Advice for an Executive Laid Off After Decades With One Firm Rhonda, a 57-year-old Californian who asked that we use a pseudonym, was laid off after 37 years with a medical laboratory company. She started out of college as a "bench tech" doing routine lab work, and when that became increasingly automated, moved into finance. In early September, she got a pink slip.

"This really shook my foundation and my life," she says. Rhonda's company went through multiple mergers and acquisitions over the years. Most recently, she worked in revenue services management, ensuring her firm was complying with all federal and state regulations in its billing for specialized testing.

Rhonda bought a single-family home in 1996 and has five years left on the mortgage, which has a balance of $40,000 at 5.75% interest. She has no other debt except a car loan, which she expects to pay off in 24 months. She doesn't want to move because she likes California (despite a bad experience in 1994, when she lived near the epicenter of the Northridge earthquake). She also enjoys lower-than-average property taxes, thanks to California's unique system, which bases taxes on a home's purchase price.

"I'm focused on getting my act together and getting back in market, but looking for a new [job] is daunting," says Rhonda, who didn't see the layoff coming. "I'm well-versed in regulatory finance and revenue cycle management. Today in the health care world, things are changing so fast and the challenges are so monumental I should be able to find something -- but I'm old."

Rhonda is already networking and putting a budget together, worried that she won't find a position that pays anything approaching her former salary of $170,000. She's thinking about paying off her mortgage to lighten her monthly bills.

The Plan for Finding Her Next Job

Dive into the search immediately, before the holiday season comes, says Paul Bernard, an executive coach in New York. "The fourth quarter is the second-busiest hiring season, followed by first quarter, which is the busiest hiring season," he says. "If she starts to hustle now she will be able to take advantage of that. She shouldn't be ashamed of letting people know she is in transition." Rhonda should plan to spend three to five hours a day on her job search, including at least two face-to-face networking meetings a week, he adds.

The first order of business should be identifying five to 10 target companies where she'd like to work. She should broaden her search beyond lab firms, suggests Bernard. "Her skill set is very transferable because regulatory and privacy issues are going to become more important," he says. "She might look to transfer those skills to a hospital or insurance company."

Once she has a focus, Rhonda needs to articulate her story through a well-crafted résumé. "Someone who hasn't looked for job in 37 years probably hasn't thought about résumés in 37 years," says Doug Sundheim, an executive coach and founder of Clarity Consulting in New York.

The key is not to tell her story chronologically, but to communicate the power of her accomplishments. "Make sure the résumé is telling the impact: 'Here's how I made money, saved money, kept the company out of hot water,' " Sundheim explains.

Given the many mergers and acquisitions, Rhonda may even want to list the original names of three or four of the companies, and then explain how they consolidated over the years in an interview, Bernard says.

Rhonda must frame her achievements to demonstrate her industry knowledge. "What keeps the CFOs of her [industry] up at night? Is it regulatory issues, growth, innovation? The impact of the storytelling on her résumé; should really communicate about whatever is keeping those people up at night," Sundheim advises.

She should list her top 15 to 20 achievements over the years, then narrow that list to four for her resume, scripting her "elevator pitch" around those successes. "She has probably been through several revolutions in integration, automation, technology, regulatory and privacy issues," says Bernard. "The fact that she's seen a lot of change [gives] her a wealth and depth of experience. She has to talk about why the gray hair and experience is an asset rather than a liability."

Update Your Image, Downgrade Your Salary Expectations


Once she has a strategy and a résumé, Rhonda can practice answering crucial interview questions, says Bernard. A few examples: "Tell me a about yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What was your biggest challenge and how did you solve it? Biggest mistake and what did you learn from it? What would you do in the first week on the job? The first 90 days?"

Next, Rhonda might consider an image update. "You don't want to look like someone hired in 1987," says Sundheim. "You get all sorts of credibility points when your image and mindset are up-to-date." He likes to quote Thomas Jefferson to his clients on this point: "In matters of style swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock." Once Rhonda has her résumé, an elevator speech and a fresh image, she should upload all of it onto LinkedIn.

Finally, Rhonda should be prepared to take a pay cut. About 19% of the jobs lost between the first quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2010 were concentrated in high-wage industries, according to a report issued in July by The National Employment Law Project, a worker's rights advocacy organization. The high-wage sector hasn't recovered: It declined another 1.2% from the first quarter of 2010 through the first quarter of 2011.

"If it looks like $140,000 but feels like a great job and good stepping stone, be mentally prepared to take less and figure out what that go/no-go number is," says Sundheim.

For that reason, I advised Rhonda not to pay off her mortgage. In the event that her salary is downsized, she'll need cash to cover her bills while she figures out where to cut back. "Had I known this was coming, I would have taken out a home equity line of credit," she says.

Struggling with your own personal finance situation? Send your question by email. We would also welcome a short video of yourself asking the question; we'll post your video with the response on Daily Finance. We can also Skype; tell us if you can too. Email me at laura.rowley@teamaol.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @MoneyHappiness.

Content Solely Informational:
Content on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be investment advice, or any other kind of professional advice. You must determine for yourself or in consultation with a professional whether any financial strategy or advice is right for you.

