You thought it was all over, didn’t you? All of a sudden you’re over 50 — and pounding the pavement for another job. Now you have to mine your brain for answers to dumb questions put to you by snot-noses twenty years your junior: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” “What skill-sets do you bring to this position?” “Describe your ideal job.” “The competition takes your company by surprise and beats you to market with a better and cheaper product? You’re the Vice President of Marketing – so what do you do now?”
How inconvenient! How disappointing! How out-and-out humiliating! Makes you want to drive off into the desert, step outside your car, and scream.
Okay, the first thing to do is to calm down. Sure, you’ve got your work cut out for you, but it’s not the end of the world. And if you handle things right, life can become a lot better for you very soon. Take a few deep breaths, look in the mirror, and do some talking to yourself. You live in the United States of America, not Darfur or Yemen. You have opportunity right in front of you if you choose to see it. The good news is that the country’s job market is on the upswing again.
Here are four strategic tips to help get you through a rough patch.
Stop Acting Like a Job Market Victim
So you’ve been fired! You’re not alone. What’s more, the higher up on the food chain you are, the more vulnerable your job is. At 3 PM on July 13, 1978, Henry Ford II, CEO of Ford Motor Company, summoned his dynamic and immensely successful president, Lee Iacocca, into his office and summarily bid him sayonara. As Iacocca recounts in his autobiography, Ford told him “sometimes you don’t like somebody.”
You can argue Ford’s decision was stupid (it was); you can argue it was unfair (it was). But he was in his rights to fire Iacocca. And your employer is within his or her rights to fire you. Why? Because he can. It all has to do with a doctrine called employment at will. Get used to it! Unless he or she violates a national statute (the Age Discrimination in Employment Act or The Taft-Hartley Act, for instance), or a contract he had with you, he can show you the door at any time. This is not France, where an employer is presumed to be bound by contract to his or her employees; or Germany, where specific periods of notice are tied to an employee’s years of service.
So if you’ve been given a pink slip, the first think you have to do is to stop thinking yourself as a victim. Sit down with a pen and paper (that’s right, a pen and paper, not a computer), and write down the following two things: a good reason why you left (or were dismissed from) your last position; and the three most important personal assets you have to offer your next employer.
Now you’re in a strong position to present yourself, no longer in a passive, woe-is-me employment victim mind-set. You’re writing these things down, and not typing them, because you want them to feel personal and memorable (virtually physical), not formal and forgettable.
Start Thinking Conversation, and Stop Thinking Interview (We Used the Word Interview to Get Your Attention)
Cut out the prove-yourself crap. Yes, you’re going to want to sell yourself, but not all the time — and not until the employer offers some indication that this is a job you might really want. Use probing and interesting questions to drive the conversation (not the interview) in a positive direction: “If I exceed your budget goals by, say, 15% three years in a row, where might that accomplishment take me with your organization?” Or take a page out of Forbes’s role-reversal playbook for job hunters: “What excites you about coming to work?”
Follow Up Creatively and Assertively
So you had a great first conversation (you didn’t mean to say “interview,” did you?), and you found a position you might want. Now what? Let the employer know you’re interested. And don’t just fire off a mechanically-worded email. Write him or her a note on some personalized stationery, and Fed-Ex overnight it. Re-state in your letter three strong assets you can bring to the company, and then add one more asset you didn’t have time to mention during the interview. Also, find one appropriate personal detail about the employer that came out during the conversation (where she went to college, the circumstances under which she received her first promotion at the company). Don’t be afraid the employer will see through your ploy as being excess flattery. All of us love flattery and welcome it, whether we see through it or not.
Entitle Yourself to the Right to Turn Down a Job Offer
No matter how intense your interest or how great the job sounds, you have every right to say “no.” If you envision yourself as someone who’s being courted rather than a candidate who’s groveling for employment, your independence will radiate to an employer.
Follow these four simple rules for enough opportunities that appeal to you, and you’ll find yourself employed in a position you value sooner than you think.