Career Plan B – The Employment Circle of Life

What do you do when you’re 55 and are unexpectedly laid off or your job is outsourced? What about when your severance runs out and you don’t have a golden parachute? How do you compete with people who are 20-30 years younger than you? The unfortunate truth is: You don’t. You need a career Plan B, and the time to think about it is long before you need it.

Careers have a bell curve and typically peak in your in your late 30s or early 40s. A common career bell curve might look like the image at the top of this post.

While this kind of situation may look like ageism, in many cases, it’s purely a financial decision on the part of the employer and a small part of the circle of life. In some cases, that high-cost employee has lost touch over time with current technologies or business fundamentals, and the employer may be able to replace him or her with two lower-cost candidates who are hungry, eager and up-to-date on skills and technology.

Think about your favorite actors—those you’ve watched grow over a full career. They may have started with bit roles on TV, ascended to starring roles in blockbuster movies, and eventually took their experience, knowledge and success to behind-the-scenes roles as a director or producer. Similarly, your next stage may be working for a well-funded startup or small firm where you can have a significant impact and they value your experience.

No matter how it occurs, sometimes you see it coming, and sometimes you’re blindsided. Here are some things to consider as you create your own Plan B:

  • Become an asset, not a liability. Business operates on two basic principles and if you master those principles your business will thrive. Otherwise, it will die. Each person must understand where he or she stands within a company. Are you an asset or a liability? In pure accounting terms, all employee wages are considered a liability. If the company sees your contributions as a liability, you are open to layoffs, your position being outsourced overseas or being replaced by a lower cost contractor or a computer. If the company values your work because you add by assisting in revenue generation, you are seen as an asset. Yes, in accounting terms you are a liability. But if, for example, you cost the company $150,000 per year, but you help the company by adding $1.5M to its income statement, you are an asset. In this case, the employee is worth 10 times his or her cost. Find ways to be an asset for your employer and avoid or delay being laid-off, outsourced or being replaced by a lower-cost business solution.
  • Check in with your recruiter regularly. Some recruiters don’t have time to talk to prospective candidates unless they have an appropriate opening. That’s never been the way I work. I want to stay in touch with you throughout your career. We can talk about your concerns, my insight into the market (including what’s going on at your competitors and within the market as a whole), and what kind of additional training or experience I’m seeing hiring managers Even if you’re not concerned about your job, the best way to get a raise is to get a new job. Moreover, if you are concerned, I can help with resume and interviewing tips.
  • Update your skills. Are your skills as up-to-date as the lower-level hires you’re making? If not, it might be time to bring yourself up-to-speed. Learning is a lifetime activity and your Plan B may depend on how current your skillset is.
  • Don’t let your ego get in the way. Sometimes relocation or downsizing is the right option for you, but it can be easy to let your self-image get in the way. If you’re in the later stages of your career, there’s a good chance your kids have moved out and you don’t need the big house with excellent schools anymore. See this as an opportunity to simplify and streamline your life so you can focus on what you want to do, not a lifestyle you have to support.
  • Think about alternative exit strategies. What might you fall back on if you—or your employer—decide that it’s time for a change? I’ve seen clients buy a house for their kids to live in during college, and then once the kids graduate, use that as rental income. One former high-tech executive found enormous financial success—and satisfaction—in owning a pizza franchise. Others find work with a non-profit is a rewarding and less-stressful way to apply their skills. Maybe you always wanted to act, or write, or be a river guide. This is the time to explore those options so you’re ready when it’s time.
  • Save money for a rainy day. Parents often lament that kids think they’re invincible, but I see this belief in high-performing employees as well. If you’re performing well, it’s easy to assume your employer values you. But even if you’re coming in above your numbers, you can be let go. Unless you’re on the Supreme Court or are protected by a union, there are no guarantees, so a rainy-day fund is critical to supporting you and your family for as long as it takes you to find your next position.
  • Explore what you’re passionate about. Yes, change is hard, but this is the time to flip adversity into opportunity. Remember, you’re a top performer with valuable skills. Put your confidence and problem-solving abilities to work for yourself rather than someone else. What would you do if money didn’t matter? What were the passions you had when you were younger that you let slip in favor of your current career? This might be the time to look at those again.
  • Ask for advice and guidance. It’s never the wrong time to do informational interviews. Ask for introductions and invite interesting people to meet you for coffee. Ask about what they do and how they got into that field, and let them know about interesting, successful projects you’ve been involved in. Take every opportunity to interview so that you’re fresh, comfortable and confident when the right opportunity appears. The fact is, you are far more likely to get your next job from a recruiter or someone you know. In navigating this period of life, nothing is more important than connections. The moral support from this network will also help keep your attitude positive.

More than likely this is not what you wanted to hear, but the career bell curve is a fact of life. Unless you own your own business or are a CEO, judge, congressman, senator or governor, the downside-of-the-curve fate befalls most people. If you don’t know people in this position, browse some LinkedIn profiles and it will confirm the employment cycle of life. Let us help you be proactive in your career choices and extend your employment lifecycle. If you’re tired of being laid-off or outsourced, we can help you become an “asset” and leave the “liability” days behind you. Get in touch and let’s discuss!

Webster & Webster: Redefining Recruiting