The Blog

The 40-Something Redundancy Scrap-Heap Challenge

"So, tell me. Why did you leave your last job?"

This time last year, those words came back to literally haunt me over and over again.

They came from recruiters, from people interviewing me for a new job, and time and time again, I had to take a deep breath, and try to put a positive spin on the fact I took voluntary redundancy.

As the (20-odd) years went by, I put down roots, settling in the leafy suburbs of Kingston and Richmond.

Houses get bought, mortgages get paid, you live to your means, and suddenly - it all changes.

Perhaps what is even more daunting is the realisation that the way you need to approach job searching now has changed remarkably over those years.

The Professional Coach

Dr Deborah Kerslake is a professional coach, and has worked with some of the largest global corporations.

She is often called in by companies to help advise senior staff who may be at the redundancy crossroads or who are underperforming.

Dr Kerslake observes: "A lot of people invest their self-esteem in their work and their profession.

"When you are so defined by your job and you lose it, you have to rethink who you are."

Advising senior professionals who may be at risk of redundancy, her approach can be pivotal in helping someone deal with the coming upheaval.

"It's about overcoming the fear that you are not good enough, and coaching really helps with that."

"For those people who are going to be made redundant, a lot of it is about what they want to do next," she says, "a lot of them will choose a change of course.

"Attitude is absolutely key."

At the risk of sounding cynical, I wondered whether some of the large corporations were bringing in coaches as a measure to reduce staff numbers without the cost of redundancy.

Dr Kerslake advises companies that there are two outcomes to the sessions.

Where people are not performing as well as expected, they can analyse the issue, identify any problems, resolve them and the people return to the role.

However the other option is that they might decide this is not for them.

Coaching gives them back some confidence and self-assuredness and they leave.

She says: "I ask them if they are happy with those and they almost always say yes, because it is a hell of a lot cheaper than going through the HR route."

Of course that is only half the battle.

Whether you choose to take voluntary redundancy or are made redundant, the need to have some sense of security is overwhelming, especially if you are a little older.

The Recently Redundant

Joanne Monks was recently made redundant agrees with Dr Kerslake that it is important to take stock.

Ms Monks says: "You've lost structure but you've not taken the time to think: what do I WANT to do, what COULD I do"

She emphasises the importance of recognising that even if you make the conscious decision to leave your job, there will be a period where you will be uncertain of everything.

"It takes a lot of effort to stay positive and to stay focussed.

"We're half way through our working careers and it puts a different perspective on things.

"You know what you've tried and what you like, and what you don't like."

As well as engaging professional coaches for senior professionals, corporations also invest in outplacement services which offer more practical advice to help you get back out in the marketplace.

The Outplacement Consultant

Chris Churchman has been an outplacement consultant with 20 years of experience in both the corporate and private sectors.

The first task is to question and understand the psyche of the individual, and how they go about being as effective or as energetic as they need to be.

Mr Churchman says: "It can be a very raw experience, so to win them over can be a challenge.

"Sometimes people are cluttered and need to clear out their system, for example things at home which need to be sorted, financial issues which need to be taken care of."

In my case, I almost felt obliged to take the first full time offer than came along while progressing with my plans to retrain, and that is a popular issue seen by both Mr Churchman and Dr Kerslake,

"There are very compelling reasons why people will go down that route," says Mr Churchman, "It is a common approach to think: I'm taking it, it's there."

The economic climate is taking its toll, though in terms of advice and packages available.

Some companies are now grading employees' access to couching and outplacement by levels of seniority, which can be hard on people who are in their early forties, with at least the same amount of working years ahead of them as behind them.

The final piece of the puzzle is the role of the recruiter.

In a twist of irony, the recruitment industry itself has suffered job losses as the economic climate has shifted downwards.

The 'Give-Back' Recruiter

But one London recruiter is trying to 'give-back' to the industry by providing practical job-seeking advice.

Sarah Cooper has over 14 years of experience, and wants to help people understand how they can approach the market more positively.

Again, everything comes down to attitude.

Ms Cooper says: "The problem is we've stopped recruiting for potential in the last four or five years.

"Candidates have nothing to lose, hirers have everything to lose.

"If they get it wrong, the cost and implication for that department is huge,"

The sheer volume of applications cripples the recruitment process, hence the practice of recruiting by rejection.

She says: "We find the few, rather than attracting the many."

She emphasised the importance of social media.

"It is almost unprofessional not to be in Linked In, but it is better to use one social media tool properly than everything sporadically."

Probably the biggest mistake a prospective candidate can make is to assume that their recruiter is their careers counsellor!

She says: "When you have just been made redundant, you need to talk to friends and get that out of your system.

"When you come to a recruiter, you need to present that as a fait accompli."

Perhaps the most interesting from talking to all four of my sources was the common theme of attitude and achievement.

Re-invent and Re-achieve?

Dr Kerslake summed it up best: "That is the trend you see, people who are achievers, once you get over the hurdle of the disbelief and the hurt they will achieve again.

"It's their normal state."

Not everyone is going to be in a position to reinvent themselves in to a career they once thought about, aged 16.

But in looking at my own experience, that of a former colleague, a professional coach, an outplacement consultant and a recruiter, the over-riding message is: Be someone who embraces the future, not someone who runs away from it.