Stripped of my email privileges, I was escorted to my car in the parking lot. As I sat, shocked and weeping in the driver’s seat, I kept asking myself over and over, why didn’t I see this coming?
You are not alone
Many senior professionals receive the pink slip every day. As one’s golden years just begin, cheaper and younger pros are eager and available. We seniors seem set in our antiquated ways while new projects demand sharp social media and varied digital platform skills that can intimidate us.
Statistics say that more than 100 million men and women over 50 are unemployed in the United States at this moment. Seeking a position at any age, no matter the reason, is a challenge. When you’re 55 years old, getting back into job-hunting mode is depressing and downright scary.
Update your image
Your invaluable years of experience in communications – attracting and nurturing clients, launching successful public relations campaigns, developing a network of colleagues, writing award-winning annual reports – offer prospective employers sophisticated, sought-after skills. Still, it’s important to look critically at the image you portray.
In “50 Plus! Critical Career Decisions for the Rest of Your Life,” author Robert L. Dilenschneider gives 50-plus job seekers important guidance about being successful in the marketplace.
Dilenschneider points out that you might be subconsciously sending the wrong message by wearing clothing that is out of fashion or sporting a dated hairstyle. Don’t be afraid to consult a personal shopper or to ask friends to help you modernize. Invest in the best clothing you can afford, the author advises, and purchase a new briefcase.
When you present a professional, modern appearance you give the interviewer the impression that you can be counted on to perform well.
Your personal PR campaign
First, think of yourself as a client. Determine your key selling points, define your personal message and determine how to promote your distinct brand.
As Dilenschneider says, successful public relations campaigns deliver succinct messages. You too must refrain from relying on clichés and focus instead on your unique strengths, bolstered by vivid examples.
Use real-life problems and show how you tackled them. Explain how you streamlined a clunky delivery system or generated positive press for a challenging event. Talk about your ideas. Describe how you work well with other team members. Offer insightful analysis of what went right and what you would do differently in a recent scenario.
Avoid dwelling on the ‘good old days.’ Don’t complain about ‘young people today.’ Simplify your pitch to three or four key messages; write them down and memorize them until they sound natural. Refine and practice your short, direct elevator speech.
Establish yourself as an expert by mentioning your profession honors. Share brief testimonials from clients and coworkers. Offer letters of recommendation from impressed clients and colleagues who’ve worked side by side with you on significant projects.
Your network, your safety net
You never know who will be your next boss. It pays off to be friendly with everyone – your past and present clients, colleagues, associates – even your interns. Don’t be shy about telling everyone you know about your job hunt. Ask for assistance and request advice.
In PR, we often go back to a reporter several times with updated information or a comment on something they’ve written. These frequent calls help keep us and our clients top-of-mind as key sources. If you think that way about yourself, you’ll recognize many opportunities to ‘sell’ yourself to professional contacts.
This is not the time to be shy. Spend money wisely, of course, but tap into your resources for lunch and coffee dates with colleagues. During the meal, pick their brain about the job market, the skills they consider vital, and their opinions about the local business climate.
Be considerate and write personal thank-you notes to the people spend time talking with you. Keep in touch with everyone you meet. Offer them your new business card and send them articles you know they’ll be interested in. Nothing is more personal than a little hand-written note that says, ‘I saw this and thought of you.’
Take time to breathe
When I lost my job, it took me several weeks to calm down and see things rationally. Yet I came to realize that despite my personal trauma the world did not come to an end. I became thrilled with the possibility of a new phase of life.
Taking time to breathe deeply, I slowed down to consider what I really wanted from my work. A new path opened for me to capitalize on my creative energy and use my skills in innovative ways.
Rather than seeking another full-time position, I decided to put my 30-plus years of writing, editing and public relations expertise to work as head of my own company. Thanks to decades of concentrated networking in the journalism and communications fields, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I love working alone but I treasure being part of a creative team. I use my communications skills to create projects of true value. I wake up every day excited about my life.
A number of 50-plus professionals are cashing in on their status as senior professionals in unique ways; some have changed careers entirely, others have sought corporate work instead of agency gigs, and a few are well-paid consultants.
It may surprise you that sophisticated advice from seasoned professionals is valued highly by savvy prospects and smart clients. The happy realization that you can earn a good living – even one that commands higher fees than your former salary – is the most best motivator of all.
Indeed, the qualities your last boss considered drawbacks – your many years of experience in various environments, the sage advice you can offer based on hard knocks, and your diverse and growing network of professional associates – is pure gold in the marketplace.
Eager employers and clever clients will realize your true value provided you can clearly express your ideas and convey your integrity. Losing your former job is an end, yes – but it also can be the beginning of a keen new outlook and even a more fulfilling life.