Unemployed and over 50: Jonathan’s Story

The reality you're used to may no longer exist...
Posted by on Fri, Sep 4, 2015

 unemployed and over 50

Are you over 50 and either unemployed or underemployed?

A deeper dive into unemployment in the over-50 demographic reveals that they have greater long-term unemployment rates than other age group. Also, more than half of those who do eventually find re-employment (53%), start a completely new occupation.

I recall some years back, getting laid off from a job. I found a company doing something very interesting and they offered to pay me $7.50 an hour plus commission on sales. Against my spouse’s wishes, I took the job and, unexpectedly, it flourished into a great role with the most money I’ve ever made in my career! I could have sat at home, pushing out 500 resumes while searching for a golden opportunity to match my previous role, but I decided instead to do that in my spare time while I worked at something completely new and different.

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Lesson learned

Everybody’s reality is different of course, but I‘ve lost count of the stories I read about people who remain unemployed for six months or a year while remaining stubbornly optimistic that exactly the same great job with the same great salary they once had is right around the corner.

So here’s my question:  Is it better to take a dive into something new right now, without quite the same bells and whistles and great pay you’re used to, or is it better to sit at a computer all day looking for substantially the identical opportunity and pay you had before?

Based on my own experience, I would suggest the first approach is better for your mind and soul; it is empowering to leave the past behind and face the future with an open mind. Once you face your new reality, you will naturally gravitate toward an action plan that embraces it rather than waste your inventory of optimism on a course of action that is failing.

In 2009, at the height of the recession, I had just turned 50 and my consultant business had dried up. I needed a job and quickly. I was recently divorced and found myself to be a single parent raising a 7-year-old child.  A friend of mine who had been hired at Kaplan University as an admissions advisor called me to say that Kaplan was hiring. I took a job there making one third of what I had made previously as a consultant. It was a hard slog but eventually, after five years, I earned a Kaplan Master’s Degree in Accounting which opened the door for me to be selected to the Kaplan Leadership Development program. This, in turn, led to my current role in innovation where I now report to the Senior Vice President of Strategy and Innovation at Kaplan. It has been a long road back that started at the age of 50, but I got myself here.

The party is over

If you’re over 50 and job hunting in today’s post-recession world, I like to make the analogy between your situation and Wall Street. When stock prices fall, institutions will sell their stocks and take their profits while some retail investors stubbornly hang on in the hopes that stock prices will recover—they may even buy more shares at what they think are bargain prices, but the stocks never bounce back. They were too late to the party and they’re left cleaning up in the hope that the party will start over again. Likewise, the job party you’re trying to join may have ended about 5 years ago, post-recession. The VIP guests (the Institutions) took their money and left, and you need to realize now that the job party is over so you can leave too.

The employment situation for under-employed professionals who are over 50 may be the same—the jobs (or the type of jobs they had before) may not be there anymore. So leave the party and either arrive early to another one, or throw your own! Play the market as it is, not as you would like to see it. If you’ve sent out 500 resumes without scoring even one interview, trust me, the next 500 will not yield different results. (Don’t waste your time getting your resume reviewed by the so-called experts because a hundred resume experts will give you a hundred different opinions about what makes an effective resume, and the truth is they can’t all be right.) For the most part, employers didn’t ignore your 500 submissions because of your resume; they ignored them because they don’t perceive that they have a job for you. Despite what an expert may tell you, it probably isn’t your resume design that stopped you from getting a job or an interview. Even a bang-up resume designed in one of a hundred different ways by a hundred different experts will make no difference in most situations.

There may be many reasons your resume is being ignored; perhaps there is age discrimination; perhaps the employer has automated keyword search; perhaps they are just flat out wrong to ignore you. It doesn’t really matter. The results are the results, so use your valuable time to get the results that your reality demands, not the results you simply wish for.

The definition of insanity

This requires a fundamental shift in your thinking; perhaps you will have to do something completely new; perhaps you will have to take less money; perhaps you will need to start your own business and re-invent yourself as an entrepreneur. We all do it—we keep doing things the same way we always have and confirm the frequently over-quoted perception that insanity is to keep doing something that doesn’t work.

My suggestion is this—put away the resume, close the computer, and take out a blank piece of paper. Write down five new careers that you would be interested in pursuing. Examples might include social media, nursing, web-site design, CPA, financial planning, party planner, or perhaps even selling  used cars—it doesn’t have to be your dream job at this point. Maybe your criteria could just be to do something you’ve never done before. Then work backwards. Find out what the educational requirements are for each job, and make a specific plan to accomplish your new career. Keep it simple. Be prepared to take less money if your situation allows for it. Is it better to work for $10 an hour for six months while trying something new, or to earn nothing while you try to look for a job that no longer exists?

It’s hard. Most of us are constrained by years of mental programming that job opportunities and how we get hired have to be approached in a certain way, a way that worked before the great recession but not now. The recession wasn’t a just another downturn in our economic cycle, it was a complete restructuring of how our economy works. None of the old rules apply.  It’s hard to unwind the thinking that preceded that fundamental shift. But as soon as you recognize your career situation as it is, rather what you would like it to be, you will be on your way to something better.

Keep moving forward

At this point, I’ll stop. If I turn this article into a set of instructions, you’ll stop reading. I just want to change your way of thinking. I will say this—whatever world you grew up in, consider the possibility that it’s gone forever. That job you had before may not be coming back. Assume it isn’t rather than hope that it does. Your actions will then keep you moving in a direction that accomplishes results. Don’t prevent yourself from a lesser opportunity now in the hopes of a greater opportunity in the future. As I found out from my own experiences (twice), it was those seemingly lesser opportunities that eventually yielded the greatest fruit. And whatever you want to do, there is a course for it, a degree for it, and an employer for it (including yourself). The rest is up to you.

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What do you think of Jonathan’s advice? Share your opinions and your own stories in the comment section below.

Jonathan Shatz Picture

Jonathan Shatz has been with Kaplan University since 2009. He is a Senior Manager of Innovation and Strategy for Kaplan Higher Education. Jonathan is from the United Kingdom and has a BA in law from the University of Southampton. He also holds a chartered accountant qualification from the UK, earned an MS in accounting from Kaplan University, and is pursuing a second master’s degree in public administration. Jonathan lives in Florida with his 7th-grade son and their dog Molly, a Norfolk Terrier mix.







Comments (2)

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  1. Dee McCarney says:

    It’s so encouraging to read this article as it’s exactly what I’m in the process of doing. At 52 years of age I moved countries. I didn’t like where I was living and I made the decision to leave behind a well-paid job and move to Wales to follow a dream. I took a year out and completed a Masters at Cardiff University in a field that was nothing to do with my previous career but I was passionately interested in. Since then I’ve had work that has been loosely related to it, but still off on a tangent. I’m currently unemployed and casting about for a direction, but I have applied for a training course in an area that I am interested in so hopefully I will get started in the right direction soon. I’m now 59 but confident that I can make this work. My goal is to have work that is location-independent, that is challenging to me and that I enjoy. It must be out there somewhere!

    • Jonathan Shatz says:

      Hi Dee,

      Thanks for your post. It sounds like you’ve been trying to carve out your own unique path and you’re pivoting between a couple of different careers, all part of your journey. I’m interested to know what direction did you look to move into with your Masters and more recently the training course you refer to in your post?

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