Recent data show more than two million people over age 50 now are unemployed. Among workers 55 and older, half have been jobless for six months or more, compared with only 37% for all workers. The 55+ group’s layoff lasts an average of a full year, compared with 34 weeks for those under 55. All of which is kind of daunting for a guy who is jobess and, to his own horror, 56 years old. (I know, shocking, right?) But a friend emails to save me:
“Okay first of all stop reading articles on that shit. I once had razor burn on my crotch and Googled enough stories that I convinced myself I had herpes. The Internet panders to people looking for the worst-case scenario. That’s how it stays in business. YOU are not every other asshole looking for a job as an accountant or a salesman or an insurance broker– you are a writer, a reporter, an anchor, a digital journalist, a print journalist and an all-around infinitely hirable expert in your field. In other words, those rules don’t apply to you–and I know you love hearing that.”
She’s right, I do love hearing that. But then comes that second, mocking voice: Then whyizzit half a dozen major TV networks already have rejected me? Maybe it is simply a matter of timing and someone getting fired somewhere, or someone else leaving for another job. Or maybe it’s over.
Either way, it’s time to double-down and keep pushing, keep reaching out and networking and work harder . . . at finding work. In my fifth week of joblessness, I put together Ten Rules for How to be Unemployed, here (http://bit.ly/1i2hdyE ). I’ve always liked lists, so here’s a new one.
Ten More Rules for How to be Unemployed
Rule #1: You aren’t “unemployed.” You are “self-employed.” Until you find a full-time job, you are willing to scavenge for bits of work wherever you might find them. Yes you need any income you can get, but also it’s a way to get a tryout for what might come later.
Rule #2: Keep shaving. Keep up appearances, literally. If you show up all stubbly at lunch with a former colleague, it’s clear he is working and you are not. (And if he wears a suit to work, you should wear a suit to lunch.) Plus, it makes you feel braced and ready for any opps that might present themselves. (As for women… I’d say yeah, you too.)
Rule #3: Don’t get seduced by sympathy. After you lose your job, you hear the nicest things from friends and former colleagues. It’s as if you are invisible and attending your own funeral, and the pews are packed. “It shows that something like this can happen to the best of us—and you’re pretty much up in that pantheon,” writes one guy I worked with in print. Another friend says: “It is the product that has changed, not you. You have the intelligence and fortitude to power through this… You are an amazing person.”
Oh man, so nice! But it gets intoxicating, and if you’re not careful, maybe a little infantilizing, coddling you and letting you feel put-upon, a victim of injustice. The problem is, this feeling grows out of weakness, not strength. It threatens to distract you, drain you from the central job at hand: finding work.
Rule #4: But do get angry. Channel the kids from “South Park” when Kenny gets killed over and over again: “You bastards!” You have something to prove: They were crazy to let you go. Long ago, my late ex-father-in-law taught me never to underestimate the value of a great adversary. Joblessness is that adversary, and you will kick its ass. That’ll show ’em.
Rule #5: Reach out in circles and waves. I use these mental images to guide my rollout: each wave of emails and calls, aimed at concentric circles of contacts. You are in the bullseye center, and send out a first wave to your innermost circle, a dozen or so people you know best. Then you send a second wave, to them and a dozen new ones in the next-bigger circle, and later a third wave aimed at their friends, followed by a fourth wave for “friends of friends’ friends.” And start it over again to see what has changed back at the center.
Rule #6: Try not to nudge too much. You risk driving crazy the very people who are trying to help hook you up. So ease off. A time warp separates The Unemployed from those who work. For the jobless, time moves way too slowly, so that a two-day wait for a callback can feel like forever; for those working, time races ahead too fast, and two days are over in a blink. If you’ve initiated contact and haven’t heard back, try not to email that person any more than once in a week. I do it mostly on Mondays or Fridays, bookending it; the midweek hump gets too busy. For them.
Rule #7: Beware the lure of social media. It is a total time-suck. You sit down for a quick check of the holy trinity (Twitter-LinkedIn-Facebook, in that hierarchy for me), aiming to put out only one quick message or two. But instantly it’s like trying to shake flypaper off your fingers, as one response begets three more and that begets six more and so on.
Rule #8: Make get-it-done lists. On paper. “To do” is too wishy-washy, “get it done” is an order. Keep track of the lines you are putting in the water, the names and their assistants’ names, contact info and a note on last touch and what the follow-up was supposed to be. Start out each day with a list of the people you need to contact or get back to, check ’em off as you proceed, and update it frequently. It organizes you far better, but more importantly, it’s a psychological salve, ink-and-paper proof that you are getting things done. I put together my get-it-done list every few days, it runs 24 items usually, and seeing 20 or 21 of them checked-off at day’s end feels like an accomplishment.
Rule #9: Reinvent, Re-examine and Re-purpose. The economy is changing so tectonically and fundamentally that if you get axed, your next job may have to be in a different but related field. So you must re-examine your skills set and figure out what parts can be bent and reshaped to fill a new kind of role. Maybe an oncology doctor could re-purpose to become a hedge fund analyst of drug trials; or a compliance lawyer could switch to regulatory enforcement; or an out-of-work TV anchor could train CEOs in how to give better television. But do not decide to follow your dreams and try out as an aspiring opera singer—that’s crazy, not bold. The shift has to be to much closer within reach.
Rule #10: Don’t take a job you might hate. At least, not yet. And not because you’re so precious you just couldn’t bear it—but because of this, as one firm’s CEO told me at dinner the other night: “Don’t take the job if you aren’t sure, if you don’t really want it, because if you do (take it) and you feel that way, you will fail.”
And then you will be unemployed yet again, far sooner this time, and the next round of prospective bosses will wonder what went wrong with you.