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Facing a Layoff

If you are facing a layoff as an older adult, the good news is that the stigma formerly attached to being laid off has diminished. As John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, a nationwide outplacement firm in Chicago, says, “It is understood that everyone, from the CEO to the maintenance worker, may be laid off at any time through no fault of his or her own.”

The bad news is that age discrimination is still pervasive. Traditionally, workers age 50 and over have been the first to be laid off in a slump. Employers see early retirement as the easiest route to downsizing, even though they may count older workers among their most productive.

If you face a possible layoff, Challenger says, “Your relationship with your boss is paramount.” He suggests that you should shore up your position as soon as you see trouble ahead. Forge an authentic relationship with the person who will make the decisions about who goes and who stays. Supervisors are less likely to lay off employees with whom they feel really connected.

What can older workers do about this threat? What do you do if you are laid off? How do you get another job? In an interview reported in the AARP Bulletin, April 2001, Challenger suggested some tips for recovering from a layoff:

  • Take some time to cool off and get emotionally centered. You need to be upbeat and positive when you go out and see people.

  • Make your age a positive. “Think about your experience, your know-how, and your accomplishments. Keep in mind your track record and what you can do for a company.”

  • Update your resume. Add recent accomplishments to it. “Employers want to know what you have been doing the last five years. They really do not want to know what you did twenty years ago.”

  • Don’t postpone your job search. “A lot of people get severance for three or six months but don’t look for a job until the eleventh hour,” said Challenger. “Don’t wait. Your job candidacy is more valuable and has an extra luster to it when you are new in the job market. Employers may feel that they are finding someone that nobody else has seen yet.”

  • Don’t keep your plight to yourself. Hard as it may be,” said Challenger, “you have to go out and shout to the world that you are out of work. The more people who know that you are out of work, the better. The more discreet you are, the fewer people who know, the longer it will take to find a job.”

  • Don’t spend all day sending out resumes. “During the day, from morning until evening, you either should call people on the phone, trying to set up meetings, or go out and see them,” said Challenger.

  • See as many people as you can. “You will find a job through the people you know,” Challenger reported, “but not through the five or ten people you know best. The job usually involves your whole network of acquaintances—everyone you know through the community, through your relatives, through your friends, and through the people you meet. In a search, you want to see these people methodically, one by one in person, not call them up and then send them a resume.”

Challenger cautions against giving your resume to a friend to pass on to Human Resources. You want your friend to tell you who in the company you should work for, given your skills. Ask them if they will facilitate a meeting. Then you take it from there.

The quotes from John Challenger are excerpted from an interview reported by Elliot Carlson in “You’re going to have to fight”, AARP Bulletin, April 2001, pp. 2, 10. Page Author: Jan Hively.




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