Sometimes you’ve got to eat an elephant to get a job. A recent article in the Business Day section of the New York Times stopped me right in my tracks. “Over 50, and Under No Illusions,” the headline shouted from the NYT website. But it wasn’t the headline that stopped me so much as the first two or three paragraphs of the story written by Caitlin Kelly.
“It’s a baby boomer’s nightmare. One moment you’re 40-ish and moving up, the next you’re 50-plus and suddenly, shockingly, moving out — jobless in a tough economy.
Too young to retire, too old to start over. Or at least that’s the line. Comfortable jobs with comfortable salaries are scarce, after all. Almost overnight, skills honed over a lifetime seem tired, passé. Twenty- and thirty-somethings will gladly do the work you used to do, and probably for less money. Yes, businesses are hiring again, but not nearly fast enough. Many people are so disheartened that they’ve simply stopped looking for work.
For millions of Americans over 50, this isn’t a bad dream — it’s grim reality.”
And the real twist of the knife came with this line, “For a vast majority of this cohort, being thrown out of work means months of fruitless searching and soul-crushing rejection.”
Crushing rejection? Had Kelly somehow been spying on my existence over the past three years? Had she crawled up in my psyche and somehow learned my inner secrets, or was my story of job searching as familiar and transparent as so many others.
Yes, up-and-comer in my 30s. On to middle management in my 40s. But the 50s have been a bear, and I’m just getting started.
After my first media layoff, I bounced back into another media job as an online editor. Nice work, fun, educational, interesting and rewarding. I used my personal network to quickly move on from my first layoff. But then came round two of media layoffs.
While my first time without full-time work had lasted less than two months, this second go-around has taken longer. But it’s not from not trying. I’ve added skills, tried new things and applied to as many jobs as I can.
How was I to know that 50 was the new 60? Throughout the early 2000′s we were all told that 40 was the new 30 and 50 the new 40, but then the recession hit and from the sound of Kelly’s article 50 is the new employment purgatory.
During the past 18 months I’ve been tested, tried out, screened, poked, prodded, grilled, skewered and twisted more than 20 times in the job-seeking process. I laughingly refer to myself as the king of runners-up for job openings.
One of the things I’ve learned through the job interview process is there are a lot of really cool people out there doing rewarding and interesting stuff. So many of us get into a career and spend our lives at one type of work, so we’re cloistered away from seeing what other people do.
Because my skill set ranges from writing to photography and now online and social media, I have been invited to interview for a wide variety of jobs at universities, businesses, nonprofits and government agencies. Each interview has been an opportunity for discovery. Perhaps fruitless in terms of getting a job immediately, but important for personal growth and education.
If LinkedIn were a degree-offering institution, I’d have my PhD by now. Twitter is thinking about a hall of fame induction, but they fear I’ve been using performance-enhancing tweets, so I’m off the ballot for now, so I’ve moved on to courting Pinterest.
One thing I’ve come to notice during this time is the cottage industry of job-seeker help and general life-coaching opinions that has manifested itself in the blogosphere. I have to say, after battling in the trenches for this long, I want on that gravy train. How do I get one of those jobs? I’m not an ivory tower-type; I’ve been fighting the good fight as one of the grunts in the employment wars.
At this point, I’ve lost 20 pounds and 20 years off my resume in hopes of getting hired. My portfolio lives online. My LinkedIn profile is razor sharp, and my elevator speech goes clear to the top.
I know how to look interviewers in the eye, and not to chew gum at the interview. I know to dress nicely, and yes a suit and tie still does go a long way to impressing hiring managers. I know to have questions ready and engage an interviewer in conversation.
Countless blog articles and advice emails focus on following your passion. I understand the sentiment, but in some ways that’s where my passion and the reality of keeping the bills paid part company.
I love doing online and social media work, and to this point I’ve been able to do enough contract work to keep the dream alive. But it’s finding the next step that is difficult for many of us as we struggle to put our kids through school, pay the bills and face the challenges of daily life.
Still I go back to these lines from Kelly, “Too young to retire, too old to start over. Or at least that’s the line. Comfortable jobs with comfortable salaries are scarce, after all. Almost overnight, skills honed over a lifetime seem tired, passé.”
I’m definitely too young to retire, and I’ve done my best to morph my skill set into what employers are looking for, so I offer no excuses. To me it’s a matter of keeping an eye on the prize and being willing to adjust and adapt accordingly. In the 18 months that I’ve been away from a full-time job I’ve been lucky to have enough contract to keep me off unemployment for all but a few weeks. There was even a run in there last summer where I worked seven days a week for clients during a three-month span.
Most important, for all my job-seeking friends, don’t give up the fight. Rejection is only soul-crushing if you let it be.
I think job hunting is similar to a piece of advice I saw recently in a blog posting. It asked how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. And that’s how you find work, one interview at a time.