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50+ and Unemployed? It’s Not a Death Sentence.

Posted on 15 June 2010 by admin (4)

It sucks getting fired (laid off, downsized, etc) at any age – whatever euphemism they use doesn’t take the sting out of the situation. But, here’s something to remember: the whole economy has an advanced case of the shakes. Markets are skittish, companies are making decisions (some good and some bad) about what they need to do to survive, and the result is a lot of collateral damage to a lot of exceptional people. If you are one of them the first thing to realize is that it’s not personal, it’s business. So, feel free to skip the part where you wallow in misery (it won’t make you feel any better anyway), and blame yourself (What?! Are you kidding?! You are the same person who got this successful in the first place!). Instead, launch a swift, merciless reinvention strategy that will land you back on your feet, and, incidentally, is the only thing that will truly make you feel better over the long haul.

If you are over 50 and unemployed, you likely have unique circumstances, some of which work in your favor, and some of which work against you.


  • You’ve got more experience than your younger competition – and I’m not just talking about technical experience, I mean that you have a much better handle on how the world really works socially and politically. The gifts, talents, and business acumen that got you this far are still in your pocket.
  • You have a bigger, and probably higher-quality, set of contacts.
  • Your reach across industry sectors is likely to be broader not only because of your professional experience, but also through your social network, giving you more potential career reinvention options.
  • If you are leaving a senior or mid-level position, your chances of getting a reasonable severance package are better than they are for the less experienced set. If your soon-to-be-ex-employer tries to get away with a paltry package and gives you a line about “company policy”, push back. There’s always a way to get more. If you want some help, give me a call at 212-308-5495 or send me an email at – I live for this kind of negotiation.
  • Finally, brilliantly, you are more likely to have savings and friends and family with savings, and therefore your ability to think and do something out of the box (and out of the corporate corner office) is much greater.

Cons (here comes the tough love, take a deep breath):

  • You’ve probably gotten so used to having certain luxuries that you don’t see them as luxuries anymore (e.g. country club memberships, private education for your kids, expensive vacations).
  • “Keeping up appearances” is more likely to concern you (when you’re 25 you can move to a cheaper house or apartment without suffering too much embarrassment, when you’re 50+ that’s a tough pill to swallow). My best advice is – and, come on, you know I’m right – be less concerned about appearances and more concerned about executing smart next steps.
  • Finding senior level corporate jobs is really tough, and you may not be the top choice for the lower level corporate jobs that are more often available.
  • You may have a list of things that you have decided you “just won’t do at this stage of your life” … like work like a maniac, live on someone else’s schedule, build up yet another company for yet another ungrateful employer.

So, are you ready to roll? Read on.

  • First you’ve got take a cold, hard look at reality. You need to determine whether you can really afford to retire now and live off of your savings. Maybe you can do that without altering your lifestyle. Maybe you can do it if you downsize your lifestyle. But, if this isn’t your reality (and trust me, very few people have the luxury of retiring anywhere short of 60 years old), then you need to launch your reinvention campaign.
  • Second, that list of luxuries that you are used to … get over it. If you want to come out on top, you need to prioritize long-term success over short-term comfort.
  • Third, that list of things you “just won’t do at this stage of your life” … get over it too. Guess what? If 40 is the new 20, then 50 is the new 30. So, the good news is, you ain’t so old. The bad news is, it’s time to lose the attitude and start hustling. You may very well find out that the combination of adrenaline plus your decades of experience gives you advantages that are hard to beat in the marketplace.
  • Part B of my third piece of advice: do not, I repeat, do NOT, live on your severance while you take the summer (spring, fall, holidays, etc.) to clear your head. Severance is an artificial comfort. It never goes as far as you think it will, and you don’t know how long it will take you to find new employment once you get started looking. Instead, use your severance to your advantage – it could enable you to take a lower paying job immediately while you keep searching for a higher paying one. And, if you get lucky and find a great paying job quickly, it’s a bonus lump sum of money to put away or use to reward yourself.
  • Next, get your resume up to date and ready to email. You may think you are past the point where a resume is important, but that’s only half right. The truth is that most employment comes through personal referrals, but at some point one of your contacts will want to introduce you to someone you don’t know and they’ll want to send your resume.
  • Finally, get back in the game quickly. Your best resources for a new job are your contacts. The longer you wait, the harder it will be for your contacts to help you. If you wait too long, you won’t have strong contacts, and you may lose them altogether.

Those of us who are 50+ still remember a time when you got a good job, rose through the ranks, made increasingly more money, and eventually retired with a nice nest egg and/or pension. Well, times have changed my friend, and we’re still young enough to benefit from it – why should the 20-somethings be the only ones who get to explore new professional paths every decade? So, if you are looking for an alternative to the hunt for another corporate job, and you are ready to really think out of the box, you may want to look at buying a business. In my next blog I am going to talk about which kinds of businesses are good candidates, which ones are not, how to raise funds through family and friend networks, how to approach evaluation of a business’s potential, and how to deal with business brokers.

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4 Responses to “50+ and Unemployed? It’s Not a Death Sentence.”

  1. Carl Cohen says:

    Scott- your comments are right on. As a person who has lived through transition numerous times- and actually still going through it now- I relate to your advice. It is easy to get to comfortable with our luxuries and a false sense of comfort with severance. Picking up consulting or project works quickly is a great way to protect the resources. Although this type of work makes it harder to focuse on the longer term search. Anyway I think it is important to see the opportunity in all these challenges- eventually things work out with hard work and focuse even for those over 50!

  2. David Harris says:

    Good advice, Scott. I know because I’ve experienced everything you mentioned.

    I was laid-off from the advertising industry at the end of ’05. It was totally unexpected. I was 53. After over 9 months of job searching I concluded ad agencies, and other companies, simply weren’t interested. They wanted younger, and less expensive, talent.

    I came to realize the likelihood of replacing my former 6-figure salary from a single source was low. Consequently, I devised a strategy of developing multiple income streams. I revived a consulting practice I’d managed in the mid 90′s, became a licensed health/life insurance agent and began teaching as an Adjunct Professor at City College. While I managed to produce a modest income it was nowhere near what I’d formerly earned and my wife and I had to make some serious lifestyle adjustments.

    My strategy paid-off and I’m now full-time faculty at City College teaching Advertising courses. Even though the salary is a fraction of my former corporate earnings, I love my work, enjoy full benefits and have an opportunity for continued employment over time through tenure. In essence, I’ve successfully reinvented myself.

    An academic career is a great option for older, experienced professionals looking for a change. Like most things, however, one must “pay their dues” to move to the next level. I worked as an Adjunct Professor for 2.5 years before a full-time position became available. This time was well spent as I was able to improve my teaching skills in preparation for what became intense competition for the full-time opening. Seems many people have identified teaching at the college level as an attractive second-career option.

    Well, that’s my story. I’m sharing this in hopes someone in a similar situation can benefit from my experience.

  3. Ashley West says:

    Scott – Just passed this on to some older family/friends going thru this very situation. Thanks for addressing, it is a scary time. You are funny and always direct! love it. thanks, ashley

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