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29 Comments

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Artie

In theory, based on the salary she was earning and the number of years she worked continuously , she SHOULD have been able to put enough money away to retire.Continuing to live in California isn't the greatest idea since its a high cost state. If she owns an over priced house in Calif, she'd be better off moving to a lower cost part of the country and using the equity in her house purchase a less expensive home or to supplement her retirement savings. Many, if not most people these days don't realize how much you really need to save to retire reasonably comfortably. Social security, if its still around when many of us retire isn't going to cut it. It was never meant to do anything except supplement a persons income in retirement. Frankly, with the way things are going, I personally don't think $1 million in savings is enough anymore. The stock market has not gone anywhere in the last 10 years. It's been a lost decade and it continues to perform badly. Add to this the death of the real estate market. How else is the average "Joe" supposed to keep up with rising costs and inflation which traditionally averages about 3% a year. Banks aren't paying any interest. Your accumulated savings and investments including real estate have to work for you. Right now, There isn't much that is working out there. This global economic mess was caused by the "banksters," special interest groups, moronic economists and mindless politicians who pushed through deregulation of the banks and other financial institutions and gave anyone who could sign their name a mortgage. And, don't forget all the Wall Street wise guys. None of these bastards have gone to prison even though they caused trillions of dollars to just evaporate into thin air. This country has no real leadership. We are like a ship without a rudder. It doesn't matter which party is in power. There is a pervasive "death of common sense" that prevails in the USA today that is destroying this country from within. Maybe its time to buy a farm. At least you'll be able to eat.

October 02 2011 at 1:39 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
dabrownman

Oh, and she is very soft too but just the last couple of decades. Before that she was .....hard?

October 01 2011 at 3:44 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
dabrownman

Obama says she should go back to school and learn to be something else like a professional welfare recipient or chronically unemployed.

October 01 2011 at 3:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Greg

In the business of running my life, I have never made a decision about a vendor based on age. I find the best doctor, the best mechanic, the best dentist, the best plumber, etc., based on their knowledge and qualifications and how I am treated during my visit. I would never hire a doctor based on age, I'd never look at a mechanic and think "too old, I'd like a younger mechanic," etc. That would be absolutely ridiculous.

And it is ridiculous for any company to making a hiring decision based on age. That's just plain stupid, in my humble opinion.

October 01 2011 at 9:52 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
cyprusgirl

It's age discrimination! The health insurance for a 57 year old woman is thru the roof. Women in their fifties are poison to corporate. I've been looking for full time employment for the last 2 years. I have been on many interviews and due to the fact that I do not look my age I have had many offers of employment. When the drivers license comes out for the credit check, they look at me in a funny way and then remember to ask "by the way..do you speak another language". Come on..who are they kidding? Why wasn't I asked during the interview process? It's when the overall paperwork begins, the breaks are put on. How about requirements that you have a BA. Honestly, if I had a BA would I be a secretary? My on the job years of experience equals to a PhD but that's not good enough anymore. So the formula for an unemployed woman in her fifties is BA(0) x 55 = 0 ...your screwed.

September 30 2011 at 10:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
rtgarton

Another comment while I am on a roll. There is so much talent out there willing to work at even much less than what they use to make just to be productive and share their knowledge and experience with others. Corporations today just look at bottom line profits and not down the road. You dont want to pay medical then fine let people at least work and pay their own. What the hell are people going to do for the next 30 years go in a corner and p--- with themselves.

September 30 2011 at 8:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rtgarton's comment
Greg

rtgarton, I absolutely agree that if corporations don't want to pay health care for older workers, fine, let the older workers cover themselves by getting their own health insurance.

Unfortunately, Americans have made it clear that they don't want any kind of health care reform which might make individual health care policies affordable for older workers. In fact, if you remember the Town Hall meetings concering health care, there was a lot of screaming and yelling against "Obamacare," and let's not forget the fury directed toward Hillary Clinton when she campaigned for health care reform.

I'm not so sure Americans want health care at all for older citizens, and if that's not a death panel, I don't know what is. By the way, I've never voted for a Clinton or a Bush or Obama, as I vote libertarian. However, I am for health care reform, and I do believe that something has to be done.

October 01 2011 at 9:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rtgarton

you had a good run count your blessing I worked for Victoria Secret and got canned at 52. I was smart enough to have a nest ego. God Corporate America makes me vomit

September 30 2011 at 8:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Conforte

If you believe your story about an executive who was laid off her job after 37 years of uninterrupted salary was supposed to bring tears to anyone's eyes, surely you jest. Instead of looking for work, she should spend her time having a good time while managing her investments which I have no doubt are substantial. You could have selcted a far better candidate for your daily sob story LIKE ME!

September 30 2011 at 7:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to David Conforte's comment
Vickie

Well.. from what I read she worked her way up and did not have that salary for many years.. I feel bad for her ..just getting set and boom! rug pulled out...have a story dude - tell it

October 04 2011 at 3:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
markspacificnw

Wow that seems crazy. Working for 37 years and making 170. Darn good wages she should be in great shape. You would think she could retire not sure but I would and then just work at some thing small for chump change

September 30 2011 at 5:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Big John

First of all she should have planned better. Making that kind of money she should have had her house paid off by the time she was 50 and she should also have maxed out her 401K every year. If she stayed out of the market she should have enough to retire and just get a part time job. Now the bad news, first of all she is going to have a hard time finding a job and even harder time finding one even close to what she is making. Over 50 you will be the last one anyone wants to hire and you will find out how widespread and common age discrimination is in this country. Good news is they will hire you before they will a man at the same age.

September 30 2011 at 3:51 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply