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Overcoming the Shock of Job Loss After 40

Corporate downsizing, and the reduction of middle management, along with the widespread use of contingency workers, contractors, consultants and part-timers has created a new reality in the workplace. These changes have had a major impact on all employees, but especially older workers who are facing a double-edged sword – a tough labor market and younger competition!

Some of you are starting over in your 40s, 50s, 60s, or even older! You may have been told that your services were no longer needed as the company downsized or went out of business. Some of you were fired or “put out to pasture” as one older worker described what he experienced. Regardless of HOW it happened, searching for a new job, no matter what your age, can be a challenge.

There are a number of myths that you should be aware of concerning older workers including the belief that older workers are:

Reluctant to change
Afraid to try new things
Fearful of taking risks
Slow moving
Unable to relate to younger people
Not computer savvy
Just looking for a place to work for a few years before retiring
Prone to health problems
Not willing to work for a person younger than themselves

We’ve all heard the expression “you’re not getting older; you’re getting better! Believe it! Use your age to your advantage as you approach the job market, regardless of what you did before you found yourself unemployed. But how? That’s the million-dollar question!

Attitude is everything. No one’s life is without problems; we all have problems; you don’t have to be over 40 to have problems. When you find yourself facing adversity, your goal is to turn your job loss problem into an opportunity. Now admittedly, it’s easier said than done, but if you believe that everything happens for a reason, you CAN turn a negative situation into a positive. And even if you don’t believe it, you’re now in a position where you don’t have a choice but to focus on the future and a new job or career opportunity. Let’s talk about how to adjust your attitude to meet the challenge.

Several years ago I was hired by a company to provide outplacement services to an extremely disgruntled group of former employees. I started the seminar with a “found object” warm up activity. Each person selected an object from a box that I had brought along with me and introduced him or herself by telling the group how the object that they selected reminded them of how they were feeling at this point in time. (keep in mind that they had all been told the day before that they were being laid off. The majority of them were over 40 and many of them had been employed with the company for over 25 years.) The 3rd person to introduce himself held up a box of band aides and said: I chose these band aides because my wife is sick and she’s not going to make it. You could have heard a pin drop in that room. The previously rowdy bunch of newly unemployed people were frozen. I could see by the expressions on their faces, that what had seemed like the end of the world to them, suddenly took on a new perspective.

What I am trying to say by this example is that your job loss is NOT a matter of life or death. You WILL find another job. It may not be as soon as you would like, but it will happen if you’re committed to the task and keep your attitude in check.

Along this same line, count your blessings. We all have things for which to be grateful. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you have many things for which to be thankful including good health (if that’s the case) and the mental ability, skills and experience to find another job or start a new career.

Surround yourself with positive people, those who are supportive of you. Schedule time with them on a regular basis. The attitudes of positive people are contagious! Negative people or “morale busters” as I call them, will take you down with them because of their bad attitudes and negative view of life.

Find a role model. People who are successful in life have a positive attitude despite their age. Look around you at people whom you know who are extremely successful, by anyone’s standards. I would be willing to bet that they are known for their positive outlooks on life, regardless of what they have to face. When they run into problems, they evaluate the situation and look for the positives. You can do the same by following their example.

Take responsibility for what’s happened to you. Maybe you were fired for failure to do your job or because of a conflict with your supervisor or even a co-worker. Maybe you were laid off through no fault of your own or you quit your job because you were not happy. Regardless of how it happened, you cannot look at the circumstances surrounding your job loss after 40 as external factors that are out of your control. When you continue to blame others for your situation it’s a waste of time and energy. Empower yourself to put the past behind you and move forward.

Erase the word “failure” from your vocabulary! You are not going to fail! Granted, some employers will discriminate against you because of your age, but others will be happy to have you on their payroll. Successful people have a failure-proof attitude.

Find a coach or mentor to help keep your attitude in check. Career coaches generally charge a fee. A mentor is someone whom you know who would be willing to help you in your job search. You might even connect with someone who is an over-40 job seeker just like you and work together to emotionally support each other through your job search and maybe even beyond.

Talk to yourself, out loud if you want to. It’s okay; it’s a good way to boost your morale when you’re feeling down. One of the questions that I personally use as part of my self talk when I have something on my mind in which I may have doubts is: Why not you? I convince myself through self-talk, that I am the perfect person for the job and that I have as much or more to offer as my competition does. Try this technique. I’d be willing to bet that you can help yourself in this way too.

Kick-start your job search by taking advantage of outplacement services that your company offers you. Don’t be like the job seeker that I once met who was so angry with her employer for laying her off that she outright refused to participate in classes to help her with her job search. Her anger got in the way of helping herself and as a result it took her longer than it should have to find another job.

Never let your age affect how you market yourself. Concentrate on what you have to offer and the contributions that you are prepared to make to an employer.

Finally, losing a job can quickly turn to depression for anyone, regardless of age. Many people are embarrassed to tell their family and friends what happened. They may begin to feel like their life is out of control; some are still in shock or denial. When your routine changes, and you lose your office, your salary and perks, along with the people that you thought were your friends, it’s tough to deal with. Depression is the number one roadblock to finding a new job. The sooner that you accept what happened, the better. If you continue to struggle with depression, you might want to consider joining a support group or even seek professional help.

In summary, attitude plays a critical role in your future success. Grumpy, angry or hateful job seekers take their negative attitudes with them into interviews. They may not even realize that their attitudes are preventing them from getting the job offer because they don’t see themselves as others see them, especially prospective employers. Make a decision now to work on your attitude if there is any doubt that it might be hurting you. Surround yourself with positive people, find a career coach or mentor and take advantage of outplacement services when available. Don’t let the fact that you are over the age of forty hold you back!

Carol Hacker is a business consultant, seminar leader and author of over 250 published articles and 13 books including the bestseller, Hiring Top Performers-350 Great Interview Questions for People Who Need People. She can be reached in Atlanta at 770-410-0517

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