By Fran Hopkins
I'm sorry to say that I've developed a skeptical attitude toward career coaches and interview counselors and, in general, toward the profusion of job search advice I find everywhere on the Internet.
A whole industry seems to have sprung up to serve the needs of unemployed people. While I'm sure this is good for the people in this industry and for many of the unemployed, I doubt it's going to make much difference for a large subgroup of us. This is not personal. I know quite a few people who offer these kinds of services and I like them a lot. It's just that I now suspect that, at least for unemployed people older than 50, all the great advice and tips in the world are not going to benefit us very much.
That's because the older you are and the longer you're unemployed, the lower your chances are of finding a new job. In a May 12, 2012 piece in the New York Times entitled "The Human Disaster of Unemployment," there's a paragraph I can't forget:
The prospects for the re-employment of older workers deteriorate sharply the longer they are unemployed. A worker between ages 50 and 61 who has been unemployed for 17 months has only about a 9 percent chance of finding a new job in the next three months. A worker who is 62 or older and in the same situation has only about a 6 percent chance. As unemployment increases in duration, these slim chances drop steadily.
This is why I'm afraid that, if anything, coaches and counselors and other sources of advice may inspire false hopes that are likely to be dashed in this group of people.
To be clear, I'm talking about the long-term older unemployed. In hindsight, I may well have benefited from the one-on-one services of a career coach when I was newly unemployed; perhaps I missed an opportunity. In those early days, though, I felt quite confident that I would soon have another job. That had been my experience in the past, so I was sure I didn't need "help." Besides, I'd picked up useful information from several coaches I knew via email and at job-search presentations.
For the older unemployed who may cling to the belief that, if we can just identify and fix the thing(s) we're doing wrong, then we'll get jobs, repeated lack of success despite our best efforts may convince some of us that we're simply failures.
But what if we're not doing anything wrong? What if the reason we're not getting hired is found on our birth certificates? Resumé updates and interview rehearsals and clever social media marketing can't change our birthdates.
I'm sure there are many happy-ending stories, mostly involving younger people who've been unemployed for shorter periods, about job-hunting successes achieved after working with coaches or taking advantage of online help. I also believe most of us, even chronically unemployed Baby Boomers, can make simple changes in how we present ourselves and our experiences, abilities and accomplishments that may increase our chances of winning the job.
I just wish that job coaches and career websites would carry a disclaimer, some sort of warning label that's based on actual employment statistics. Something like:
Caution: If you've been unemployed for 17 months or longer and are age 50 or over, your chances of being hired are less than 10% no matter what you do.
This way, unemployed people could make informed decisions about investing limited funds in new resumes, personal coaching, interview role-playing or image makeovers.
I really do worry about my peers who aren't able to rebound after multiple rejections over multiple years, whose determination and optimism are slipping away, whose finances are in bad shape; the ones who are losing their ability to give it another shot or try another way. It seems almost cruel to allow these people to blame themselves for literally an accident of birth, to conclude that there's something wrong with them and to lose hope.
The more I read and write about unemployment, the more I come across horrific stories about people born between 1946 and 1964 who've lost nearly everything because of the 2008 market crash and this prolonged economic stagnation. Not only have they lost their jobs: some have also lost their homes, their plans to pay for their kids' educations, and their secure retirements.
It's heartbreaking to read about once-comfortably successful people who are now trying to get by, in mid-life or later, with part-time jobs that barely pay above minimum wage. This is a recovery? It looks more like a Depression.
The plight of Baby Boomers is real. And based on so many of our personal experiences, it does seem to be primarily the result of the years in which we were born.
Fortunately, not all of our situations are so catastrophic. I do believe, though, that too many of us have been forced to let go of dreams we once cherished or long-term goals we'd pursued because it's no longer possible for us to regain what we've lost.
To put it starkly, we Boomers don't have enough time left.
So yes, I very much want to believe that if I just change a, b or c, then I'll finally get that elusive job with all the advantages of a steady, dependable income. But I also need to live in the world as it is and accept that there are some things that can't be changed.