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Displaced workers find there's more to job hunting than resume

By Joan Lloyd

There's still a lot of bitterness out there. I experienced some of it first hand last week, while I was addressing a group of older, displaced workers, who wanted to learn the latest strategies for job hunting.

Many in the audience were displaced from a local plant that had closed. When they began their career, some more than twenty years earlier, they thought they would follow the same path their parents had. You know…get a job with one company that you could retire from.

One woman said, "Companies today just use workers. They use you until they don't need you anymore and then they just spit you out." Her bitterness was met with nods of agreement.

This generation of workers has seen the rules change—job security and loyalty have eroded on both sides of the employee/employer equation. And this evolution has surprised some older workers, who thought they had jobs for life. They feel angry and bitter. Unfortunately, this isn't going to help them find employment for the second half of their careers.

They don't see their plight as fallout from a global economy, brutal competition, costly raw materials, or expensive labor—some of the usual contributors in a company's decision to close its doors, or ship jobs to a different country. They see it as a personal betrayal.

Our dialogue that day ranged from how to be employable to how to change your outlook.

Here is some of the advice I hope they took to heart:

Exercise your attitude

Raging at a worker/employer covenant that is long gone is a futile exercise. It will only sap your energy and spoil opportunities that could be yours. Employers want to hire positive, forward-looking employees.

Anger easily seeps into interviews and I've even seen it in cover letters. I'll never forget a cover letter I once read from a laid off employee. He said, "I wasn't the superman they thought I should be." No employer wants to inherit a bitter employee who has a chip on his shoulder before he even walks in the door. If you can't get past it, work with a career counselor to help you put it behind you.

Overhaul your image

Some older workers haven't paid much attention to the latest fashion trends. They sport comb-overs, wear outdated ties and haven't changed their eye glasses in years. They don't stand a chance against a competitive candidate who looks up to date. "But I have more experience in my big toe than that youngster fresh out of college!" you say? Ask yourself this, would you let a doctor perform heart surgery on you, if he looked like he was twenty years out of date? Regardless of how capable he may be, you would probably opt for the person who looked up to date.

Networking still works

In spite of all the online job boards, it's networking that still lands the most jobs. And since you've been around awhile, chances are good that you know a lot of people. Make a long list of everyone you know—friends, their spouses, the mailman, your lawyer, neighbors—and find out where they work. Call them and ask who they know in your field, who might be willing to give you some job-hunting advice. Ask your contacts about the best way to write your resume, the do's and don'ts of panel and phone interviews, what to negotiate for, what to wear, questions to ask and questions to be prepared to answer. Most people are glad to help—they know they could be in your shoes in the future.

Get a support system

Watch the paper for government, church and civic agencies that provide job-hunting assistance. If you are taking courses, find out what your school provides. In some cities there are job-hunters' support groups, such as 40- Plus, in Milwaukee, where older job seekers can learn from experts, and each other, about how to find a good job.

Take care of number one

Get off the couch and go walking. Take in a ball game with friends. Go out to dinner with your spouse. Join a health club. Some older job hunters react to their situations by withdrawing from activities, and getting depressed. Even if money is a little tight, living an active life will make you feel better and look better, which translates into becoming more employable and desirable to your next employer.