First Person: Over 40 and Hired

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In a previous life, I worked as a technology trainer for an executive search firm that specializes in senior level placements for Wall Street. Through osmosis I learned what clients look for in prospective clients and how the search process works. This came in handy when my 40-something husband, the breadwinner of our family, was laid off. Did I mention that I had a four year old, a newborn, and had recently lost my part-time consulting job? Now neither of us had jobs, and afterwards we might not have a marriage. I decided to throw caution to the wind and become his personal career coach!

Realistic expectations

It’s natural to feel like a failure when you’ve just hit the chopping block, and it’s an obvious blow to the ego. After initially panicking, we realized he shouldn’t take this personally. This doesn’t just happened to slackers and non-performers anymore. To find a job commensurate with his current salary, we had to be realistic about the timeframe. John Challenger, CEO of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, states that “in a tight job market, such as the one we are in now, it’s not unusual to see even high-quality candidates take four to six months.” Our personal experience is that it can more likely approach six months to a year. The truth is, although hopefully the economy’s improving, expectations may need to be readjusted.

Positive attitude

Having faith in yourself and your ability to find another job is key. This didn’t come naturally; but all we needed to do was look around. My husband’s previously laid-off colleagues eventually did get jobs and didn’t end up on the streets! The ability to move on and stop questioning why this happened is crucial to moving ahead with the job search.

Stay busy and mentally strong

After getting his resume in tip-top shape, he spent lots of time networking. He called friends about opportunities at their companies. Sometimes they knew of upcoming jobs that hadn’t yet been posted. He perused on-line job databases, and kept in touch with former colleagues. He facebooked, linked-in, and contacted headhunters. We discovered the trick to staying mentally strong was to work the job search at least 3 hours each day. This required discipline; but didn’t allow him to succumb to feeling helpless and depressed.

Sell yourself and develop your script

Distinguishing yourself from other highly qualified candidates is vital. We made a list of his greatest accomplishments, and numerically quantified how they impacted his job. We identified 25 questions interviewers might ask; and formulated written responses that chronicled his career and background.


Recognizing that the interviewer has a challenge, and we had an opportunity to solve their problem, we spent days fine-tuning responses to showcase his strengths; as well as why a particular role would motivate him; and why he was the best fit for an organization. Through a series of mock interviews, we tried to anticipate questions that might hit a sensitive chord like, “what is a task you’ve failed at”, and formulated the best reply. We essentially created a script that he memorized so that it became second nature. His confidence level was sky-high and he was completely self-assured when he landed his first interview.

This may be an opportunity

It sounds cliche, but while he was waiting for more interviews, he realized that getting laid-off could be a blessing in disguise. My husband cherishes this period because our daughter was just three months old, and he was able to bond and spend time with her that he would never otherwise have had!

Better things await!

After several interviews, he was finally offered a job. Tah-dah! Now we were in the negotiating phase and it felt a little like poker. When asked what he was looking for in terms of salary, I encouraged him to let the employer throw out the first number. He tossed the bidding back and asked them what range they were thinking. Unexpectedly, it was higher than he anticipated! He was offered a promotion and salary increase. It was nerve-wracking at times, but maybe this process was just the inspiration he needed.

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