds of possibilities. I registered with agencies, did a skills inventory and became more open minded than I ever thought possible. The result was a new approach and perspective on what I wanted to do with the next five years of my work life.

The two hidden jewels in my search were agencies and contract opportunities. Companies have restricted headcounts and lowered budgets – but they seem to get approval for contractor hire. When a workload becomes unmanageable, a contractor (with specific skills) is brought in. Companies generally work through an agency to find said contractors. Once I registered with an agency, the phone started ringing. The first two opportunities did not pan out. One company used an internal transfer after a small layoff occurred and the other went back to a contractor they had used before.

The third time was the charm. During my interview the hiring manager explained that his workload and capacity to deliver had been maximized. He needed someone to start immediately, hit the road running and deliver results. He had funding through the end of 2013. Perfect! I was using my skills, being paid well (not true for every contract opportunity but it’s still income!) and working in a new industry. Because of my seniority and skill set I was exactly what he was looking for.

The Curve Ball

Then he threw the curve ball….how would I feel about full time employment? He had budgeted for a full time employee in 2014 and if we worked well together would I consider staying?

thinking outside the box, thinking creativelyI joined a company that has over 20,000 employees – my age was a negligible factor and my experience and street cred were two main reasons I was suddenly at the top of the list. There was no bandwidth to train me or indoctrinate me into the idiosyncrasies of the company. They were counting on me to jump in and figure it out. The one thing that was working against me was now my best asset – through a contract agency. They think differently too. If they place you, they get paid – so there is something in it for both of you.

When you think differently you just might get different [better] results. We all need inspiration from time to time, and I’d to thank Aline for her thoughtful, powerful and meaningful words of encouragement.

AK NOTE:  You’re welcome, Susanne!  This is exactly what I was hoping my blog posts would accomplish, especially for people who have been stuck in a career-oriented rut and going nowhere.  I hope you love this new opportunity and it turns into something stable and dependable in 2014 — which is less than six months away.