Dear Matt: I was part of a large corporate downsizing in 2013 and am still jobless. I'm over 50 and developed anxiety and depression because of all of this. What changes should I make in my job search? What do I tell employers who ask about what I've been doing lately? And what do I say about my mental health concerns?
Matt says: There are a combination of things going on here and a combination of things you can do to help rebound and re-energize. As for the job search, change your routine to change results.
"You need to be proactive vs. reactive," says Bianca Carr, a Twin Cities-based human resources professional who specializes in recruiting, benefits and wellness, and who is President-elect of Human Resources Professional of Minnesota (hrpmn.org).
What she means is, don't send in résumés and wait. Put yourself out there. Connect with past co-workers from the downsizing who have landed a job. What worked for them? Be active on LinkedIn. Let it be known right in your profile what you desire: "Project manager with 15+ years experience seeking opportunity with Fortune 500 company."
That way recruiters can find you in searches, your connections can refer you to their connections and you can join industry groups where recruiters post job openings, or where you can join discussions proving your expertise in your field. If there is a local industry networking group, join — it's another way to meet industry peers who may know of job openings.
As for the mental health challenges this reader mentioned, he is talking to a counselor about that. That's great; keep it going as long as needed. But those personal concerns should be just that — personal. "There is no reason to even approach that in the interview stage," says Carr. It's really something you don't have to bring up even if you are hired. And as for what you have been doing lately? "Your answer about the last 12 months should be concise and to the point." You could say "I've been attending job club meetings at my local church once a month." Or "I joined an Adobe AEM user group here in the Twin Cities and we meet quarterly." You could even say you've met for lunch every couple of months with past supervisors or co-workers to talk about what's going on in that industry. Even reading business books or completing career assessments can be mentioned. Take the focus off not working and turn the focus on self-improvement.
As for being over 50, it is a concern because unfortunately ageism does exist. But it won't be the focus if you present yourself in an upbeat, professional manner as someone who is ready, willing and able to meet the challenges and fit the culture. Then you won't be judged by your age — you'll be judged as the person they want to hire.
Contact Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.