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Nearly 50 and Laid Off: Finding a Job in Retirement

When I was busy enjoying my 20s and 30s, I had a vision of being set in my career by the time I reached my 50s, at which point I’d coast along for a few years until I could enjoy a traditional retirement. I learned a demanding, technical skill, worked hard, set money aside, and watched my expenses, thinking it was all within reach.

My approach may seem naive now, in light of the housing bust, the global recession and other economic upheavals. But, in some ways, I was lucky. I hit a wall in my 40s. Demand for my formerly in-demand technical skills started falling because of overseas outsourcing and technology changes. I scrambled to adjust and keep up. Everything I knew about staying employed, or even getting employment, just stopped working.

Meanwhile, my shorter term goals kept piling on the financial obligations. I felt forced to drain off retirement savings and run up credit card bills.

While I seemed to work harder and harder, my previous vision of retirement evaporated. After some careful reflection, I realized I was making two main mistakes:

  • I kept doing the same old things
  • I really wasn’t willing to adapt to a new labor market

So, why am I telling the whole world about my failures? To explain that, yes, I have been there. I know the fear and ego battering that results from getting laid off as an older worker.

But, more importantly, I’m sharing my story because, while it took a while, I did make the adjustment and I know others can make a similar change.

Consider the midlife career dilemma

While I was struggling to find employment I was also suddenly feeling the overwhelming need to do something more fulfilling. Of course, at the very same time, I also felt the overwhelming need to keep the electric bill paid (I had kids to feed and car payments to make).

I began by trying out a couple of different career fields, trying to “get in” at the bottom. But I quickly realized that neither option was something I wanted to do for the next few decades. I was approaching 50, but I still faced the prospect of working for 20 or 30 more years. I wanted to do something better, and I wanted to do it right away.

Solve unemployment with self-employment

For me, the solution was self-employment. I managed to leverage 30 years of work experience to slowly create a viable business model for myself. I started small, on nights and weekends, and then ultimately left my previous day job behind for a new career in online publishing.

I am now a big believer in solving unemployment with self-employment. Almost everybody has a skill or talent that can provide value to others. If you have reached a point where you dislike having others telling you what to accomplish during the day, it may be time to start telling yourself what to do.

Self-assess your way to a career change

On the other hand, self-employment is not for everybody. If you’re in the market for a midlife career change, you may need actual employment, and you may need to find it quickly. Begin with a good analysis of your situation. I spent 20 years as a systems analyst, but it took me years to start applying those skills to my own problems. Hopefully, the following points can help speed up the process for you:

  • Can you move to a different city? A lot of older workers do not want to relocate, but this may be the real key to landing a good job in your career field.
  • Can you apply your experience to a slightly different career in another industry? While manufacturing jobs may be in short supply, health care jobs keep growing. Both fields can use people with management, technical, or sales skills.
  • Do you need some quick job retraining? Take advantage of classes online or at a local community college. These may demonstrate that you are a person who is willing to work to keep yourself updated with technology and trends.
  • Is your resume dating you? The way I learned to build a resume and cover letter, decades ago, is not what employers look for today. I would invest time learning how to make an updated resume, or I would invest some money in a good resume service.

Stay flexible and make a step

Of course, these questions have complicated answers. And you are the one who knows what’s right for your particular situation. But it’s important that you stay flexible. Most of the stories I’ve read about people experiencing long-term unemployment illustrate a lack of flexibility on their part. Even if it’s just developing a more open mindset, you can start fixing your situation today. One day and one step at a time.

Guest blogger Marilyn Katz is the founder of the Over 50 Website, which is dedicated to topics that concern today’s baby boomers.