I met a person (let’s call him Frank) this weekend who I found out just got laid off this week from a major bank in New York City. Frank is 51 years old and had worked at this bank for over twelve years. He was given the following two choices: Move to another location or stay in the New York metro area for a $20,000 pay cut. He was not willing to move or take a pay cut since he was earning a six-figure salary and needed to make that much to maintain his standard of living. Though naturally upset, Frank felt he had plenty of time since he got a severance for eight months to find a new job that will pay him what he earned before being laid off.
When I asked him how his search was going, he said something interesting that most people who have been laid off find out the hard way: companies today are looking for a lot of new skills and credentials just to get an interview. Though Frank had an outstanding performance reviews where he worked, unfortunately, he does not have many of the skills and credentials companies are looking for today. He added that companies are interested in all just to qualify for an interview. He said he was not deterred since he had outstanding performance reviews so it will help him land a new job. I wish him all the best but unless he is an exception, this is not what I am seeing in the market for people getting laid off as they get into their 40s and 50s.
When you get laid off after working for a same company for many years, you feel like you have been thrown out of a moving train on to a platform and now you find that all incoming trains are jam packed, and there are lot of other people pushing to get in the train when it stops. You suddenly have to deal with something you did not have to worry about for a long time (while you were gainfully employed) and now you have to learn so many new things that are outside your comfort zone---it is a terrible feeling.
This is nothing new. We humans have always opted for stability over change. We have a job that pays well so why change anything if you don’t have to when you are not seeing, or delusionally think (if you are seeing any sign of a threat) that it will not affect you. This is the big trap that most employees fall into, especially as they start getting into their 40s and 50s and, unfortunately, the landing is very hard when they lose their jobs..
In a way we are wired to opt for stability.. Humans used only stone tools for over two million years. The reason for this, according to anthropologists, is that the physical environment was so stable in Africa where our early ancestors had enough food and faced very little threat. Stability is more of a natural human condition than trying to make a change. Though we are living in a world of change, when it comes to jobs, many opt for stability and then when they get laid off, they simply can’t adjust to the new reality. We are not wired to embrace change of any kind.
As I indicated, change is hard when you have lived in a stable environment for so long. You are like a house pet who is loved by the household, but, if abandoned, you have to hope that you get rescued before it's too late. This is harsh but nevertheless this is how I and others I felt after being laid off in our 40s and 50s.
But there is good news. You don’t have to be a victim of this predicament if you take the following actions:
- Keep learning new skills that are current or emerging to make you marketable to other companies. All companies have to do things cheaper, better, faster and smarter, and if you can do that then you will be marketable at any age.
- Take on newer challenges at work; don’t get stuck with doing the same thing. You may want to even consider making a change for a lower pay if you are adding more skills. Note when you lose a job, you quickly go from six-figure salary to zero-figure salary.
- Opt for skills development over promotion since companies outside want skills over your specific skills you have developed at your present company that they can’t use. If you reach a higher position then it will be hard for you to get hired by others since mid-level positions are mostly taken up from internal candidates.
- Keep sending resumes out to see what is your true marketability for two reasons: know your market value and also keep your interview skills current.
- Have one years savings since if you are out of a job you don’t want to get desperate and take anything that comes along that is not suitable.
- Be active on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ anf You Tube. This is nothing new, but you do have to get more active and start commenting and reaching out to people while you are still employed. It gets more difficult when you are out of a job.
- Create a body of work through blogs, podcasts and videos that is industry specific that anyone in your industry can relate to and would want to talk to you about.
- Reach out to people early for information that can later turn into a potential lead and hopefully a new job when you are ready to make the move.
- Start actively looking for a job way in advance since companies are using a very long time horizon today unlike in the past. If the companies are doing strategic hiring, you also have to be doing strategic prospecting.
- Make it a game that you enjoy playing and want to keep getting better since today you are in a mode of always looking. This is the new reality so don’t fight it. Accept it and thrive in it.
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