The job crisis has hit baby boomers hard: more than 5 million people over 45 are out of work – more than doubling in the past year. And it takes this age group longer to find a new job: more than six months for 44 percent of them.
No doubt the job market is challenging for everyone right now, but what I'm most impressed with among boomers is a refusal to give up. Statistics show discouraged workers throwing in the towel on their search in every age group except this one. There's no official explanation, except perhaps because boomers can't give up. There's a mortgage and college tuition to pay. There's that dwindling retirement savings. Some younger people may opt to go back to school fulltime and crash on mom's couch. But for boomers, instead of saying, "Nobody's hiring" or "I can't find work", they say, "I must find work and I will."
In the last few weeks I've talked to many people 50 and over who've done just that, and I've compiled some of the lessons they shared.
Explore options based on your current (and often evolving) interests.
Don't assume you have to do what you've always done. Unemployment offers you the chance to move in a new direction. Take stock of your lifestyle and interests, which have likely shifted over the years even though your job during that time had always remained the same. Have your personal passions changed? Can you spot a career opportunity that's connected to your future dreams instead of to your previous responsibilities?
Check with the Career One Step in your area.
Even though there's often lots of red tape connected to government assistance, you should make a visit to the state-run unemployment office in your area to inquire about the educational benefits and financial assistance you may be eligible for. Find the location near you at CareerOneStop.org. Many counselors have the inside scoop on dynamic programs that could be right for you.
Research resources specifically for workers 45 and over.
Civic Ventures Encore Careers provides grants to community colleges that develop training programs specifically for people 50 and over who are looking to switch or advance their careers. Career Voyages, run by the government, provides links to community colleges and training programs throughout the country where you can research and inquire about opportunities in your desired field.
AARP has online content and resources specifically for older workers. Experience Corps engages people over 55 in serving their communities. The Serve America Act offers incentives for those 55 and over to volunteer. Many local community groups—churches, the YMCA and other non-profits—offer programs to mature workers, so network in your area to discover what may be available.
Baby Boomers Refuse to Give Up in Job Search
Embrace social media. Job searching can be very isolating. To combat that feeling of being alone and to connect with new people who can often help you get hired it's essential to tap into the power of online social networking sites. The best way for learning and development specialist Jennifer Turner to shake the depression and snap out of her funk caused by a pink slip was to become active online. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter were foreign to her at first, but all offer simple tutorials on how to get started. These are the ideal forums to meet new people, connect with old colleagues, learn about job openings, share articles and ideas with like-minded people in your field, and more. A referral from someone you meet online is often the difference of landing the interview—or the position.
Sometimes it's ok to focus on the place, not the position.
For some workers, location is everything. For others, the benefits at one employer matter most. If this sounds like you, focus less on getting your dream job, and study the openings that are relevant to your skills and experience. Don't apply to every job at the company; be selective where you think you have the best shot.
Always do your best even if you believe the position is below your skill level. After being a stay-at-home mom for 10 years, Caterina Ramsey got her foot in the door as a part-time cafeteria monitor—a far cry from the job in a school's front office that she really wanted. But it was a chance to be where she wanted to be and offered her the opportunity to prove her worth and ability, which caught the eye of a decision maker who opted to promote her to the position she was best suited for as an administrative assistant. Demonstrating a strong work ethic and dedication can get you where you want to be.
Finally, go for it.
So many people over 50 who've lost their jobs tell me they feel old and slow—or they worry about being perceived that way by younger colleagues. Those concerns can inhibit anyone who's looking for work. You have to believe in yourself—and be convinced that you have great value to offer an employer—before you can convince someone else to believe in you.
One California woman, Jan Alpert, lost her job in real estate and contemplated returning to school for fresh training, but she worried about how she'd fare with students half her age. Then came her first assignment – and as she wrote it, she realized she had so many life experiences to draw from, and she aced it. But she almost allowed the self-doubt to keep her from enrolling. Now she's got a thriving business (24hourangels.com) where she's making nearly the same money as in her former job lost at the start of the recession. Nobody can fire her, and she's in a position to hire other people. Pure satisfaction!
Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on ABC's "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women For Hire. She recently launched a national network of local job clubs called WaggleForce.com. Connect with her on Twitter.com/ToryJohnson.