Reader: After working as a librarian for 13 years, I took two years off to care for a dying family member. I came back at the height of the recession, when jobs in my field became scarce. I changed fields and completed an accounting degree. Three years later, I've had only one temporary job. I've been approached by employment agencies and have been sent on many interviews, including for jobs I was overqualified for, although the agents insisted that the employers wanted to see me.
I'm in despair. I'm in my mid-50s, dead broke, with no job prospects. I've scored well on bookkeeping tests, but I deeply regret wasting money on this degree. It's hard not to be bitter. I've even contemplated suicide.
Should I just try to get a minimum-wage job and call it quits on anything professional? Do you have any advice, other than informing me that I really am an incompetent failure?
Karla: “Incompetent failure”? Please. You are educated, driven and caring. You’re now trained in two brainy professions. Your skills attract recruiters and secure interviews. But for some reason, you’re hitting a wall. Some bricks in that wall include age bias, a still-recovering economy and a workforce model that increasingly favors freelancers over full-timers.
Good news: Many like you have conquered that same wall and can give you a hand up.
“We get a lot of people who have been through a long, depressing process,” says Eric Hertting, executive director of 40Plus of Greater Washington (40plus-dc.org), an organization dedicated to helping workers over 40 restart their careers. “We help them pick up the pieces and put them back into good shape.”
Here are three pieces to focus on:
Emotional support. Bitterness and despair are entirely appropriate feelings — and almost certainly dragging you down. You need positive reinforcement to maintain your confidence and perspective. (Note: If suicide is seeming like an option, call 800-273-8255 or text CONNECT to 741741, right now.)
Communication. Many job seekers struggle with selling themselves to employers, says Hertting, who stresses that “it’s a marketing exercise.” Résumé coaching, mock interviews and networking practice can help you polish your personal pitch.
Strategy. You can’t passively rely on recruiters and agents to find the best fit for you. You need guidance to help you study the terrain, identify prime targets and focus on them.
If you’re in the Washington area, 40Plus offers four-week intensive career transition workshops to help meet those needs. But you can also piece together your own network of resources: therapists, career coaches, continuing-education seminars, college career centers. Research, interview, ask for referrals.
Meanwhile, don’t discount the value of any job, “professional” or not, that offers a paycheck and a reason to get out of bed.
PRO TIP: Goodwill Community Employment Centers nationwide offer job training, interview practice, help with résumés and other support. Visit goodwill.org and click “Find Jobs and Services.”