Bounce Back

Perseverance pays off for boomer after brutal job search

by Teresa Whitacre

Economic indicators and the U.S. Department of Labor have reported that individuals over age 50 are experiencing difficulty gaining reemployment in the aftermath of the recession. While everyone between the ages of 18 and 65 is experiencing unprecedented periods of unemployment and increased competition for jobs, the over-50 crowd is fighting the toughest battle.

A number of factors contribute to this lag, according to the Labor Department. Expectations for higher wages, less time to work before retirement and out-of-date skills are just a few reasons.1

Many professionals in this situation may opt to give up. Frustration and despair are common reactions when a solution in the form of employment doesn’t seem to exist. But there is always a solution.

The economic downturn resulted in many job cuts, downsizings and forced retirements. Consider "Jim’s" story. A quality professional in his 50s, Jim spent more than 35 years at a large organization based in the Midwest before he was let go. Recently, Jim agreed to allow me to share details of his job search and how he overcame adversity.

Teresa Whitacre (TW): How long were you without a full-time position in your field?

Jim (J): Forty-nine months.

TW: What did you do in that time?

J: Retirement was never an option for me. I did spend a few months with an outplacement service. I updated and modernized my résumé and used it to continuously apply for jobs without luck. I also posted my résumé on multiple online job boards, sometimes as many as 25. I was told by the outplacement service that I should only expect to earn about 65% of what I used to.

Because it was made clear that in my situation I could not have any employment gaps, I began to consider part-time jobs. I applied for 60 part-time jobs before Macy’s hired me to unload trucks for $7.85 per hour. Then, I found a full-time job as a quality technician (QT) for $15 per hour. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. But five months later, I was laid off.

TW: What did you do next?

J: I continued to work at Macy’s on Sunday mornings while I was a QT. Because I liked the idea of working in security, I found a part-time job as an armed security guard. This job paid $9 an hour. After undergoing required training, I received state credentials to carry a firearm.

Then, my luck turned: an organization with a full-time opening for a quality engineer contacted me. I was really excited, but I tried not to get my hopes up. After a telephone interview and an on-site interview, I was offered the job. I have been working full time for more than four months now. It is a "real" job—I get paid vacation, paid holidays, benefits and a regular paycheck. I have never been a quitter. I guess my perseverance paid off—at least for now. 

TW: I’m sure you experienced frustration, despair and other emotions during your search. How did you cope?

J: I never had a mentor or manager take me under his or her wing and remove obstacles so that I could be successful. Everything I’ve achieved was through good, old-fashioned work. I don’t claim to be the smartest, the brightest or the best looking, but I can outwork most people. I’m like the tortoise in its famous race with the hare.

Also on my side was a licensed professional clinical counselor. I knew I needed some help managing my emotions and my outlook on my life, so I got it. I couldn’t afford to let pride get in the way.

TW: Did you ever want to give up? Did you ever get the urge to retire?

J: Just about every day. But in my case it was sheer economics. I needed more money, or I wouldn’t have made it to the end of the year. Call me old fashioned, but a lack of money is motivating to me.

TW: What advice would you offer to someone in a similar situation?

J: Be determined and never give up. Create an enemy that you can be furious with. Let your fury drive you to never give up. Select a phrase that fires you up and repeat it often. Look yourself in the eye in the mirror and convince yourself that you will not let the system beat you.

Stay strong

Jim’s experience proves that with perseverance and effort, any desired career outcome is possible. Jim allowed me to share his story with the hope that readers with similar challenges will benefit from it.

I was touched by Jim’s story, particularly because I am a professional who is not too far away from the 50-plus group. I shared this interview with several of my colleagues and friends. We all thought Jim’s advice was spot on and we plan to remember his story should we ever find ourselves in his shoes. No matter your demographic or profession, Jim’s words are timely in today’s rough and tumble job market.


  1. Catherine Rampell, "In Hard Economy for All Ages, Older Isn’t Better … It’s Brutal," New York Times, Feb. 2, 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/business/americans-closest-to-retirement-were-hardest-hit-by-recession.html.

Teresa Whitacre is a quality manager in Pittsburgh and a principal at Marketech Systems. She has a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Ashford University in Clinton, IA, as well as ASQ certifications as a quality auditor, engineer, manager and Six Sigma Green Belt. Whitacre is the chair of ASQ’s Pittsburgh Section, instructor for the section’s certified quality inspector refresher course and deputy regional director for ASQ Region 8. She is an ASQ fellow.

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