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Careers

Land on Your Feet After a Downsizing

Experience counts if you're looking for a job in the same line of work.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in the November 2008 issue of Kiplinger's Retirement Report. To subscribe, click here.

Richard Phillips worked for Hewlett-Packard for 17 years before he lost his job as a marketing manager in May 2007 during a corporate reorganization. Phillips, who is 64 and lives in Atlanta, wanted to continue working in the information-technology field.

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As part of Phillips's separation package, HP sent him to an outplacement service. "When I went on job interviews, I expected but did not face age discrimination," he says. "One 28-year-old interviewer asked me whether I had the stamina to keep up with the job."

The outplacement service, he says, had "briefed me on ways to reply to that type of question. Instead I talked about what skills I could bring to the table." It took Phillips six months to land a new job, as a corporate marketer in Atlanta for Sage Software, a subsidiary of a British company.

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Layoffs and voluntary buyouts are more likely during turbulent economic times. And if you're 55-plus, losing a job can be especially traumatic. Despite equal opportunity laws, companies often don't want to hire someone with a few gray hairs.

But John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement consulting firm based in Chicago, says many employers prize workers who have experience. "Age discrimination is less prevalent for folks who have up-to-date work skills and workplace accomplishments," he says.

Older downsized workers who are looking for jobs in the same line of work have advantages over their younger job-seeking counterparts: They have experience, and they know a lot of people in their field. The key job-hunting techniques are to emphasize your proven skills and to let as many people as possible know that you are looking for work, experts say.

"Most jobs for age 55-plus managers come from personal references," says Sanjay Sathe, chief executive officer of RiseSmart, an online job-search service for executives, in Sunnyvale, Cal. "You have a better chance of landing a job when you're seen as an individual rather than a demographic statistic."

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Sathe recommends calling former colleagues, bosses and clients. Follow up with people you meet at industry events, and get involved in local professional groups. Volunteering is another way to build contacts. Also, post a profile on LinkedIn.com, a networking site for professionals.

Older job seekers should create a team of former co-workers and friends with management jobs, says Brett Good, a district president with Robert Half International, a placement firm. This team could introduce the job seeker to openings and serve as a sounding board during the job hunt, he says.

Another way to build contacts is to take a temporary job. Susan Ascher, president of Ascher Group, in Roseland, N.J., places human resource managers for stints of up to two years. "It's a better option than becoming an independent consultant," she says.

And a temporary job often leads to a full-time position. Consider James Lipari, who three years ago lost his job as vice-president for human resources in a bank-services company when his employer of nine years was acquired. "It was a rough first year looking for another HR job at my level," says Lipari, who lives in Montvale, N.J.

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In October 2007, Ascher's firm placed Lipari temporarily as human resources manager at the Institute of Management Accountants, an association based in Montvale. Three months later, he became the permanent vice-president of human resources when his predecessor opted not to return.

Emphasize Your Skills

Workers who want to continue in their career specialties need to stress their know-how on their resumes and in interviews. "Emphasize the skills you have that are relevant to the pending job," says Jeff Taylor, founder of Monster.com, a job-search Web site.

Although many employers welcome older workers, age discrimination does exist. You should not disguise your age, but don't go out of your way to bring attention to it. For instance, Sathe says, don't tell an interviewer, who's likely to be the age of your children, about your grandchildren.

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Jan Cannon, who runs Cannon Career Center in Boston, says the traditional resume listing every past job is not necessary for senior managers. Instead, they should write a five-paragraph essay that opens with a description of the work they've performed and their job titles for the past 15 years.

The rest of the essay should highlight major achievements during that period. Cannon says older workers do not need to mention the colleges they attended or the jobs they held early in their careers.

During an interview, a job seeker should be ready for age-related questions. If an interviewer notes the energy required for a job, that could be code for "you're too old." You could discuss your racquetball games or the long work days at your last job.

Robert Skladany, vice-president of RetirementJobs.com, suggests this reply if you're told that you'll be the oldest worker in the company: "Being the oldest worker offers the opportunity to share my lifetime of knowledge and skills with my co-workers."

Job-search experts say that older job-seekers may have the best success finding work at small and midsize companies, which often need experienced managers to build their organizations. A seasoned manager can often serve as a mentor to junior staffers.

Although networking opens the most doors, it doesn't hurt to post your resume on several Internet sites, especially those geared to older workers. Also, these sites are loaded with tips on resume writing, interviewing techniques and networking.

Among some of the best: RetirementJobs.com, Workforce50.com, RetiredBrains.com, Seniors4Hire.com, Dinosaur-Exchange.com and AARP.org (click "Money," then "Work"). YourEncore.com recruits retired scientists and engineers.

You can take tax deductions for the fees that you pay to employment and outplacement services. Also deductible are travel expenses if the trip is primarily to look for a new job. You can also deduct the cost of printing and mailing resumes.

Write-offs related to a job search are considered miscellaneous deductions. Only miscellaneous expenses that exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income are deductible.

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